South Dakota health secretary out of job after Noem discovers trans group’s contract

Noem announced Adam’s retirement Monday morning, four days after the Republican governor condemned the transgender health summit.

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

(The Daily Signal) — South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem announced the retirement of her state health secretary, Joan Adam, days after the governor discovered that the state Health Department had contracted with a transgender activist group that will host a “gender summit” next month.

Noem announced Adam’s retirement Monday morning, four days after the Republican governor condemned the transgender health summit.

“Gov. Kristi Noem is reviewing all Department of Health contracts and immediately terminated a contract with The Transformation Project,” Ian Fury, Noem’s chief of communications, told The Daily Signal on Friday. “The contract was signed without Gov. Noem’s prior knowledge or approval.”

Fury sent The Daily Signal a copy of the document dissolving the state contract.

“South Dakota does not support this organization’s efforts, and state government should not be participating in them,” Noem told The Daily Signal in a statement provided by Fury. “We should not be dividing our youth with radical ideologies. We should treat every single individual equally as a human being.”

Noem did not mention the transgender issue in the press release about Adam’s retirement.

“Joan has lived a life of service to the Pierre community and to the people of South Dakota,” Noem said in the statement prepared for the release. “She has been able to put families first because she recognizes the importance of her own family. I am grateful for her advice and wish her the best on everything that she does.”

Adam and her husband Karl live in Pierre, where they have raised five children.

“My time with the Department of Health has been very rewarding,” Adam said in the statement. “The dedication of the department’s employees is impressive and will continue to serve the state well. I am looking forward to focusing on family and personal commitments.”

Noem hired Adam in March 2022, picking her to replace former Health Secretary Kim Malsam-Rysdon. Adam had previously served as division director for administration.

Fury, Noem’s spokesman, said that The Transformation Project had not complied with its state contract. The organization failed “to submit required quarterly reports for two consecutive quarters,” among other violations, he said.

Noem terminated the contract after The Daily Signal reached out with questions about a “Gender Identity Summit” that the state’s largest employer, Sanford Health, will host next month with The Transformation Project. The project celebrates controversial medical interventions for minors and hosts events in which people ritually “burn” their “old name or pronouns.”

The third annual Midwest Gender Identity Summit will take place Jan. 13 at the Sanford Research Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. According to its website, Sanford Health is “the largest rural health system in the United States.” It serves more than 1 million patients and 220,000 health plan members across 250,000 square miles. It operates 47 medical centers and employs 2,800 physicians.

Minnesota-based Alpha News first reported the scheduled event, drawing attention to The Transformation Project, which puts forth as its mission “supporting and empowering transgender youth.” Attendees can earn up to 6.5 professional education credits.

The Midwest Gender Identity Summit will include multiple workshops supporting the view that many biological males actually are female and vice versa, and these people are likely to commit suicide unless doctors give them drugs that stunt their growth, introduce what critics call a hormone disease into their bodies, and perhaps even remove healthy body parts. The summit frames this experimental medicine as “gender-affirming care.”

Summit session topics include “Providing Gender Affirming Care,” “Gender Affirming Care and the Attitude of Affirmation in Assessment,” “How My Journey as a Transgender Provider Has Impacted Patient Care,” and “Lessons From Transgender Patients.”

Presenters include left-wing activists and social-justice-minded medical professionals such as Dr. Mayson Bedient (who identifies his pronouns as “he” and “they”), Cody Ingle (a staffer at a suicide prevention nonprofit who includes “LGBTQ+ advocacy” on his LinkedIn profile), and Natasha Smith, Sanford’s head of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

The Transformation Project opposed a bill to make it a felony in South Dakota for doctors to perform sex-reassignment surgeries on children or prescribe them so-called puberty-blocking drugs that would stunt their natural growth. In opposing this bill, the project highlighted the story of a 14-year-old boy, claiming that “hormone blockers saved his life.”

In the first edition of its Transforming South Dakota magazine in 2019, The Transformation Project featured the stories of gender-confused children and teens. It recounted the story of Cameron, who questioned his gender at age 5, and Sebastian, a 14-year-old girl who came to identify as “nonbinary” at age 11.

The project also holds an annual event where participants, including children, ritually burn their “old name or pronouns.”

The South Dakota Department of Health had hired The Transformation Project to “Create a Community Health Worker (‘CHW’) Program with ‘at least one certificate-level CHW.’” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — which certifies community health workers — defines CHWs as “trained public health workers who serve as a bridge between communities, health care systems, and state health departments.”

The contract also required The Transformation Project to develop infrastructure for the CHW program, develop awareness efforts to promote it, participate in the Community Health Worker Collaborative of South Dakota annual conference, collect clinical data, provide success stories, provide quarterly reports, and more.

“I’m glad to see that the governor is cleaning house,” Linda Schauer, the South Dakota state director for Concerned Women for America, told The Daily Signal on Monday following the news of Adam’s retirement.

“We need people in our state government who will reflect South Dakota values and protect our children,” Schauer added. “Our leaders must recognize the destructive indoctrination of our youth in transgender identity and the costly practices of sex reassignment that cause irreversible damage. The Department of Health’s contract with The Transformation Project is one example of how institutions in our state are being co-opted to promote a reckless agenda harming our children. It needs to stop.”

“This is a great first step, and I’m glad to see Gov. Noem parting ways with a pro-transgender group on a state contract that should have never existed in the first place,” Norman Woods, director of the Family Heritage Alliance, told The Daily Signal. “I look forward to Gov. Noem working with legislators and groups like ours this upcoming session to support legislation that ends the castration and mutilation of children’s genitals.”

“It was quite a shock to learn that the South Dakota Department of Health was partnering with an activist group that pushes gender ideology on minors,” Jay Richards, director of the Richard and Helen DeVos Center for Life, Religion, and Family at the Heritage Foundation, told The Daily Signal in a Monday statement.

“I’m grateful that Gov. Noem took swift action to sever the contract once she learned about it. But someone was responsible for the debacle. Surely the buck stops with the health secretary, who has now announced her retirement,” Richards added. “Though the press release announcing the state health secretary’s retirement doesn’t mention this incident, the timing is suggestive. It’s hard to imagine that the event happened without the knowledge of Secretary Joan Adam.”

“Let’s hope other state health secretaries take note of what’s happening in South Dakota,” he concluded.

“You’ve got to give credit where it’s due — Gov. Kristi Noem after passing bold legislation to protect girls sports last year, Noem is now taking bold steps to protect children from being exploited by billion-dollar pharmaceutical companies and hospitals,” Terry Schilling, executive director of the American Principles Project, told The Daily Signal. “She’s showing that she understands the threats that this transgender industry poses to our kids and America’s future. Just phenomenal news.”


Tyler O'Neil

Tyler O'Neil is managing editor of The Daily Signal and the author of "Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center."