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After lawsuit settlement, LGBT+ support organization 'back to business'

C.J. Keene

Earlier this year, the State of South Dakota settled a lawsuit with an LGBT+ advocacy group and issued a formal apology after pulling the group’s funding. Now, the group is putting that money to work.

The Sioux Falls-based Transformation Project had a state Department of Health contract cancelled suddenly in 2022, which first motivated the lawsuit.

Jack Fonder is a community health worker with the group and a named plaintiff in the lawsuit.

“The state had pulled our funding for the community health worker program here at the Transformation Project right after I had started in the position," Fonder said. "Gov. Noem was not okay with the people that we were serving with that, so she decided to pull our funding.”

Noem canceled the deal shortly after a conservative news outlet reported on the contract. Her office said at the time Noem does not support the Transformation Project’s efforts.

Fonder said winning the lawsuit represents a victory for the communities visibility in the state.

“Part of it, for me was making sure that other people within the LGBTQ+ community could see they do belong here, they are welcome here, and we’re going to keep fighting for that," Fonder said. "More even than the money, that was more important to me was to send that message. It’s really hard to feel that way sometimes when you live in this state when you have government officials making comments and statements and pulling funding for things that are very crucial to our community.”

Services like those provided by Fonder’s office.

“Other trans and nonbinary people with find me, and I connect them to resources in the state," Fonder said. "If you need clothing, if you need housing, if you need food, if you need a dentist, and it’s not just as simple as finding resources, right? It’s finding safe resources for the community we are serving. Not every doctor, not every therapist is okay serving the trans population, so that’s also part of my job – to go into the communities in South Dakota and find these safe places.”

According to a Trevor Project survey, four out of five LGBT+ youth have experienced some form of discrimination in South Dakota.

The state Department of Health did not return a request for comment.

C.J. Keene is a Rapid City-based journalist covering the legal system, education, and culture