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Transgender advocates sue South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem

WCCO digital headlines: Morning of Feb. 11, 2023
WCCO digital headlines: Morning of Feb. 11, 2023 01:33

PIERRE, S.D. — A transgender advocacy group in South Dakota sued Republican Gov. Kristi Noem and the head of the state's Department of Health on Friday over the state's decision to terminate a contract with the group last December.

The Transformation Project filed a lawsuit Friday that alleges that the decision to terminate the contract — which resulted in the group losing a nearly $136,000 grant from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — was discrimination.

It comes as the transgender community has raised concern over a bill to ban minors' access to gender-affirming health care. That bill has passed both chambers and is expected to be signed by Noem in coming days.

Noem's spokesperson Ian Fury, said last December that the contract had been signed without Noem's knowledge or consent. Noem's office has also said that the organization did not meet all of the terms of its contract, such as providing quarterly reports. The office did not respond to requests for comment on the lawsuit Friday.

Susan Williams, director of the Transformation Project, said in a text message to the Associated Press that the loss of the grant was "uncalled for and was, in fact, discrimination." She added: "We believe that our contract was not broken and that the State's claims against us are unfounded."

Brendan Johnson, an attorney representing The Transformation Project, said the contract's cancellation was unconstitutional and unlawful.

"Even our state government is not above the rule of law, and we stand with the Transformation Project in this important constitutional challenge," Johnson said.

Ceasing the state's transgender health care partnership has only added to critics' concerns that Noem's agenda is to take away the liberties of transgender people. Last year, she signed into law bills that banned transgender girls and college-age women from playing in school sports leagues that match their gender identity.

She's also voiced support for a proposition known as "Help not Harm," that passed through the Senate Thursday and awaits her final approval. When put into law, it would add South Dakota to the list of at least 18 other states pushing legislation to block transgender youth from having access to medical care this year.

Over the past few weeks, viewpoints over the ethical, moral, medical and legal sides of the bill have clashed, despite lawmakers voting in great numbers for its passage.

Samantha Chapman, advocacy manager for the American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota, said the pretense that the bill is meant to "help" trans youth "is a flimsy veneer when you consider that Governor Noem is actively cutting off any available help for transgender South Dakotans at every turn."

The World Professional Association for Transgender Health said last year that teens experiencing gender dysphoria can start taking hormones at age 14 and can have certain surgeries at ages 15 or 17. The group acknowledged potential risks but said it was unethical to withhold early treatments, which can improve psychological well-being and reduce suicide risk.

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