The Vermillion City Council made three landmark decisions in support of LGBTQ+ people at their bimonthly meeting June 18: They proclaimed June as Pride Month in the city, established a Human Relations Commission and included sexual orientation in their Equal Opportunity statement.
Vermillion became the fourth municipality in the state with an HRC, following Sioux Falls, Rapid City and Brookings. Its purpose is to spread information and conduct public meetings regarding diversity and anti-discriminatory practices, and also take discrimination and harassment complaints.
Travis Letellier, an instructor at the University of South Dakota who serves on the President’s Council for Diversity and Inclusiveness on campus, thanked members of the council at their meeting for their proclamation and inclusion of agenda items reaffirming of LGBTQ+ people in the city.
Letellier serves on the board of directors for Equality South Dakota, a leading LGBTQ+ activist group in the state. He said the establishment of an HRC in Vermillion fills a need in the community.
Before this decision, “we didn’t have that outlet for people to go if they had a complaint or concern if they felt that they were discriminated against,” he said. “If there’s nowhere for people to go to complain about something that happened against them, then that might give you a false sense of security that nothing bad ever happens in your town… that everything is perfect.”
Letellier said the presence of an HRC in town is an important step in helping Vermillion’s citizens feel welcome, safe and feel like they have somewhere to go where people will listen if something does happen to them.
The lack of an HRC in a town “is really dangerous; especially if you are trying to make policy for a town, you need to know where the weak parts are,” he said. “You need to know what we need to be improving on, what groups in our town are the most discriminated against.”
Lyra Silvia, a sophomore art education major at the University of South Dakota, is the events coordinator for Spectrum, USD’s gender and sexuality alliance. Silvia said they’ve encountered issues on campus with entering restrooms and facilities while presenting as masculine-of-center. Silvia says there’s a need for change in facilities.
“I’ve encountered people being very rude in bathrooms because of how I present,” they said. “We need to work on the amount of gender-neutral bathroom accessibility. Personally I think it would be really nice -- and this is idealistic -- if we wouldn’t really need gendered bathrooms.”
Concerning the next steps for Equality South Dakota following Pride month, Letellier said they’re in an important fundraising year as they hope to gain more staff members who aren’t solely volunteers. He also said they’ll continue to lobby in Pierre as the governor’s race approaches an end with the general election Nov. 6.
“South Dakota is incredibly diverse in terms of who lives here… we have to represent them, we have to be their voice so that they feel somebody is fighting for them,” he said.
Letellier, noting his day job as an economist, said when South Dakota looks forward to the future, they should be more inclusive in order to welcome a new generation of employers and businesses.
“South Dakota has got to be a welcoming state. If we are at all perceived to be discriminatory, if we are at all perceived to be biased or not inclusive, then we’re going to lose young workers, we’re going to lose new employers who want to move to South Dakota,” he said.