Port: As state lawmakers target the LGBTQ community, the health department spends on reaching out to them

"I think this juxtaposition illustrates something important — namely, the utter futility of legislative attempts to force the LGBTQ community back into the closet."

Student activists marched around the North Dakota capitol grounds in 2021 protesting a bill before the Legislature that year.
Adam Willis / The Forum

MINOT, N.D. — Here's something interesting for you to contemplate.

Some North Dakota lawmakers have made headlines of late for a raft of bills targeting gay and transgender citizens . These lawmakers claim to be on the crusade of rescuing children from purported pornography in our libraries and drag shows in our communities, but as usual the "save the children" stuff is a thin veneer over other, less savory motivations.

One gets the feeling that some of these lawmakers, many of whom would have us believe that they believe in limited government and individual liberty, are out to use the tremendous power of government to erase the LGBTQ community from our culture.

Yet, as this is happening, our state is also spending money on outreach to that very same community.

Commando LLC is a marketing firm based in West Hollywood, California, which, per their website , specializes in reaching the LGBTQ community. "COMMANDO helps you engage with the LGBTQ⁺ audience on the most relevant social, web, and dating platforms with compelling ads that speak to them," their website states .


Per data from the Office of Management and Budget , in fiscal years 2021 and 2022, Commando was paid $243,000 by the state of North Dakota for marketing and outreach.

Per Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson LuWanna Lawrence, the payments were for "an outreach campaign to inform North Dakotans about the importance of sexual health and increase testing and access to care." Contracts I obtained from the department through an open records request indicate that Commando's contract has been renewed for another $150,000 through the end of 2023.

My intent in pointing this out is not to criticize Commando LLC or any state agency for contracting with them. The outreach campaign — paid for by a federal grant, according to Lawrence — seems, at face value, like a good thing. A reasonable cost, as far as these things go, and a worthy cause.

We might wonder why an in-state marketing firm couldn't be used for this sort of thing, but that's a quibble and beside my point.

"Focus less on manufactured controversy, and more on real progress on real policies."
"As a father of two school-aged children, I pay more for school lunches than I do in state income taxes. If we want to deliver relief to families like mine, then why not cover school lunches?"
A proposal before the Legislature would implement term limits that are less restrictive than what voters approved, but it would also expand them to more elected offices.
"North Dakota is on the cusp of a significant rollback of the state's smoking ban, which is a victory for individual liberty."
Following the bills before our Legislature and the actions of the lawmakers themselves is easy for anyone who cares to engage.

This anecdote illustrates the absurdity of what's happening at the Legislature. Again, certain lawmakers seem to think they can erase the existence of a specific community of people. They think they can suppress their literature, their health care , and their cultural events, because they don't like them. Or, at the very least, because they disapprove of their lifestyle.

And yet, outside the political hothouse, and our enduring culture war fracas, our state's officials are obliged to deal with the real world where gay people exist along with bisexual people and trans people and a lot of other people who reside somewhere in the rainbow spectrum of sexuality and identity.

These are our friends. Our neighbors. Our coworkers. If we want healthy, happy communities, we need them to share in that health and happiness, and one way to do that, to bring us back to the anecdote at hand, is through outreach to encourage safe sexual practices.

I was hesitant to write this column, because I was afraid that by referencing the contract with Commando, I might inspire some lawmakers to put them, or the Department of Health and Human Sevices, in their crosshairs.


I'm writing it anyway, despite the risk of opening up yet another front in the culture wars, because I think this juxtaposition illustrates something important — namely, the utter futility of legislative attempts to force the LGBTQ community back into the closet.

They are here, just like the rest of us. They're getting hired and fired, and falling in love, and breaking up, and buying houses, and getting evicted, and getting sick, and getting better, just like the rest of us.

Maybe it's time some started acting like it.

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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