Panel discusses LGBTQ+ rights, says fight for equality in state not over

The battle for marriage equality in the United States may have been won for the LGBTQ+ community, but the war for equality is far from over according to a panel of South Dakota activists who spoke at USD on Sept 17.


The panel, which was hosted by USD’s Women and Gender Studies Program and the School of Law, included Nancy Rosenbrahn, lead plaintiff in Rosenbrahn v. Daugaard; Laurence Novotny, activist and founder of EqualitySD; and Tiffany Graham, associate dean of USD’s School of Law.


Graham presented the history of the struggle for marriage equality in the U.S. She discussed the Stonewall riots, the AIDS crisis, the fight against discrimination and the progression toward the day marriage equality became constitutional.


“There was this radical challenge to the norm of the heterosexual family structure,” Graham said. “There was a great deal of emphasis on sexual revolution, a great deal of emphasis on breaking down some of our traditional understandings of the way families ought to be.”


Graham presented the concerns of some people in the 1970s and 80s surrounding the AIDS crisis, and the lack of action by the government and the lack of research being done at that time.


“The government actors refused to acknowledge that people were dying by the thousands,” she said. “If you talk to people who lived in that era in New York City, what they will tell you is they went to funerals for a decade.”


As the presentation moved into more recent years, Graham discussed the Windsor lawsuit. Edith Windsor filed a lawsuit against the federal government in 2010 because her wife had passed away, leaving her money to Windsor. Windsor was taxed on that money, but she wouldn’t have been if she had been married to a man. This was because Defense of Marriage Laws (DOMA) said the term “spouse” only applied to a man and a woman.


Novotny continued on this topic from the point of view of an activist in South Dakota.


“In 1995, some conservative South Dakota legislators thought they should do something about this,” Novotny said. “So they introduced a bill to ban same-sex marriage.”


Novotny said after this bill was passed, activists started calling him and they came back to South Dakota to fight it. They went to Pierre and supported a proposed bill against the banning of same-sex marriage, which was shot down.


“It was a surprise,” Novotny said. “The legislators were not expecting gays and lesbians to group up in Pierre like that.”


Rosenbrahn also described the history of marriage equality through her lifetime. She said she came out in a time when being anything but heterosexual was unfathomable to American society.


When she did come out, she got divorced from her husband. The next year she fought for custody of their two children. Attorneys at that time told her that the best chance she’d have at getting her kids back would be to kidnap them.


She was living in South Dakota, and her ex-husband and children were living in Wisconsin, so that would have been too risky, Rosenbrahn said. She was the first lesbian woman to try to win custody of her kids in Milwaukee, Wis., and she was determined to get them back.


“You can’t tell me I’m not a good mother because I’m gay,” Rosenbrahn said. “It doesn’t compute, it doesn’t matter, a mother is a mother. And I got my kids back.”


After getting her kids back, she started a business in South Dakota, and met Jen, who she would later be married to. They ran this business and worked until about two years ago when they were called to advocate against a bill that would allow businesses to refuse service to gays. This is when they got back to being activists and decided to take South Dakota to court for marriage equality.


“When it’s the right thing to do, there’s no decision,” she said.


South Dakota won the suit, and Rosenbrahn and Jen’s marriage still wasn’t recognized in the state. A few months later, however, marriage equality was declared constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.


Junior Logan Bullard, a secondary education major, said the discussion brought up topics he may not have thought of in the past.


“I thought the seminar went really well, it was rather informed and opened up discussion to many listeners,” Bullard said. “We wondered what it’s going to be like if marriage equality did become legal in South Dakota, we thought it would be the end. Now that we’re here, we realize there is still a lot of work to be done.”


Rosenbrahn said the next hurdle for LGBTQ+ rights is to get anti-discrimination laws passed in South Dakota.


“We got our work cut out for us, but damn were up for the fight,” Rosenbrahn said. “We won in South Dakota, maybe not through South Dakota but a win is a win. Now we have all kinds of support.”


(Photo: Nancy Rosenbrahn, lead plaintiff in Rosenbrahn v. Daugaard, speaks about marriage equality and LGBTQ+ rights Sept. 17 at a panel discussion hosted by the Women and Gender Studies Program in the Al Neuharth Media Center. Eden Hemmingson / The Volante)


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Original Author: EDEN HEMMINGSON

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