Josie Weiland, at home in Piedmont, South Dakota, 2014.08.16

Josie Weiland, at home in Piedmont, South Dakota, 2014.08.16. (That snake on her arm isn't permanent; she was entertaining kids with face-painting at her uncle Rick's fundraising concert Saturday.)

Josie Weiland just graduated from high school. She's headed for Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. Her uncle Rick is running for U.S. Senate.

Josie Weiland made her own political news last February, when she stood up at a crackerbarrel and challenged Senator Phil Jensen's absurd assertion that his proposal to let businesses discriminate against homosexuals was really an "anti-bullying free speech bill." She took a break from entertaining the kids at the fundraising concert her dad Kevin hosted for her uncle Rick yesterday to talk about what led her to political activism.

You might think that her politically minded family led her to her political consciousness, but Josie says that's not the case. Her own political curiosity (Weiland genetics?) led her to start reading up on homosexuality and equality issues on the Internet. She read about the combination of mounting empirical evidence and political action that led the American Psychiatric Association to remove homosexuality from the list of mental illnesses. She raised the subject of homosexuality and social responses to it at home, and while her family openly discussed the topic, she formed her own views.

Weiland sees most of her generation understanding and accepting homosexuality (a view shared by her young East River political counterpart Cody Hausman and supported by this 2013 Washington Post/ABC poll). But a vocal minority of her peers motivated her own interest in LGBT equality. She attended a conservatively oriented school where she regularly heard students tossing about ignorant anti-gay insults like, "It's Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve." Despite more positive messages about LGBT tolerance from at least one teacher, Weiland left that school her freshman year. Yet even in a somewhat more diverse and tolerant environment, she still heard ignorant attitudes causing others harm. That injustice provoked her to action.

Initially she didn't plan to speak up at the February 1 crackerbarrel in Rapid City. But the night before the event, she thought more about the injustice inherent in the discriminatory legislation proposed by Jensen and other legislators across the state and nation and decided to prepare some remarks and a question to defend gay and lesbian fellow citizens from discrimination.

After she confronted Senator Jensen, Weiland was distressed by the legislator's unwillinginess to engage in open dialogue. She dealt with sloppy journalism and personal attacks online with pretty good aplomb for a high-school senior unaccustomed to the invective political activists can draw.

But Weiland has not let those negative reactions from others drag her into similar tactics. Her interaction with equality opponents and supporters alike has shown her the advantage of positive messaging. She recalls that at the crackerbarrel, she and other supporters started a rallying chant in which they listed states that ban gay marriage and shouted "Shame!" after each name. One member of her group interrupted the chant and asked that they replace the shaming with something more positive. So instead of "Shame!" the group started responding to the list of states blocking equality with, "Yes we can!" Weiland says that simple change in language changed the emotion and energy of the group to something that felt more hopeful and proactive.

Weiland sees her generation ready and able to engage in politics. However (again reflecting views reflected by Hausman last spring), Weiland sees traditional political activities like crackerbarrels as "old school" and says young people see more ease and usefulness in social media. When a friend invited her to attend the February 1 crackerbarrel, she first thought of the restaurant, not the public forum.

Yet Weiland says that even with such powerful learning and organizing tools in their hands, young people seem largely apathetic to political issues. She thinks part of the problem may be too little discussion of politics in school. In her government class, Weiland says her teacher avoided discussions of "taboo" subjects like gay rights and abortion. Weiland thinks avoiding such topics deters students from discussing controversial issues. They get frustrated and tune out.

Weiland counters with her experience on the high school debate team (ably coached by Pennington County State's Attorney Mark Vargo). Debate is all about sharing and testing ideas and letting opposing views contest each other. Weiland says that letting more students experience that vigorous and healthy contest would incline more students toward engaging in politics.Weiland would like to continue engaging in politics, although she does have a few other important things to do, like figuring out a major. When she finishes university, Weiland doesn't envision running for high office like her uncle, but she likes the idea of involving herself in local politics. But above all, she wants to do her civic duty by reading, learning, and speaking up about LGBT equality and all the other issues affecting her community and encouraging others to do the same.


Rapid City Stevens student Josie Weiland has raised a public ruckus about her legislators' shockingly specious and retrograde attitudes toward civil rights for all committed married people. Now she and fellow Raider Elle Fettig are taking their support for spouses of all stripes to the streets.

Weiland and Fettig are organizing a human rights rally tomorrow (Monday) evening, 5:30 p.m., at Main Street Square in Rapid City (which is no easy town in which to love the way you wish). Young people, members of the LGBT community, and local business owners will speak for equality and against Senate Bill 128, which would allow businesses to refuse to serve or even hire anyone who doesn't conform to their code of sexual ethics. (Remember, SB 128 would allow a gay boss to fire employees for acting too straight, and that's not cool, either.)

Weiland's Senator Phil Jensen (R-33/Rapid City) brought SB 128 forward. Weiland invited Senator Jensen to attend the rally to speak to the merits of the bill, but one public confrontation was all his fearful bigotry could take.

Senator Jensen and fellow Black Hills gaybashers Rep. Lance Russell (R-30/Hot Springs) and Rep. Blaine Campbell (R-35/Rapid City) have thrown another civil rights stink bomb into the hopper. In House Bill 1251, these legislators pretend that they are the Supreme Court, rule that the federal government has no authority to protect citizens from religious discrimination, and authorize the same marketplace discrimination sought by SB 128. Rallygoers, take note and challenge both SB 128 and HB 1251.

SB 128 gets its first hearing before Senate Judiciary on Tuesday at 8:00 a.m. Rapid City members of that committee are Senators Mark Kirkeby and Craig Tieszen. HB 1251 gets its first hearing before House State Affairs on Wednesday at (surprise!) 3:30 p.m. Rapid City members of that committee are Reps. Kristin Conzet, Brian Gosch, and David Lust. Josie, Elle, make some phone calls, speak loudly and proudly at Monday's rally, and see if you can get through to legislators with a clearer sense of equality and justice for all.

Related: Legislators in Arizona, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Ohio, and Oklahoma are spewing similar anti-civil rights bile in their state legislatures. In Kansas, the Republican Senate President put a stop to it:

But the top Republican in the state Senate put a quick stop to the bill’s momentum, declaring that a majority of GOP lawmakers in that chamber don’t support it.

“A strong majority of my members support laws that define traditional marriage,” Senate President Susan Wagle said. “However, my members also don’t condone discrimination” [David A. Lieb, David Crary, and Rachel Zoll, "Gay Marriage Foes Scrambling at State Level After Setbacks," that Sioux Falls paper, 2014.02.16]

Keep shouting, Josie and Elle. Even some Republicans will listen.


Josie Weiland, senior at Stevens High School, challenged legislators to defend Senate Bill 128 at a Rapid City crackerbarrel yesterday. SB 128 is Senator Phil Jensen's (R-33/Rapid City) effort to pervert the First Amendment into permission to deny others' civil rights, not to mention nullify federal law and subjugate the judicial branch to the legislative branch.

Here is Weiland's challenge to the attending legislators and to all South Dakotans:

Senate Bill 128 is an unproductive act of discrimination that allows for social oppression of the LGBT community, and is a clear violation of human dignity. It violates John Locke's social contract, which is the very foundation of the U.S. Constitution, which states: every person is entitled to the unalienable rights of Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of happiness, unless the individual takes another individual's unalienable rights away. The bill fails to give warrant as to how this will actually be benefiting South Dakota and is a poor reflection of our elected officials to be focusing time on creating bills that disconnect our communities and serve to maintain oppression. It is certainly not allowing "liberty and justice for all". Our elected leaders should allocate our time and money into issues that actually benefit the community such as Common Core and expansion of Medicaid. THESE are issues that should be prioritized. The Republican Party and sponsors of this bill want less government involvement, so please, what is the justification behind THIS exemption? [Josie Weiland, crackerbarrel, School of Mines, Rapid City, 2014.02.01].

Mention John Locke, and you're sailing over most legislators' heads. Here's how Senator Jensen responded:

Senate Bill 128 is an anti-bullying free speech bill. We've all heard recently Colorado had a bake shop, cake shop, cake decorating business that they refused on their convictions, their religious beliefs to not provide a wedding cake for a gay couple. Well, you'd think that the Constitution would protect these folks from lawsuits and harassment, but they're going through the wringer on this thing.

This bill is just a proactive bill that will protect businesses and individuals from the bullying by the anti-straight folks... [Senator Phill Jensen, crackerbarrel, 2014.02.01].

At this point, members of the audience laughed. Weiland did not. Sounding incredulous at the absurdity of the adult at the front of the room, she interrupted:

Excuse me, anti-straight folks? This is a proactive bill that decreases bullying? [Weiland, 2014.02.01]

Weiland understands Senator Jensen is offering unabashed GOP Newspeak. SB 128 grants bigots legal protection for straight bigots to engage in verbal and economic bullying against homosexuals. It also protects gays who would bully straights in the same way. SB 128 itself is bullying.

Senator Jensen plowed ahead, without acknowledging Weiland any more than he had in his opening words:

The Attorney General happened to send me an email that said we're going to have to modify section 4 to read that the AG shall defend the constitutionality of sections 1 and 2 of this act as authorized by law. Otherwise [inaudible] authoroty issue and a fiscal impact issue [Jensen, 2014.02.01].

Senator Jensen is referring to the current wording of SB 128, which would require the Attorney General to defend bigots in court at taxpayer expense. AG Marty Jackley appears unconcerned about bullying and civil rights, but at least he's watching out for his office's budget.

Senator Jensen's "response" drew disheartening applause. So did the following statement by Rep. Mike Verchio (R-30/Hill City):

My stance on all of this is that I would like to have everyone who wants repsect for their values and their causes to have the same respect for my values and my causes. Because I am a very proud Christian conservative and follow the teachings of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ™ does not make me a bigot, and I object to people who think I am a bigot [Rep. Mike Verchio, 2014.02.01].

Being proud, Christian, conservative, or a follower of Jesus does not make anyone a bigot or a bully. Acting like Senator Jensen and Rep. Verchio does. Weiland understands that difference. She offers this rebuttal online:

I never mentioned the word Christianity or bigot in my speech and neither of them answered my question, or gave warrant as to how they were upholding the name of "Christianity". Now the responses from the gentleman were so un-Christlike, I have a hard time getting myself to see the other side. I got extremely emotional after all of this because I realized that this is ACTUALLY how these men think. I am extremely appalled and disgusted by this bill, and would encourage you all to do something about it too! [Josie Weiland, Facebook post, 2014.02.01]

Weiland tried to do something more about it after the crackerbarrel. She tried talking logic face to face with her Senator. She found it rather difficult:

After the meeting, I tried to confront Sen. Jensen about his bill, and after chasing him down for a while (because he was literally running away) I caught up to him. I asked him this: "Based on the premise of this bill (free speech), you wouldn't object to a bill that protected business owners from legal suit if they chose to deny Christians services?"

He told me he didn't know what I meant and started quickly walking away. So I told him to replace the words "sexual orientation" with Christianity in his bill, and according to the warrants of it, he would thereby have to agree.

Instead, he didn't say anything.

So I called him out and said "You're just going to ignore this? Ignore the public opinion?" (after all, I am in his district) He replied, "I suppose I am just going to ignore it." The worst thing about all of this? Sen Phil Jensen of District 33 runs unopposed [Weiland, online, 2014.02.01].

Weiland turns 18 this year. She's still too young to run against Senator Jensen (got to be 21 to serve in Pierre), but she will get to vote against him, and get her friends to vote against him, if some brave Democrat from District 33 will give her the chance.


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