“South Dakota does not support this organization’s efforts, and state government should not be participating in them,” she told the press of The Transformation Project.
But Noem left it to a minion to write an apology required by Thursday’s finalized settlement of a federal discrimination lawsuit the group brought in response to the governor’s words and actions.
“On behalf of the State of South Dakota, I apologize that the Transformation Project’s contract was terminated and for treating the Transformation Project differently than other organizations awarded Community Health Worker contracts,” South Dakota Health Secretary Melissa Magstadt wrote. “All South Dakotans are entitled to equal treatment under the law — regardless of their race, color, national origin, religion, disability, age, or sex.”
The letter was addressed to The Transformation Project director Susan Williams and to Jack Fonder, a community health worker who facilitates health care and social services for members in the LGBTQ+ community. The wording was negotiated between the group and the state as part of the settlement. South Dakota pledges in “not to discriminate against the Transformation Project in violation of state or federal law with respect to any service, program, or activity that the State provides.”
Veteran attorney Brendan Johnson, who represented the Transformation Project, told The Daily Beast on Monday that apology letters as a part of litigation are “very unusual.”
“But we demanded that as part of the settlement,” Johnson said
South Dakota was further required to pay the group $300,000, more than double what the state had originally agreed to pay towards Fonder’s work. The Transformation Project had originally requested a grant of only $45,907. The state advised the group to put in for $136,000.
But that was before a query from right-wing publication The Daily Caller made Noem aware of the program. The allocation immediately dropped to nothing at all.
“The contract was signed without Gov. Noem’s prior knowledge or approval,” her spokesman, Ian Fury, subsequently told the publication.
By killing the grant Noem moved to make it clear that she did not allow LGBTQ+ advocacy in her state.
“It was getting her some political points for sure,” Williams, the program director, told The Daily Beast.
But Noem’s words and actions were so nakedly unconstitutional that the Transmission Project was able to cite them as evidence of discrimination. The result was a lawsuit so strong that The Transformation Project was able to secure the written apology.
Noem ducked making it in her name, but the fact remains that an apology was made on behalf of the state she runs. And that is not going to boost her chances of becoming Trump’s pick for vice president.
Neom does cut a fine figure in her cowgirl finest galloping on a horse while flying the Star and Stripes. And when Trump visited Mount Rushmore she presented him with a four-foot replica of the monument with his face amongst those of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln.
“I knew that that was something that he would find special,” Noem said afterwards.
She sought another MAGA boost last week, when she spoke of personally driving a carload of barbed wire and adding a South Dakota contingent to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s armed effort to stop “the invasion” of migrants. The Oglala Sioux Tribe responded on Friday by banning her from the Pine Ridge Reservation, in part to show solidarity with the indigenous people crossing the border.
But there remains the matter of the apology to the kind of “woke” people who think they can choose either gender and pronouns. Williams, the program director, told The Daily Beast that her organization had pushed for the apology to make clear it had done nothing to warrant being canceled.
“Basically clearing our name,” William told The Daily Beast.
Williams recalled that the program had been going remarkably well when the contract was suddenly nixed.
“So when I got the email that the grant had been canceled, I was really flustered and didn’t really understand what was happening and wrote back an email to the people running the grant like, ‘Oh, what happened? I don’t understand.’ It didn’t make any sense to me,” she said.
But the group managed to keep it going by raising whatever funds they could, however they could.
“We’ve been scraping by,” she said.
Now they can put the settlement to good use.
“And not be as worried every day about where every penny is coming from,” she said.
As Johnson sees it, the settlement signals something beyond the money and even the unusual written apology.
“I think the biggest victory here is that the LGBTQ community in South Dakota feels like somebody stood up for them and they won,” he said. “And victories like that for the LGBTQ community in South Dakota are few and far between.”
Noem’s loss is their gain.