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Meet Holli Finch
Senior Help Desk Support Technician, IT
Four years ago, Holli Finch decided she needed to get away. So she left Sioux City, Iowa, for Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Once she landed in the state’s largest city, she got a job with the Good Samaritan Society.
While getting to know her new community, Holli met the president of Sioux Falls Pride, a local nonprofit organization that works to support and protect LGBTQ South Dakotans. That connection put her on a path toward local LGBTQ youth advocacy. She joined the organization’s committee and was later voted onto its board of directors.
“I want to give back to the community that made me feel wanted and safe,” Holli says.
One of her proudest achievements with Sioux Falls Pride was its inaugural LGBTQ prom. She helped organize the prom during her first year on the committee. The event offered a place for LGBTQ youth to celebrate the coming-of-age rite safely.
Holli worked with other organizers to spread the word about the event. They reached out to schools directly and advertised through word of mouth. They also set up a prom drive to collect donated dresses and tuxes so every attendee could have what they needed to feel posh and confident.
The prom was a success.
“It was a sight to behold. We had around a hundred people there, and the kids were dancing and enjoying themselves. They knew they didn’t have to hide,” Holli says. “It made me so happy.”
The event couldn’t be openly advertised for the safety of the kids.
“Their lives are made political,” she says. “But the kids need to feel safe in a place where they’re not going to be ridiculed and where they can be themselves without fear.”
Holli, who is transgender, says she was in the closet for 25 years of her life and went through a difficult time. She doesn’t want others to go through what she did.
It can be especially hard for transgender youth in South Dakota. There have been three high-profile bills that have failed recently in the state legislature that would have targeted transgender youth.
“Transgender folks have been under attack the most in the last five years,” Holli says. “It’s so invalidating to see anti-trans bills come up every year saying you don’t matter. It puts a strain on individuals to see their rights questioned.”
These attacks make it harder to estimate how many South Dakotans are transgender.
“We just don’t know exact numbers. There are probably a lot of people who don’t come out because they’re afraid of losing their jobs or getting kicked out of their apartment,” Holli says. “There’s no protection against that in this state.”
Besides Sioux Falls Pride, Holli also works with The Transformation Project, a local nonprofit that helps teachers, doctors and others across South Dakota learn more about what it means to be transgender.
Every other week, she and another advocate hold transgender youth meetups. The group watches movies, plays games and hangs out. Since the pandemic, they’ve met over Zoom.
“I want to be the role model that I wish I had in that age range, 12 to 18, because those were some dark periods in my life,” Holli says. “I want to be there for the kids as much as possible. My life’s goal is to be the advocate I wish I had growing up.”
Holli’s advice for those wrestling with their gender identity is to find a safe environment where they can be true to who they are. Therapy was helpful for her, and she recommends finding a therapist if possible.
“Don’t hide. Find someone to talk to. Find that one person you can talk to about it. It helps to just get it out there,” she says.
She also stresses that there is hope.
“There are safe spaces. They’re hard to find, but there’s going to be a space where you can be yourself,” Holli says. “It will get better. It does get better.”