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South Dakota University Regents To Protect Kids, But Not Adults, From Explicit Shows On Public Property

The development from the Board of Regents is encouraging, but more can be done to end events that expose children to sexual performances.


South Dakota State University hosted a “kid-friendly” drag show last month, on state property and in a taxpayer-funded building. More than a month later, the South Dakota Board of Regents, the governing body of the public university whose members are appointed by the governor, voted unanimously Wednesday to create a policy that would “enhance the protection of minors on campus.”

The board also stated its central office would review “all upcoming campus events involving the presence of minors on campus” before the policy is implemented. The board made no statement about its oversight of the use of tax dollars and tax-supported institutions sponsoring sexually themed shows for adults.

The “kid-friendly” drag show at SDSU in November was orchestrated by the Gender and Sexualities Alliance student group. In advertisements for the erotic show, student organizers encouraged attendees to “Show [their] support for the drag queens by bringing $1 or $5 bills to tip.”

A local news outlet reported that, according to one of the drag queens, the event featured “age-appropriate attire, music, and behavior.” However, a student who attended the performance told The Federalist on condition of anonymity the event was anything but child appropriate. “[The drag queens] were twerking and then also shaking their chests at people,” said the student. 

At the time of the drag show, there were no guidelines for South Dakota campus events attended by minors. “To provide our universities and campus organizations with guidance on events where minors are invited, we have directed staff to expedite the formation of a Minors on Campus policy,” said Board of Regents President Pam Roberts in a press release Wednesday.

Last week, The Federalist reported on the event and pointed out Republican Gov. Kristi Noem’s lack of public response to the event, although the governor has the power to appoint and fire the university’s governing Board of Regents. In a statement Noem provided to The Federalist Thursday, the governor said the board’s new policy decision was “At [her] direction” and “a testament to [her] ability to govern for the people of South Dakota.”

Since the performance may violate South Dakota’s “harmful to minors” law, Noem also has the power and responsibility to call on the state’s attorney general to enforce South Dakota’s laws — something she has done in the past. Noem could also push for bills that would ensure children are protected from similar events in the future, and that South Dakota’s public institutions and tax dollars are prohibited from furthering sexually themed entertainment for adults.

There Is More Work to Do

On Monday, before the Board of Regents moved to create the new policy, South Dakota’s Family Heritage Alliance Action Director Norman Woods wrote Noem a letter, stating he is “greatly disappointed [she] and [her] administration have taken no action to rectify this situation or to ensure that drag shows for children never happen again on South Dakota soil.”

Woods’s letter asked Noem (1) if she would work with the attorney general to interpret South Dakota law banning the dissemination of “presentations” depicting “sexual conduct” to minors, (2) if she would support legislation that “protects” children from “future drag shows,” and (3) if she had spoken to the Board of Regents and the president of South Dakota State University to prevent such events from happening in “taxpayer-funded buildings” again.

On Wednesday, Noem responded with a letter calling for Woods to be fired. “I am disappointed in Mr. Woods’ decision to attack me publicly by sending this letter out of the blue and releasing it to the media at the same time, instead of reaching out to my office to have a productive conversation about how we can work together,” she wrote. 

“I urge you [the Family Heritage Alliance] to focus your efforts on bringing our shared pro-family message to the people of South Dakota,” she added. “I suggest you find an executive director who agrees.” 

The Federalist reached out to Noem for comment on her letter. In response, the governor said in a statement sent via staff Thursday, “We have taken action to solve the problem, and we would have been happy to educate Mr. Woods of those actions had he contacted us privately and not leaked his request to the media. This is nothing more than self-aggrandizing on his part and does nothing to advance the mission of the Family Heritage Alliance.”

In Noem’s letter to the Family Heritage Alliance, she defended her handling of the “kid-friendly” drag show by bringing up the developments from the Board of Regents. The board made its announcement yesterday — two days after Woods’s letter was published and more than a month after the kid-friendly drag show.

Woods asked Noem in his letter if she would “actively work with our state lawmakers to push legislation that protects South Dakota minors from future drag shows.” In her response, Noem said that she “will continue to support legislation that builds stronger families in South Dakota and review any bill that the South Dakota State Legislature sends to my desk.” 

Noem also said that she “would welcome a clarification from the Attorney General’s Office on whether or not the event … violated the state’s decency statute. However, that is not for me to determine as Governor. I know what my job is — and what it isn’t.”

The news from the Board of Regents is a welcome development, but more can be done by the governor, attorney general, and state legislature. South Dakota State University is not the only institution to host a sexually explicit event in the state using public resources. Earlier this year, the state’s Vermillion Public Library hosted a “Drag Queen Storytime” for children “to celebrate Vermillion Pride.” South Dakota still needs to prohibit taxpayer resources from funding sexually explicit events for residents of any age, but especially children.

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