LGBTQ-discrimination bill back in ND Senate
FARGO - Legislators in North Dakota are again pushing for a bill that would offer basic nondiscrimination rights for those who identify as LGBTQ. North Dakota is one of the worst states in the country for LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgende...
FARGO – Legislators in North Dakota are again pushing for a bill that would offer basic nondiscrimination rights for those who identify as LGBTQ.
North Dakota is one of the worst states in the country for LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning) residents based on what rights and workplace protections the state affords them, according to the Human Rights Campaign’s 2014 State Equality Index report.
North Dakota doesn’t have any nondiscrimination laws on the books to protect LGBTQ residents from discrimination in the workplace, the report states, or from decisions related to a selection to a jury, public accommodations, housing, insurance, credit, adoption or foster care.
North Dakota is also one of 14 states that doesn’t allow same-sex marriage.
Sen. Carolyn Nelson, D-Fargo, is the primary sponsor of Senate Bill 2279, which is similar to bills brought forward in 2009 and 2011 that failed to pass.
“The reason I think that this bill is important is that I think that the young people are looking at not only getting a good job but moving to communities that are accepting,” Nelson said. “Despite the fact that Fargo and Grand Forks are pretty liberal and above board, there are a lot of places in North Dakota that are not yet there.”
Nelson said when she was in high school the state was still grappling with Native American rights and later, civil rights for minorities.
“We gotta solve this one, too,” she said. “It’s the right thing to do.”
Rep. Josh Boschee, D-Fargo, a co-sponsor of the bill, said one way supporters of the bill are appealing to the Legislature’s conservative majority is pointing to the positive effect it will have on workforce development and attracting businesses to the state.
“We continue to need to fill jobs in the state,” Boschee said. “As someone who has done a job search and looked throughout the country and is gay, the first thing I do is look at the laws on the books – what are the protections afforded to me at my place of employment.”
He said technology, biotechnology and financial institutions are all growing industries in the state and need a talented workforce, “regardless of who they are.”
“This is an opportunity for us to have a conversation about: Are we being authentic in that desire to recruit and retain that workforce in our state?” Boschee said.
The absence of a law means there is a basic lack of equality and justice for LGBTQ residents when they are fired from their job or evicted from their apartment complex, advocates say.
“Whether or not people agree with whether someone should be discriminated against or not, there’s no remedies in the state,” Boschee said.
“So, if someone is fired or feels that they’re fired or kicked out of their apartment because of who they are or who they love, they call the Department of Labor and the Department of Labor says: ‘I apologize that that happened to you but there’s nothing I can do on your behalf.’ ”
The bill would create a remedy so the Department of Labor could investigate claims of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Current non-discrimination laws include protections for race, religion, sex, national origin, age and physical or mental disabilities.
Twenty-one states and Washington, D.C., offer protections for residents based on sexual orientation, according to the Human Rights Campaign.
Ten other states have sexual orientation nondiscrimination laws or policies that only cover public employees.
The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to consider the question of same-sex marriage, but even if the nation’s highest court follows federal court precedent and rules in favor of marriage quality, Boschee said this bill is still necessary.
Several institutions and employers in North Dakota already offer protections for LGBTQ residents.
The state Board of Higher Education adopted a policy against sexual orientation discrimination in 2009 after legislators failed to pass a bill. North Dakota State University and other colleges in the state have similar policies on their books.
Sanford Health, North Dakota’s largest employer, has a policy of nondiscrimination in regards to sexual orientation.
“Sanford Health will take Affirmative Action to ensure that all employment practices are free of such discrimination,” said Sanford Health spokeswoman Nadine Aljets in an email.
Sanford also implemented benefits for same-sex partners of employees in 2003, Aljets wrote.
Cities like Grand Forks and Fargo have made progress on equality ahead of the state, but Boschee said cities are limited in what they can do.
Support for the bill is bi-partisan, Boschee said. Rep. Thomas Beadle, R-Fargo, is a co-sponsor.
Boschee said there are indications several other Republicans will support the bill.