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North Dakota Senate kills bill to ban, fine transgender pronoun use

The legislation from Sen. David Clemens would have required those affiliated with schools and other public entities to refer to people using pronouns that align with their “determined sex at birth."

North Dakota Sen. David Clemens, R-West Fargo, speaks about his bill to bar transgender residents from using pronouns that align with their gender identity during a Senate floor debate on Friday, Jan. 20, 2023.
North Dakota Sen. David Clemens, R-West Fargo, speaks about his bill to bar transgender residents from using pronouns that align with their gender identity during a Senate floor debate on Friday, Jan. 20, 2023.
Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service
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BISMARCK — In a win for LGBTQ advocates, the North Dakota Senate defeated a bill that would have barred transgender residents from using pronouns that align with their gender identity at schools and other publicly funded entities.

The chamber voted 39-8 on Friday, Jan. 20, to reject Senate Bill 2199 after a short debate.

The legislation sponsored by Sen. David Clemens, R-West Fargo, would have required those affiliated with schools and other entities receiving public funding to refer to people using pronouns and gendered terms that align with their “determined sex at birth, male or female.” Violators of the bill would have been fined $1,500.

Conservative state lawmakers have shown an elevated interest in legislation targeting gender issues. About 10 bills filed in the budding legislation session would restrict health care, activities and personal expression for transgender residents.

Sen. Janne Myrdal, R-Edinburg, told her colleagues on Friday that the Judiciary Committee she serves on voted not to back the bill earlier this week because it was unenforceable and may have caused unintended consequences.

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However, Myrdal noted that the committee’s thumbs-down vote on Clemens’ bill did not reflect the conservative majority’s convictions on gender issues and pronoun usage. She added that legislation still in the pipeline could allow lawmakers to tackle the issue.

In an unsuccessful push to convince the Senate to support his bill, Clemens said the legislation seeks to uphold truth on the matter of sex and gender.

“I know some will disagree, but I firmly believe that truth is male and female and nothing else,” Clemens said Friday.

More than a dozen LGBTQ advocates assembled at the state Capitol on Wednesday to condemn the proposal as harmful to the well-being of transgender North Dakotans. Other critics noted that the bill likely violates the U.S. Constitution’s right to free speech.

The bill drew 92 pieces of oppositional testimony, and only Clemens testified in favor of the proposal.

transgender bills.jpg
Celeste McCash, right, and Katrina Jo Koesterman, seated in red, wait their turns to speak out against Senate Bill 2199 during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2023, at the North Dakota Capitol in Bismarck.
Darren Gibbins / The Bismarck Tribune

Katrina Jo Koesterman, president of advocacy group Tristate Transgender, said on Wednesday the bill “essentially erases transgender identity from the Century Code.” She said Friday she was glad the bill failed, noting that “it made no sense for North Dakota.”

But the Moorhead, Minnesota, resident added that the fight against anti-transgender legislation continues, and she urged lawmakers to defeat the remaining bills “for the good of the state.”

The House Human Services Committee will hold hearings on Tuesday, Jan. 24, for seven GOP-backed bills related to gender issues, including proposals to:

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  • Ban and criminalize gender-affirming treatments and surgeries for transgender minors.
  • Prohibit transgender girls and women from participating in K-12 and college sports with girls and women. 
  • Restrict transgender residents from using bathrooms that align with their gender identity. 

How they voted:

YES: Clemens, Conley, Dwyer, D. Larsen, Magrum, Rust, Vedaa and Weston.

NO: Axtman, Barta, Beard, Bekkedahl, Boehm, Braunberger, Burckhard, Cleary, Davison, Dever, Elkin, Erbele, Estenson, Hogan, Hogue, Kannianen, Kessel, Klein, Krebsbach, Kreun, Larson, Lee, Lemm, Luick, Mathern, Meyer, Myrdal, Patten, Paulson, Piepkorn, J. Roers, K. Roers, Rummel, Schaible, Sickler, Sorvaag, Wanzek, Weber and Wobbema.

Jeremy Turley is a Bismarck-based reporter for Forum News Service, which provides news coverage to publications owned by Forum Communications Company.
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