Commander in Tweet: Transgender Ban

Remember the days of yore, when FDR would give his weekly radio address? Families would sit around their fireplace mantles and listen to the President discuss their plans for the nation. Today, the 45th President chooses to address the American people in a very different way.

This week, Trump announced the decision to roll back yet another progressive Obama-era policy via social media. With a series of tweets, he announced the following:

“After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military. Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender to the military would entail. Thank you.”

As a reminder, President Barack Obama repealed the divisive “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in 2011 (originated by 42nd President Bill Clinton in the Nineties) which should have prevented military commanders from prying into the personal lives of the men and women serving under them, but only left the issue of homosexuality and bisexuality even more clouded in shame. And then in July of 2015, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announced that the Pentagon would begin action to allow transgender people to serve openly in the U.S. military, a policy initially supported by his predecessor, Chuck Hagel.
At the time, Carter was quick to point out that “We have transgender soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines – real, patriotic Americans – who I know are being hurt by an outdated, confusing, inconsistent approach that’s contrary to our value of service and individual merit.”

That October, Vice President Biden spoke before the Human Rights Campaign, defending the idea that transgender people should be allowed to serve in the armed forces and protect the nation that they love. He also called the LGBTQ movement “the civil rights movement of our time.” Soon, the President was also pledging his support.

In May 2016 the Pentagon (working with the RAND Corporation) commissioned a study which determined that a policy that allowed transgender people to serve openly would “cost little and have no significant impact on unit readiness.” The study highlighted that approximately 2500 active-duty military members were transgender and another 65 would likely transition each of the coming years. The health care costs to the Pentagon for those gender reassignment surgeries and procedures would cost between $2.9 and $4.2 million annually.

Well, citing those health care numbers, Obama’s successor has today announced that the ban on transgender people serving openly in the military would be reinstated.

Bans are great ideas, right? Let’s look at some of the most well-known bans in history:

1. “The Satanic Verses” by author Salman Rushdie. Books have long been at risk of bans (ideas are often the first to be suppressed in societies that wish to keep their citizens afraid and in the dark). This book (which was about the light and dark sides of Islam and considered blasphemous by some Islamic clerics) resulted in a ban across much of the Arab world and a fatwa, or call for death, against the author by the Ayatollah of Iran. This only resulted in the artistic community around the world and here in America rallying in support of freedom of speech issues. Ayatollah: 0. Rushdie: Millions of books sold.

2. Immigration Bans. At various times in history, the U.S. has banned the immigration of citizens from China (1882) and Iran (1980, signed by Democratic President Jimmy Carter, following the Iran Hostage Crisis). Additionally, the U.S. turned many Jews away during World War II claiming their “quota” had been reached (some of those turned away, such as the 1939 passengers of the ocean liner the St. Louis, which was forced to turn back to Europe where approximately 25% of the passengers later died in concentration camps). We also turned away Communists, Anarchists, and people infected with HIV/AIDS at certain times. Today America has many Chinese, Iranian and Jewish citizens, along with those who are HIV-positive and who may hold Communist-supporting or Anarchist viewpoints. Today we have the so-called “Muslim Bans” which seeks to prevent travel into the U.S. from citizens of seven majority Muslim nations and which has turned into a virtual see-saw between the Trump Administration and the United States judiciary. Outcome? Who knows. Who the hell knows…

3. Absinthe. The mysterious drink of the Victorian era, loved by persons as varied as Oscar Wilde, Ernest Hemingway and Telegraph co-inventor Charles Cros, Absinthe (known as “The Green Fairy”) is an anise-flavored spirit distilled from various herbs and leaves. One of those, wormwood, is thought to cause hallucinatory property and those who drank absinthe were often ridiculed as being fanciful, deranged and able to brainwash others. Today, we know that the chemical thujone (found in wormwood) isn’t hallucinatory and absinthe was permitted in the U.S. again in the 1960s. Today people like Marilyn Manson drink absinthe, which only demonstrates its alarming potential of, at worst, creating bad music and ridiculous fashion statements. A ban on absinthe? As passé as an Edwardian puffy shirt.

I think that it’s safe to say that the ever-changing tides of American culture and the whiplashing between Democratic and Republican power structures in Washington will continue to mean that from administration to administration, decade to decade – we never know what is going to be put on the hot seat and regarded as suspect. But the decision to reverse a policy is one that caused a fair amount of blowback this week.

Thankfully, the week ended on a high note when Marine General Joe Dunford issued an internal communication that read, “I know there are questions about yesterday’s announcement on the transgender policy by the President. There will be no modifications to the current policy until the President’s direction has been received by the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary has issued implementation guidance.”

This was followed a statement from the chief spokeswoman of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. “The Department will continue to focus on our mission of defending our nation and ongoing operations against our foes while ensuring all service members are treated with respect.”

Secretary Mattis was reported to be “appalled” by the President’s tweets, by the way. Mattis is well regarded on both the right and the left. Hopefully, he might be in a position to talk the Commander in Chief down. After all, the military not only provides gender reassignment treatments to its active duty members. It also provides Viagra, at the cost of up to $84 million annually – or nearly 20 times greater than the cost of gender reassignment surgeries.

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SEP054 – Frisky State Legislators with Scott Ehrishman Part I

This week The Sioux Empire Podcast crew (Robert Mehling, Natasha Estes, and Seth Glover) welcome Scott Ehrisman from the South Dacola blog.  Scott’s an expert on all things state and local government in Sioux Falls and he dishes the dirt about what’s really going on in our community.  Zany antics ensue.  We talk about the massive Women’s March in Sioux Fall and also across the state and nation.  Plus a Sioux Empire Podcast Exclusive: we play a statement from the South Dakota State Senate about having sex with their interns and pages.  Our local music spotlight for this week is artist Bryson Tiller with the song “Exchange.”  This week’s episode is sponsored by the Sioux Falls Sno Jam Comedy Festival, February 16th-18th. Three nights, three venues, and thirty comedians all benefiting the Special Olympics of South Dakota. Tickets and info at  Sioux Empire Podcast pro tip: Don’t sleep with your pages and interns!  

Guest Host South Dacola Blog’s Scott Ehrisman


Bryson Tiller – Exchange (JustAcoustic Remix)


Women’s March


Legalize it.


Governor passes on bathroom bill.


Sexy State legislative interns

And one week later…

Past indiscretions


Tags and Topics:

Immigration, Snowden, Scott Ehrishman, Natasha Estes, Robert Mehling, Seth Glover, Scott Ehrisman, South Dacola, Danny Glover, Donald Trump, Inauguration, Women’s March, Alex Jones, Jim Baker, ACLU, Transgender, Children’s Inn, Death Penalty, Helvetica, Dungeons & Dragons, William Janklow, Flandreau, Bill Maher, Mike Pence, Jefferson Sessions, Baskets, Marijuana, South Dakota State Senate, Sex Predators, KSFY, Mathew Wollmann, Dan Sutton, Division of Criminal Investigation, Twitter, Bruce Danielson, Bryson Tiller

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Jamie Lee Wounded Arrow

On Friday, January 6th,  the body of a homicide victim was found in a Sioux Falls apartment. Jamie Lee Wounded Arrow, a two-spirit woman of Lakota heritage and an activist for transgender rights, had been stabbed in her home near Cleveland Avenue and her body was later discovered by police. Neighbors had called 911 regarding an odor emanating from the apartment.

Wounded Arrow was one of two transgendered women killed during the first week of 2017 in the U.S. Just two days earlier, the body of Mesha Caldwell was found shot to death along a rural road in Mississippi. Although Jamie Lee Wounded Arrow’s death was the second to be reported, according to police sources, it is believed she was actually killed on New Year’s Day, making her the first transgender homicide victim of 2017.

A 25-year old man, Joshua LeClaire, has been arrested and charged with the stabbing and murder of Jamie Lee. From his online profile, it appears that LeClaire lived in Rapid City but was originally from Indianapolis. He and Jamie Lee were friends on Facebook, and Jamie Lee’s friends have indicated that LeClaire was aware that Jamie Lee was transgender. The motive for the murder is not known at this time.

Jamie Lee was originally from the Pine Ridge Reservation, a member of the Ogallala-Lakota tribe and a champion for transgender rights in our state. She was part of the community that identifies as “two-spirit” – a term used by Native American LGBT rights organizations to identify those who embody both male and female energy.

Human Rights Campaign has identified Wounded Arrow as one of the first transgender homicide victims in the state of South Dakota in recent years. In researching this crime, this writer wanted to learn about any past unsolved homicides of other transgender or two-spirit people in our state and whether there were any open cases from the past, still unsolved. I spent hours this week, searching online and at the Rapid City Public Library, researching. I was unable to confirm with any news organization whether there had been other transgender or two-spirit cold cases in South Dakota.

Have there been no other murders of transgendered people here? Or is there simply a lack of information to verify this information?

I was sent down a virtual rabbit hole, looking for statistics and information on our two-spirit Native community. I was able to speak with an individual at the Sioux Falls Two-Spirit And Allies organization this week, about Jamie Lee and about their community and resources. That individual, who chose not to share their name, was quick to point out that this week their focus is on mourning and memorializing their friend.

When asked if they were aware of any previous transgendered or two-spirit homicides in our state, they stated they were unaware of such information and not sure if anyone in the state was working on putting together statistics of crimes on transgendered South Dakotans.

I asked this person about the use of the term “two-spirit”. Some Native trans-activists oppose the use of non-Natives in appropriating the term. Others, like the person I spoke to at the Two-Spirit and Allies organization, are not as concerned.

“This term started to be used starting in the 1990’s. Prior to that, each tribe had its own word and description of those who were embodying both the male and the female energy. Native people are historically more in touch with the planet and with spirit. But to be ‘two-spirit’ doesn’t always mean to be transgendered. Some ‘two-spirit’ people identify, in fact, as straight.”

Throughout the world, human rights and LGBT networks were reporting the loss of Jamie Lee. But in our own state there is a noticeable lack of cohesive organization to protect the lives of those who are two-spirit.

Last year, Republican legislators proposed a state bill that would have required all people to use the bathrooms in public schools according to their gender assignment at birth. Quickly, trans activists descended upon the State Capitol in protest. Most of those who had proposed the bill and supported it, refused to meet with those from the transgender community. But their voices were heard and shortly, Governor Daugaard vetoed the bill. However, there is talk in Pierre of bringing forth a new so-called “bathroom bill” in this new legislative session.

With all the talk in the past year about transgender people and bathroom sharing, it’s important not to overlook the fear many in the transgender and two-spirit communities have. The murders of Wounded Arrow and of Mesha Caldwell emphasize and validate that fear.

Trans women of color are at the most significant risk of crime and murder. Transgender Native Americans are the most likely to experience any form of violence. A staggering nineteen percent of all Native Americans in the US who were assaulted in 2016 reported that they were transgender. This is the highest risk of any racial or ethnic group in our country.

For those who knew and loved Jamie Lee, this is a time to come together and honor her spirit and the work she was doing. They met first to consecrate her apartment with a “Taking Back the Site” ceremony that involved the burning of sage, holy water and prayers.

Jamie Lee was a new resident of the Sioux Falls community. Recently sober, she had secured a job at the Five Star Call Center and had gotten her two cats settled into her new home, the apartment where she was killed. She wanted to become a substance abuse counselor and liked to spend afternoons at the library.

Residents, neighbors and friends came together to consecrate Jamie Lee’s apartment with a “Take Back The Site” ceremony.  A “Go Fund Me” account was established to help cover her funeral expenses. A service is planned for her at the Pine Ridge Reservation in the coming weeks.

Bail for LeClaire is set at $1 million.

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Attorney General Jackley Joins Challenge to Federal Government over Transgender

PIERRE, S.D.-  Attorney General Marty Jackley announced that South Dakota has joined 18 other State Attorneys General and the Governors of Kentucky and North Carolina in an amicus or “friend of the court” brief, challenging the federal government’s withholding of education funds over transgender.
“President Obama’s directive that children of opposite sex must be required to share locker rooms and bathrooms under the threat of lawsuit and withholding of education funding has been halted by a nationwide federal preliminary injunction. Unfortunately, the federal government continues to act on its threat by forcing this extraordinary intrusion upon our schools. The Attorneys General are again stepping forward to protect children by asking the United States Supreme Court to allow school districts to avoid placing young children of opposite sex in the same bathroom or locker room,” said Jackley.
The brief was filed in the United States Supreme Court in the case of Gloucester County School Board v. G.G., Mother Deirdre Grimm.
The case involves a school board in Virginia making accommodations for an individual born as a girl that self identifies as a boy wanting to use the boys’ bathroom in school. The Federal District Court entered a preliminary injunction requiring the school board to allow the girl to use the boys’ bathroom after it was directed by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals to afford controlling deference to the Department of Education and Department of Justice letter that makes it discriminatory for a school to separate male and female bathrooms, unless each student is allowed to select either bathroom in accordance with that student’s asserted gender identity.  The United States Supreme Court has stayed the 4th Circuit Court mandate and the District Court preliminary injunction, pending the disposition of a petition for certiorari from the school board.
South Dakota had previously joined 24 other states in parallel lawsuits filed in Texas and Nebraska against the U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Justice. The challenge was initiated by a letter threatening states with loss of all educational funding under Title IX unless every public school in the country allowed students to select restrooms, showers and dormitories based on their expressed gender identity. A federal district court in Texas recently entered a nationwide preliminary injunction prohibiting the enforcement of the letter, and withholding of education funding, which applies nationally.
There is no cost for South Dakota to join these proceedings.

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2016 Sioux Falls Area Chamber Legislative Coffee Photo Gallery

Representatives in attendance on Saturday included Isaac Latterell, Steven Westra, Mark Mickelson, Karen Soli, Larry Zikmund and Tom Holmes. Senators in attendance included Phyllis Heineman, Angie Buhl O’Donnell and Deb Soholt.

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Photos from the #HoldThemAccountable rally on Saturday February 20th

Approximately 100 protesters marched on the Sioux Falls downtown Holiday Inn before the Chamber’s legislative coffee on Saturday February 20th to protest HB1008 (The transgender bathroom bill) and other issues such as teacher pay.

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SEP029- Trans-Legislative Coffee

With tensions running high and all eyes in the national media watching South Dakota to see if the Governor will sign or veto the transgender bathroom bill (or HB 1008), local legislators for the Sioux Falls area (Isaac Latterell, Steven Westra, Mark Mickelson, Karen Soli, Larry Zikmund, Tom Holmes, Phyllis Heineman, Angie Buhl O’Donnell and Deb Soholt) gave this important issue the time it deserved at the Sioux Falls Chamber’s Legislative Coffee….  10 minutes, at the end of the meeting.  So to give this and other topics the extended coverage they deserve (and by coverage of course we mean sarcastic and vulgar commentary) The Sioux Empire Podcast is here to help.  Robert, Seth, and Natasha talk to the protesters from the rally before the coffee and we try to talk to a representative after the coffee.  It’s our first full team coverage in the field episode, so of course it has way more swearing than ever before.  The team learns the lesson that they didn’t know who represents them and now that they do, they don’t like them (Most of them).  The worst part is in the end… The Sioux Empire Podcast crew didn’t even get a cup of coffee out of the deal.

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Transgender Bill Passes South Dakota House

South Dakota’s governor could make the state the first in the U.S. to approve a law that would require transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond to their sex at birth.

The state Senate approved the bill Tuesday. It now goes to Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard, who has responded positively to the measure but said he would need to study it more before making a decision.

Advocates say the bill is meant to protect the privacy of students, but opponents of the bill say it’s discriminatory.

Under the bill, schools would have to provide a “reasonable accommodation” for transgender students, such as a single-occupancy bathroom or the “controlled use” of a staff-designated restroom, locker room or shower room.

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