‘Don’t give up on North Dakota yet … progress will be made’

‘Don’t give up on North Dakota yet … progress will be made’

Last week the North Dakota Senate defeated SB 2252 with a 21-26 bipartisan vote, which would have amended the North Dakota Human Rights Act and the North Dakota Fair Housing Act to protect LGBT North Dakotans and their family from discrimination in housing, employment, public accommodations and public services.

As a lifelong North Dakotan, I am appalled that our state, a state that prides itself on valuing others and taking care of our neighbors, continues to support rhetoric that is pro-discrimination.

Photo by J. Stephen Conn

Unfortunately, the rest of the nation seems to have its own perspective that the decision was just “North Dakota being North Dakota.”

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As a co-sponsor of the legislation, I was confident in the progress our state and nation has made regarding LGBT equality.  Four years ago, the N.D. Senate passed an almost identical piece of legislation 29-17.

Could one argue that North Dakota is moving backwards?

I would argue that North Dakota hasn’t moved backwards, but certain elected leaders certainly have.  How else can you explain organizations like the Greater North Dakota Chamber of Commerce and the North Dakota Association of Realtors providing supportive testimony and lobbying for passage of this bill, when four years ago they wouldn’t have touched it with a ten-foot pole?

City governments, public universities, the statewide student association, faith leaders, family members and LGBT North Dakotans that have been discriminated against, all testified in support of passage to make North Dakota a safe state for all employees and renters to live, work, learn and play.

Sadly, their testimony and experiences were lost on legislators who would rather listen to the Concerned Women of American, North Dakota Family Alliance and faith leaders that use religion to support and justify discrimination, rather than oppose it.

The most laughable aspect of all this is the Senate Judiciary Chair introducing an amendment to the original bill because he thought North Dakotans weren’t quite ready to close the door on intolerance and progress should be made “incrementally.”

The amendment stated “the state of North Dakota does not condone discrimination based on sexual orientation.”

However, if you thought you were discriminated against because of your sexual orientation, you have no “rights or protections with respect to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation” or a “right to a cause of action for damages.”

In other words, we recognize discrimination occurs, but we will put into statute that the state of North Dakota won’t do anything about it — makes you want to relocate to be a part of the booming economy our state continues to experience, doesn’t’ it.

Fortunately, this horrible amendment was defeated by the Senate, and the original language of the bill received a full vote.

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It’s disheartening to hear elected leaders ignore their own state’s history in stating, “social change in this country happens in fits and starts; you don’t get to come into this chamber and hit your home run on the social change that you want.”

It’s infuriating to hear elected Republican leaders repeat rhetoric from the 1980’s that implies that being gay equals the spread of HIV/AIDs.

Yes, it sounds to me that North Dakota’s elected leaders are trying their hardest to move the state backwards.

Through all of this, I encourage you not to give up on North Dakota quite yet.  There is a silver lining.

Immediately following the defeat of SB 2252, city leaders from three of the state’s largest cities contacted me to gather information to pass fully inclusive local ordinances.

Community leaders are preparing to work with the state’s most populous county to pass a similar ordinance.  Lesbian, gay, bisexual and straight state employees in the three of the largest agencies are currently protected in employment, and we are preparing to move forward to ensure protections to all state employees.

Progress will continue to be made so that LGBT North Dakotans can truly feel at home.

As one of the supporters for the bill stated in testimony, “I want my (gay) son to feel as welcome in North Dakota as he does in my own home.”

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