“These Are My People”—LGBT Neighbors Finding Community in South Dakota

Ashley Gaddis is new to Sioux Falls. Now of course, in most South Dakota towns, transplants are new to town for a good decade or two. But Ashley and her family moved west to the Queen City of the East about a year ago, around the Fourth of July, from St. Paul.

Center for Equality director for operations Ashley Gaddis talks about inclusivity in Sioux Falls at Sioux Falls Democratic Forum, 2016.06.24. Photo by CAH.
Center for Equality director for operations Ashley Gaddis talks about inclusivity in Sioux Falls at Sioux Falls Democratic Forum, 2016.06.24. Photo by CAH.

Ashley was active in LGBT community issues in the Twin Cities. She said Twin Cities residents do joke about Sioux Falls and its rural remoteness. (From Grand Avenue, all of South Dakota looks like Harding County.) When she moved here, she wondered “Who are going to be my people? Where are my friends going to be?”

Brand-spanking new to town, Ashley and family went to the Sioux Falls Fourth of July parade. Up the street come marches from the Center for Equality, carrying the rainbow banner (whose multicolored stripes represent America even better than the red and white we so proudly wave). Here they are, Ashley thought, full of joy. These are my people. Boom—Sioux Falls was home.

Ashley’s moving experience shows us why it’s important that we include diversity in our communities, that send the message publicly that, though all are different, all are great, and all are welcome in our state. Ashley needed to see those rainbow standard bearers, marching in equality with their fellow South Dakotans, to know that she could be a South Dakotan, too.

And now, still new to town, Ashley speaks of her new home with eyes and voice as sparkling and eager (oh, and waving hands—you know I love that!) as any proud South Dakotan.

*     *     *

Center for Equality president Thomas Christiansen noted in his remarks to Sioux Falls Democratic Forum yesterday that South Dakota has the seventh-highest percentage of residents who identify as LGBT (eighth, if we include nation-topping District of Columbia). According to Gallup, we are gayer than California and New York.

Christiansen said the Sioux Falls Pride Festival has seen “amazing… pheonomenal” growth, drawing around 8,000 to 10,000 people this year. He and other speakers from the Center for Equality said South Dakotans are doing a better job of welcoming and accepting LGBT neighbors; the Legislature, which Christians said “has been pretty cruel to the LGBT community and specifically to transgender constituents,” seems not to represent the general public attitude. However, the Legislature isn’t winning: they proposed four anti-LGBT bills this year, and with the help of the ACLU and other allies, all four bills were defeated.

Center for Equality board member Monica Serling-Swank, a Sioux Falls native and “proud South Dakotan,” said South Dakota’s LGBT residents need more allies. She and her wife were plaintiffs in Rosenbrahn v. Daugaard, South Dakota’s hard-fought marriage equality lawsuit. “I’m tired of hearing ‘same-sex marriage’,” said Serling-Swank. “The word is ‘marriage.’… when my wife dies, I have the same rights as you do… because we built our lives together… we made the same commitment.” She called on all of us to respect that commitment and fight for equality for everyone.

Reina Parker, a rainbow-mohawked mom*, struck a note of hope. Born and raised in Sioux Falls, Parker said that ten years ago, she did not feel safe here. She had a panic attack the first time her girlfriend tried to kiss here in public. But today, Parker feels safer. She still catches a few homophobic slurs, which she says seem to vary in direct proportion to bigots’ blood alcohol content. Yet she says she and many LGBT neighbors feel safe in their daily lives. Lots of local businesses and big corporations here support their LGBT employees, and many local businesses were willing to hoist the rainbow flag for Pride Week. “I have never felt more comfortable and more proud of being homegrown in Sioux Falls,” says our neighbor Reina.

The Center for Equality and our fair state still have work to do. But we’re getting more inclusive, and inclusivity is a key to South Dakota’s survival.

Correction 2016.07.01 22:11 CDT: Ashley straightens me out—I originally misidentified Reina Parker as an entirely different name. I regret the error.

63 Responses to “These Are My People”—LGBT Neighbors Finding Community in South Dakota

  1. I think a lot of people are hung up on the idea of ‘marriage.’ To be honest I believe the institution of marriage is older than the United States.

    So let’s give marriage back to the church.

    Then let’s set up civil unions, two (or more?) people enter into a contract before a judge, and then they have all the legal rights of today’s married couples. They can take each other’s last name, etc. Only they can’t call themselves husband and wife.

    To be ‘married’ they have to go before a minister, pastor or rabbi. They have no legal status, they can call themselves husband and wife, and that is about it.

    I know this will cause a mess when it comes to divorce and some when it comes to Social Security. At least every one will have what they want.

  2. mike from iowa

    There you go handing out “special” rights to favored parties.

  3. BIll DIthmer

    arrying the rainbow banner (whose multicolored stripes represent America even better than the red and white we so proudly wave”

    Cory that one statement is going to cost you an election. I agre with how important it is to be included, but saying that a gay flag is more representative of this country the the countries flag is the dumbest statement a politician from South Dakota could make.

    The Blindman

  4. Ashley Gaddis has that MN passion that I found when I first came to MN and the State was on strike and strikers asked me not to cross the line to the Govt Center. I felt just like Ashley and knew I had found my people.

  5. Steve Sibson

    “the rainbow banner (whose multicolored stripes represent America even better than the red and white we so proudly wave)”

    “Twin Cities residents do joke about Sioux Falls and its rural remoteness.”

    Destroying America and mocking its rural culture is the Democratic agenda?

  6. Roger Cornelius

    Adjoining states have a long history of good natured jokes, there is no agenda or damage in sharing a laugh.

    Truth to tell, Sibson is a South Dakota joke.

  7. happy camper

    It was a very nice gay pride with BCBS, Wells Fargo, Unity Church, many more, as well as GLBT focused groups in attendance. A very nice showing. Even in South Dakota times have changed a lot, but also we have a libertarian streak not represented by our conservative legislature.

  8. Great rebuttal, Roger. South Dakotans poke fun at North Dakotans, Minnesotans, Iowans, etc.

    And yes, Sibson is a SD joke. Especially in Mitchell.

  9. mike from iowa

    Sibby just got confused, He rilly meant Fruit Stripe Gum and this 30 second commercial proves how Gays are rilly made.(disclaimer-no offense meant or intended to any LGBTQ persons and no one was hurt making this commercial)


  10. Donald Pay

    When the colors and design of the US flag was adopted in 1777, there was no significance to the colors. There still is nothing in law about the symbolism of the colors. Much later, people did apply meaning to the colors, but people had conflicting ideas about that. Finally, a few people settled on what they think the color symbolism means and published it enough that folks sort of got propagandized into believing it.

    Who the hell here can tell us what the colors in the flag symbolize without looking them up? By the way, the flag colors aren’t red, white and blue. They are specific kinds of red, white and blue, and that is now specified. Many of the flags you see don’t really conform to the legal standard.

  11. mike from iowa

    Good work,as per usual, Mr Pay.

  12. mike from iowa

    Blindman-The world is coming to an end. The new Miss Missouri of the Miss USA pageant is the first openly Lesbian woman selected to represent a state.

    She is focusing on suicides. Damn right. Bout time and jolly good for her and all equality loving Americans.

  13. Don Coyote

    @cah: “(whose multicolored stripes represent America even better than the red and white we so proudly wave)”

    And why is that? Are you mistakenly thinking the Rainbow flag represents the various races of America’s denizens or the diversity of the American people? The Pride flag symbolizes diversity only within the gay community with the colors meaning life, healing, sunlight, nature, serenity and spirit.

  14. Roger Cornelius

    And to add insult to injury to the anti-LGBT people, yesterday President Obama designated the birthplace of the movement the Stonewall Inn as a National Monument.

  15. mike from iowa

    Correction- the new Miss Missouri is in the Miss America pageant. Miss USA is the one Drumpf sold last year. My humblest apologies.

  16. Donald Pay

    Hmmm. It turns out the original pride flag was hand stitched, but to mass produce it the design had to be changed because the flag manufacturer did not have fabric in fuschia. Because they had some similar rainbow flags for a Masonic girls organization, the company offered some of those. So, that’s where the mass produced rainbow flags came from for years. Now, I guess, they have fabric in fuschia, so some are now going to the original hand stitched colors.

  17. mike from iowa

    Who doesn’t like rainbows?

  18. We love rainbows in my family Mike
    Rounds statue would look a lot better with him holding a rainbow instead of a shotgun. Imho.

  19. MC, how about you and your church create something other than “marriage”? Why don’t you get your pastor to sanctify something called “Jesus Unions” and offer it to baptized, confirmed members only?

  20. Well, Bill, I’ll just have to live with that outcome. I stand by my symbolic observation: a multicolored array more accurately represents modern America than a simple binary color scheme.

  21. Donald Pay enlightens and amuses me with his historical details of the arbitrariness of flag design.

    Coyote, we can see symbolism in objects all around us that has little to do with their creators’ intent. I can look at multiple colors constituting a single flag and say, “Gee, those colors represent the original de facto motto of the United States, e pluribus unum better than an array of just two colors, since six (originally eight!) is closer to pluribus than two.” I can look at the rainbow flag and interpret the many colors as parallels to America’s many races and nationalities, traditions, historical and philosophical influences, climates and geographies, industries, genres of music and art, etc. I can look at the red and white stripes of the American flag and suggest they represent courage and purity, war and peace, and the conflict and possible reconciliation between Natives and settlers. Historical intent and accident do not prohibit new interpretations.

    My neighbor can plant an apple tree so she can pick apples. I know she didn’t plant it for my benefit, but I can look at that tree as a nice source of shade. Both interpretations of the tree’s usefulness are valid.

  22. Or, in Ashley’s case, she can see that multicolored flag marching in a parade, and she can conclude that she can find her place in Sioux Falls, just like lots of other people with different interests and passions.

  23. MC. Some denominations accept same sex marriage. Why deny them that right? I don’t believe that one can force a church to perform a same-sex marriage, but you should not force them not to if they accept it.

  24. happy camper

    Worth noting so far the FBI has not been able to make any connections of Mateen to any gay relationships or the aps gay men say he used: “The FBI is continuing to explore Mateen’s past, but investigators now believe the men who made the claims are not credible, or confused Mateen with someone else.”

    Internalized homophobia/hatred may not be a part of the narrative. Believing so took pressure off having to think about Radical Islam and Jihad, things the left doesn’t want to acknowledge exist in the minds of disaffected young Muslims who become terrorists (regardless of the final outcome in the Orlando shooting).


  25. Don Coyote

    @cah: “Historical intent and accident do not prohibit new interpretations.”

    Fair enough, although I would substitute “diversity” of interpretations. But isn’t it ironic that while you defend differing interpretations of the pride flag, in your next breath would deny an interpretation of the Confederate flag to those who see an expression of Southern pride, heritage, valor, independence and honor by supporting it’s prohibition of display from the public sphere.

  26. I wondered if you’d get to the traitor flag, Coyote. New interpretations take the risk of carrying the baggage of original and more prominent interpretations interpretations. I walked by a house just south of downtown Sioux Falls Friday night that flies a U.S. flag, with the words “We Support the Troops” emblazoned on it, at the same height right beside a Confederate flag (two violations of the Flag Code). Those celebrators of treason can tell me they interpret the flag to represent the things you mention, but they cannot say that the flag does not also and did not originally stand for treason, slavery, and racism. I could put a swastika on my campaign signs as an ancient Indian symbol of good luck, but I would have no right to be cross when everyone else thought I was playing to the Nazi vote.

    I don’t deny the “Southern heritage” interpretation by itself; I deny the “Southern heritage” interpretation that is used as a thin disguise for historical revisionism and sniggering hate.

    In suggesting additional interpretation of the rainbow flag, I do not deny past interpretations or original intent. Sure, it’s the LGBT flag; it can also tell us something about pluralism and inclusivity in general.

    In other words, my statement above differs from that of the treason excusers in that my additional interpretation is not some sneaky lie.

  27. happy camper

    Rachel Maddow interviewed a former gay radicalized Muslim who said the Saudi Islam he learned in the UK taught him they were the enemy. He says there is a much bigger swath of Radical Islamists than people think, and he explains how Islam tries to “help” gay people by encouraging them to become pious which can lead them to radicalization. Enlightening interview:

  28. mike from iowa

    HC- we think about radical Muslims. They and you are not gonna overwhelm our lives worrying about them and you.

  29. happy camper

    No. You think we are all the same and you are going to endanger us.

  30. mike from iowa


    HC- we think about radical Muslims. They and you are not gonna overwhelm our lives worrying about them and you

  31. happy camper

    We just had a terrorist attack against gay Americans, a direct attack against equality. Sorry I’m not ready to forget about it yet, and the childish outlook that we are all the same is a problem because you aren’t willing to look at the real causes, and what steps the country needs to take. This has pushed people over to Trump so you should take it seriously. Hillary is gonna have to explain her foreign policy positions acceptably to middle America or don’t be surprised if Trump wins. I’m trying to point out what’s true (not PC) with some links and so on that are credible. Rachel did a good interview.

  32. [Whoa, horse—I’m looking for the part where Ashley’s comments about finding community relate to radical Islam. Hap, are you driving toward the point that diversity and acceptance have limits and that a healthy America demands at least a shared commitment to coexistence within pluralistic democracy? That’s o.k., but for the sake of readers who might come to this post looking for a discussion of LGBT residents like Ashley and Eve finding acceptance in Sioux Falls and South Dakota, let’s not derail into a debate here on whether Islam is tolerable. We have other threads where that conversation may continue.]

  33. Roger Cornelius

    In national political news today, Hillary enthusiastically joined the Pride Parade in New York.

    Hillary is back in 12% in the polls and over Trump.

    And the best news of all, George Will has left the Republican Party.

  34. The 12 points is one poll Roger. Here is the average, still at 6 plus points, a real runaway with a 5% margin of error. http://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/2016/president/us/general_election_trump_vs_clinton-5491.html

    The Kaine bump really was a burp along news of Castro. Did you see that the DNC platform has pretty much marginalized anything progressive. Same old song and dance, no changes, more misery.

  35. Interesting, Roger. This CNN report notes that Clinton marched in the 2000 and 2006 NYC Pride parades as well, before her position on gay marriage evolved to her acceptance of full equality.


    The CNN report notes she was also running for Senate in 2000 and 2006.

  36. mike from iowa

    HRC has changed her mind on many issues-over time. Drumpf contradicts himself on where he stands in the same sentence.

    Running for office, HRC did what a good representative does and that is lend her support to the cause whether she was 100% behind it or not.

    Does not matter who or what Drumpf chooses as veep or advisors, he does not listen to them and he makes the decisions. That was patently obvious in the way he fired his campaign manager.

  37. happy camper

    Yes, I’m saying diversity and acceptance have limits and that a healthy America demands at least a shared commitment to coexistence within a pluralistic democracy. That is the heart of why gay lives work and why liberal people cannot accept everything that is different.

    Tolerance except against intolerance. We were about to hand over the reigns till we saw the basics being forgotten.

  38. Douglas Wiken

    “And the best news of all, George Will has left the Republican Party.”
    I am not sure this is an unmixed benefit. That George Will will leave the GOP says something also about the current Democratic Party. It will be interesting to see his future columns however.

  39. mike from iowa

    Wiken-can you actually decipher what Will writes?

  40. what will the GOP do last minute to pull the rug out from under “mr. this hair is real!-??

  41. cont. Trump’s campaign ramped up its rapid-response operation, sent out its first fundraising email, and professionalized some of the “brash billionaire’s” tweets. (my emphasis)

    Meanwhile, Republican leaders, including House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, continued to express reservations about their new standard-bearer, who has angered some in the party with his fiery rhetoric.

    wow, walker is still breathing?

  42. cory, I think the Indian sign is reversed from the swastika, but maybe that is just an old…(hesitating) wive’s tale, from a different era:)

  43. Roger Cornelius

    mike and Cory,
    I’m not so much concerned about how Hillary has changed her position on same sex marriage over time, the important thing is where she stands today.
    Jerry, you know as well as I do that anybody can search the internet and find a poll that they agree with.

  44. Leslie, which way are the swastika arms pointing in the Alex Johnson?

    We’re getting far afield again, this time fighting about Hillary, and then about Republicans who haven’t weighed in on Ashley Gaddis’s story.

  45. [And it’s a good thing Roger’s more concerned about where we stand today than where we stood in the past, because he’d look at CAH 2000 and go, “Holy cow! A Republican! Don’t trust him!”]

  46. Polls are polls, averages are where the rubber meets the road, but you know that of course. I do not pay much attention to a single poll as that is more of an outlier than anything else. Statistics always indicate that there must be an average. 12 points is about as real as a leprechaun unless it is an average, then ya got something. Clinton is more or less even in the average and this is the end of June.

    Yesterday was the 140th anniversary of a poll that stated that there were only a few dozen warriors on the Little Big Horn, turns out that was an outlier and the average was much different. In that case, Custer not even even and lost his presidential campaign for the Republican nomination, with no recount.

  47. Darin Larson

    jerry, you live and die by the moment each poll comes out. Are you not giving greater wait to the latest polls that show HRC with a 12 point lead? That poll had a 4 point margin of error, so this snapshot in time means HRC is anywhere from 8-16 points up on Trump.

    A lot of your polls in the average are two weeks old or more. Then you dismiss your average because of the margin of error. Classic!

    How about money? Is that real enough for you? The Donald just showed $1.5 million in the bank, while HRC has around $43 million. HRC is hammering away in the battleground states. The latest commercials show the Donald more worried about his golf course than the fate of the world economy. And he congratulates Scotland for leaving the EU when it was Britain that voted to leave. There are Republicans raising money for HRC now because Trump is viewed as unstable and dangerous.

    “Roughly 2 in 3 Americans say that they think Trump is unqualified to lead the nation; are anxious about the idea of him as president; believe his comments about women, minorities and Muslims show an unfair bias; and consider his attacks on a federal judge because of his Mexican American heritage to be racist.”

  48. Steve Sibson

    “The Pride flag symbolizes diversity only within the gay community with the colors meaning life, healing, sunlight, nature, serenity and spirit.”

    “Because they had some similar rainbow flags for a Masonic girls organization”

    So the rainbow flag is a religious symbol for pagan Masons. Not surprised.

  49. “So the rainbow flag is a religious symbol for pagan Masons. Not surprised.”

    LOL. I’m beginning to appreciate Sibson for the sheer lulz value of his nuttiness.

  50. Steve Sibson

    “I deny the “Southern heritage” interpretation that is used as a thin disguise for historical revisionism and sniggering hate.”

    “my statement above differs from that of the treason excusers in that my additional interpretation is not some sneaky lie.”

    Denying that it was an attack on America is the lie Cory:

    Obama’s heavy-handed approach is not only a departure from the philosophy of the Founding Fathers and the enumerated powers of the Constitution; it is a departure from his own statement last month in a press conference alongside British Prime Minister David Cameron in the United Kingdom. According to another report by Politico, the president answered a question about the “United Kingdom issuing travel advice to its citizens on Friday about the new laws in Mississippi and North Carolina that affect the rights of British LGBT travelers.” In his answer, Obama said that in a federal system, power is “dispersed,” between the federal government and the states:

    I think it’s fair to say that we’re not unique among countries, where particularly under a federal system in which power’s dispersed that there are going to be some localities or local officials that put forward laws that aren’t necessarily reflective of a national consensus.

    Almost immediately after making that statement, the president began offering new “guidance” in the form of directives to schools nationwide to force them to comply with his view of “transgendered” students. He appears to see the separation of powers within the United States. And he appears to believe that it needs to be done away with to reshape America into something new.


  51. The rainbow flag should never be considered more important than Old Glory… our red, white, and blue. People take for granted what it took and still takes to make our nation home of the free.

  52. Darin, 4 days old, Sorry dude, the situation is not very pretty. 6 points is still a lead though, and if you consider a 4 to 5 point spread, then it is still a lead. albeit a small one, kind of like a snail’s flatulence. http://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/2016/president/us/general_election_trump_vs_clinton-5491.html

  53. Darin Larson

    jerry, dude, the old polls that make up your “average” go back to June 10. That is 17 days ago, not 4. The margin of error in these polls is generally 3-4 points.

    No comments on Trump’s money troubles? His daily foreign policy stumbles? That 2/3 of people don’t think he is qualified to be president?

  54. Say, Phyllis, did someone say the rainbow flag should be considered more important than the official flag of the United States?

  55. Don Coyote

    @Sibby:”So the rainbow flag is a religious symbol for pagan Masons. Not surprised”

    Rainbows in flags have been used by Buddhists, Meher Baba (Indian mystic) and the 60s peace movement/ban the bomb movement. All in all, not much originality shown by Gilbert Baker, the artist behind the original pride flag.

  56. Don Coyote

    @cha: While I believe you said “more representative” and not “important”, it does seem you elevate the defiant and exclusionary Pride flag over the Stars and Stripes.

  57. Steve Sibson

    Don, ever run into the rainbow Swastika:


  58. Looks like a solid cite. Were there no geocities peer reviewed materials available?

  59. Steve Sibson

    No geocities fronts for the propagandists.

  60. That’s whooshing sound you heard over your head wasn’t an aircraft, Steve, it was my point.

  61. Hey, Sibby, Malcolm X was hung up on the Masons, too. Get real.

  62. Coyote, Coyote, Coyote, you’re usually far more fastidious in your use of words. You saw what I wrote; you seem now to be accepting Phyllis’s attempt to impose a less accurate and more inflammatory reading of what I wrote. Tsk, tsk.

    Defiant—is that a problem? Wasn’t America founded in defiance? Wasn’t the American flag stitched and waved in defiance of tyranny?

    exclusive—again, you’re imagining things. The flag originated in expressing values of a group that wanted to be included in the American tapestry. That’s no more exclusive than the Methodists or Baptists composing banners to represent the values of their denominations. I make the point that, as a symbol, the rainbow flag can also represent the many colors/races/beliefs/etc. whom our pluralistic democracy should include. If someone is flying any flag to exclude others, to say, “America is for me and not thee,” then I would oppose that expression.

    At last year’s Sioux Falls 4th of July parade, that rainbow flag said to Ashley, “Yup, you belong to this community, too.” I’m seeing no downside there.