Rights group works for change in culture
Gina Powers wants change. The chairwoman of Equality North Dakota - a statewide gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights organization - spoke about equal rights at the third annual North Dakota Human Rights Coalition conference Thursday at D...
Gina Powers wants change.
The chairwoman of Equality North Dakota - a statewide gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights organization - spoke about equal rights at the third annual North Dakota Human Rights Coalition conference Thursday at Days Inn in Moorhead.
Powers showed a 30-minute movie of her marriage to Stephanie Rindy nearly two years ago in San Francisco. She spoke proudly of her officially recognized seven-year relationship and urged others to campaign for equal rights with their minds and hearts.
"How long do I have to wait for equal justice?" Powers asked. "We need to change the attitudes that permeate our culture."
In 2004, 74 percent of North Dakota voters approved a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and civil unions.
Sherri Paxon of Mandan, co-chair of Dakota OutRight, an LGBT resource center for central and western North Dakota, spoke about same-sex marriages in Canada and how education is vital to changing perceptions.
"A lot of education needs to be done inside and outside the community," said Paxon, who is also director of the Chronic Disease Division at the North Dakota Department of Health.
The two-day conference is titled "Tools for Building Inclusive Communities: The Role of Human Rights Education and Action in North Dakota."
The sessions include discussion on diversity and racial justice, gender equity and disability rights.
Andrea Warren-Deegan, interim executive director of the conference, said 110 signed up for the event, which returned to the area after a year in Bismarck.
"We're growing," Warren-Deegan said. "We want to make our presence known in other communities throughout North Dakota."
The conference continues today, with Kristi Rudelius-Palmer, co-director of the University of Minnesota Human Rights Center as the keynote speaker at 8:30 a.m.
Rudelius-Palmer has been involved in human rights education since 1986. She founded a campus Amnesty International group and taught parenting classes for fathers in prison and for mothers outside of prison, and developed a self-esteem class for children with parents in prison.
She was a founding co-director of the Human Rights Center at the University of Minnesota in 1989 and became a founding member of Human Rights USA and creator of the national Human Rights Resource Center in 1997.
Also speaking today is former North Dakota Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp, who plans to lead a session with Sen. Carolyn Nelson, D-Fargo, on the need for more women in North Dakota state government.
Heitkamp said Thursday that people assume women are equal participants in state government after a "first," such as the first woman on the Supreme Court. She argues there has been a plateau of women in state leadership positions.
Equal participation is important in part because women bring different life experiences to the decision-making process, she said.
Other sessions today focus on community organizing, protecting tribal sovereignty and human rights, and the racial climate on college campuses.