SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Being a teenager comes with all sorts of challenges and new responsibilities from schoolwork, sports and extracurriculars, to navigating high school. But for LGBTQ youth in South Dakota, the pressures and stresses of life include fighting for their right to exist and live equal to their peers.

“To put it simply, being LGBTQ+ In South Dakota sucks,” Elliot Vogue said.

The 18-year-old Vogue is transgender and spent most of his high school years fighting against anti-LGBTQ legislation in Pierre. His vocal advocacy has earned him the honor of being one of The Advocate’s Champions of Pride, representing South Dakota.

Elliot Vogue in The Advocate.

“Speaking to lawmakers kinda filled me with dread,” Vogue said of his trips to Pierre. “It was so much pressure to be put on a 15–17-year-old. I wasn’t scared but I hated having to go talk to grown adults about why they shouldn’t be trying to harm trans people — especially trans children. I did my best to represent LGBTQ+ teens and sometimes I was lucky enough that lawmakers would listen to what I had to say. But I feel like I shouldn’t have had to fight that fight at all.”

For Vogue, who now lives in Iowa, it’s hard to find a place to live that isn’t attacking transgender youth.

“I don’t know where I see myself ending up honestly. It seems like everywhere is trying to drive trans people out,” Vogue said.

Alex Rambow, 17, of Watertown was also honored by The Advocate for his advocacy in South Dakota.

During the 2022 legislative session, Alex traveled to Pierre with his mother to meet with other LGBTQ advocates at the Capitol. Alex and the other advocates had hoped to speak to Governor Kristi Noem, but Alex said she tried to “sneak” into her office without talking to the group.

“And my mom took that opportunity to swoop in and say hi, and I think we kind of knew that she wouldn’t accept their invitation (to speak with advocates),” Alex said. 

Alex’s mom, Amy Rambow, said the legislative session every year is tough for her family as they anxiously watch to see what anti-LGBTQ legislation is introduced by lawmakers.

“And then you have after the session ends, you know, dealing with the fallout of whatever bills have passed,” Amy said.

Alex said his trips to Pierre provide him with the opportunity to confront lawmakers about how their proposed bills will affect kids like him. But the trips to Pierre fill Alex with anxiety and frustration.

“They don’t even bother to talk to us about it, they’re driving us away pretty much,” Alex said. “And it’s just a big slap in the face pretty much when they come out with all these bills, especially with like, Fred Deutsch and stuff like that. And it’s just, like, it baffles me why they make such a big issue out of this when there’s not a problem anywhere.”

Alex Rambow in The Advocate.

Like Vogue, Alex said the anti-LGBTQ sentiments and legislation make him want to leave South Dakota to find a place that is more welcoming and safer.

“I want to call South Dakota home, I really do,” Alex said. “But every time I talk about it, I mostly just go into how much it sucks. Because, in full honesty besides like the Transformation Project and a couple other LGBTQ things, there’s no redeeming qualities at this point.” 

Amy understands her son’s desire to leave South Dakota due to the anti-LGBTQ policies and beliefs.

“I also, in the same token, hope they stay here because there’s such a bright light in the LGBTQ+ community in South Dakota and are able to speak out especially for those who can’t,” Amy said.

That bright light includes the growing number of Pride festivals across the state. This weekend, the Rambow family will be heading to Aberdeen for their 2nd Annual Pride Festival and then will continue celebrations in Sioux Falls and Watertown over the next several weeks.

“Our whole month is taken up on the weekends, which is amazing, because we know, every time that we’re at the celebrations, it’s pure love. It’s pure acceptance. It’s everyone being who they truly are, their true selves,” Amy said.

For Alex, Pride is a time where he’s able to be himself and not have to hide who he is.

“Watertown Pride, to me is just that symbol, but bigger because it shows that we as a community are able to come together and celebrate being how everybody is in this wonderful community,” Alex said.

For Vogue, Pride Month is a time to be thankful for the LGBTQ people who came before him to fight for equality while also coming together with other members of the community to celebrate who they are. Vogue’s advocacy has slowed down since starting college but it’s not over.

“Right now, it’s a little more difficult and lately I haven’t felt like lawmakers deserve to take any more time from me– Seeing as they already stole a decent chunk of my childhood,” Vogue said. “Right now, I’m focusing on my education and my life. That way I’ll be able to advocate for those who need it later.”