A former prison official is suing South Dakota for firing her for reporting sexual harassment. A former prison guard is complaining to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that the state fired him for reporting racial harassment. And now a former South Dakota Public Broadcasting newsreader says the state wrongfully terminated the newsreader’s employment in an act of transgender harassment.
Stel Kline joined SDPB last October to serve as local Morning Edition host. Kline, who identifies as transgender, moved from Schenectady, New York, and immediately experienced South Dakota’s warmth and Freedom™: someone called Kline “faggot” within 48 hours of arriving in Vermillion; someone swiped Kline’s locked bike in December; and the Governor’s chief of staff called Kline and Kline’s kind terrorists in a Legislative committee hearing in January, a fact Kline noted on Twitter after experiencing another verbal attack while grocery shopping in Vermillion:
Kline took a couple months off Twitter “for my brain” after that verbal attack. On returning to the platform April 1, Kline resumed tweeting about transgender rights, racial discrimination, and discrimination against journalists.
Those tweets appear to have helped get Kline canned. Yesterday, Kline said SDPB had fired Kline for failing to be objective and having “a problem with authority”:
update: there are now 0 trans journalists working at @SDPBNews
I would absolutely love to share more
My position has been terminated despite being told there was nothing for me to improve on at a recent quarterly review.
I was told the reasoning is that I am not objective and have a problem with authority. (compliments in my book, lol) let’s talk a little about SDPB:
A half hour before beginning my first day of work I received a call informing me the head of communications directed the editor of the membership magazine to remove all instances of my pronouns from an article set to run announcing my hiring.
Instead of using they to refer to me in the third person she was told to use my last name, Kline. When confronted, the director said he wanted me to make the best impression with listeners- so they would judge my stories and voice without being clouded by the fact that I am trans
The director of journalism content added that it would be a grammar issue for the older readers. Through this first day on the job, it became glaringly evident that unchecked personal bias clouds judgment in this workplace.
I was encouraged by the comms team to create a twitter and share my experiences in SD. But, bc I am trans I have been verbally harassed. When I have shared this, the director of journalism content tells me I have lost credibility. That I am not objective.
In my interview I was very clear that as a trans person I am unable to be impartial about attacks on my humanity. Objectivity is not a static identity, but when wielded as such becomes the language of those with the most power.
Declaring someone not objective is a selective practice used effectively to exclude POC / queer journos. This is old news but not old practice. CC: @LewisPants who literally wrote the book on this
SDPB is owned by the State of South Dakota, as I begin my wrongful termination appeal I am guided by the resistance and courage of other trans state employees- especially Teri Bruce.
Teri was an archeologist at the South Dakota State Historical Society Archaeological Research Center. he began a lawsuit to get state health insurance to cover gender affirming care. The lawsuit closed when Teri died by suicide in 2019 [link added; Stel Kline, Twitter thread, 2022.04.18].
Kline’s complaint about “objectivity” reminds me of Dana Hess’s decision to leave the Legislative press box because there was no way to report “objectively” about South Dakota’s “silly, symbolic, wrong-headed, and cruel” legislation. Of course, Hess voluntarily left the South Dakota press corps; Kline is getting the boot and saying that SDPB is using “objectivity” to participate in South Dakota’s oppression of diversity.
If Kline’s allegations are factual (and I’m trying not to wield “objectivity” as a weapon but simply reminding readers that, like Teri Bruce, Dallas Tronvold, and Stefany Bawek, Kline has to convince the EEOC or the court or whoever that this firing is discriminatory), then as a justice-minded listener, I have to ask what proper action South Dakotans may take to hold SDPB accountable. South Dakota Public Broadcasting is the only South Dakota radio I listen to; should we SDPB supporters all transfer our donations to Minnesota Public Radio and leave SDPB to the cranky old grammarians and anti-vax convoy backers who decry their own industry?
If SDPB’s Zimny can critique the media and culture on Twitter, why can’t Kline? Do we really want reporters to remain silent about injustice? Is it really impossible for a reporter to say, “I think X is unjust” but then report for work the next day and produce an entirely factual and informative report about X? And is it really impossible for us, the audience, to read those tweets and listen to those reports, recognize a reporter’s moral positions and possible biases, and still discern fact from advocacy in that reporter’s work?