Kristi Noem’s anti-LGBTQ+ “whistleblower hotline” has been a giant mess (and a headache for those in charge of handling it) since it was created earlier this year. And over the past week, that mess (and the accompanying headache) got even worse.
Quick backstory: South Dakota’s gay-hating governor announced the hotline right around the start of Pride month. The purpose, she said, was to combat the “state of crisis” happening in higher education and not allow “liberal ideologies to poison [South Dakota’s] colleges and universities.”
Noem encouraged students, professors, faculty, parents, taxpayers, and anyone with a phone, really, to call and complain about anything and everything “woke” suspected to be happening inside the state’s public higher education institutions.
Within hours of the hotline going live, the mailbox was full.
Shortly after that, Noem announced that–surprise!–it had received an alarming number of reports of schools encouraging “transgender ideologies” and requiring students to share their pronouns during course introductions.
But things quickly went awry when confusion arose over who was actually supposed to manage the hateline, er, hotline and field the thousands and thousands of incoming calls each week.
Noem initially said the Board of Regents would handle it, but the Board of Regents said that wasn’t true and it was being “fully managed by the governor’s office.”
Adding another layer of confusion to the whole thing was (and still is) the fact that when phoning in, callers are greeted with a message thanking them for calling “the South Dakota Board of Regents whistleblower hotline.”
Last week, when the issue was brought up during a Board of Regents meeting on the South Dakota Mines campus in Rapid City, Jeff Partridge, a member of the board, said they’re still waiting for Noem’s office to actually give them access to the hotline.
Apparently, what’s been going on since June is someone (though no one can say exactly who) at Noem’s office fields all of the calls and then forwards any that they deem worthy of further investigation onto the Board of Regents, who is then supposed to follow up with the callers. Or something.
But five months into this failed experiment, there’s now an enormous backlog of calls waiting to be answered, leaving those eager to hear the status of their complaints about alleged gay things happening on college campuses frustrated, and they’re taking their frustrations out on the Board of Regents, which, again, does not have access to the hotline.
“We’re hoping that will be heard and received as far as us taking that over in the near future,” Partridge said, adding, “If we coordinated our efforts, we’d be able to help the students even better.”
But Noem’s office is refusing to relinquish control.
In a statement, her chief of communications, Ian Fury, said the hotline has been “extremely effective” under the governor’s management.
“There are no planned changes in how the hotline is being administered at this time,” Fury said. “The governor’s office will continue to run the whistleblower hotline and make sure it serves the people of South Dakota and our kids and grandkids.”
At last week’s meeting, however, Regents Executive Director Nathan Lukkes suggested the exact opposite. He said the hotline as not been effective, as many of the reports being forwarded onto them by Noem’s office have proven to be false.
“As we’ve dug into things even with information coming directly from the individuals complaining, we found that the allegations as initially represented simply weren’t accurate,” he said.
For example, Lukkes explained, the board received several complaints about students allegedly being forced to state their pronouns in class, which he said the board has already addressed and has issued guidance on in the past.
“We do not require preferred pronouns, nor should we or our staff be putting students on the spot asking them to say their preferred pronouns,” he said. “But to be clear, we also do not prohibit the use of preferred pronouns if students so choose.”
Lukkes also said the hotline received complaints about a “kid-friendly” drag show at South Dakota State University in Brookings that no kids actually attended.
“That event is advertised as ‘may contain mature content, and is for attendees 18 or over,’” Lukkes said, “just as the board intended.”
It’s uncertain what Noem’s endgame is here, but one thing is clear: This whole thing has turned into a giant clusterf*ck, much like her entire administration.