BISMARCK –– A bill that would protect the state’s gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered community from discrimination in the workplace and housing was passed by the North Dakota Senate on Tuesday afternoon.
The vote was a close one for Senate Bill 2279, with twenty-five Senators voting in favor of it and twenty-two against it. Its passing caused a fervor of excitement among the bill’s supporters, as well as members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered community in North Dakota.
“I was excited to see that the Senate agrees with the majority of North Dakotans who support the bill,” said Rep. Joshua Boschee (D-North Fargo), a co-sponsor of the bill. “A poll that was conducted a few weeks ago found that 59 percent of North Dakotans support 2279.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee originally met with constituents on February 2 to hear testimonies for and against the bill. Boschee spoke then, noting that SB 2279 is important and needed “as North Dakota works to recruit and retain a talented workforce and new businesses to our state.”
”My generation no longer looks just for a job to work at, but a community to thrive in and for most of my generation, those communities should provide culture, creativity and great opportunities for community engagement,” Boschee had said. “SB 2279 does this by sending a signal to LGBT North Dakotans that they can be honest about who they are and whom they call family, without the fear of losing their job or housing. Furthermore, it signals to people from all over the country, that North Dakota is open for business and looking for hard working, talented individuals to keep our economy and communities growing.”
On Monday, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 4-2 to recommend a Do Not Pass for the bill.
When the Senate met Tuesday afternoon, an assembly of senators spoke in favor and against it. Sen. David Hogue (R-Minot) stated that during initial testimony, it was alluded that the tenets that this bill represented were akin to the Civil Rights movement from the 1960s.
“I don’t think the majority of the Committee accepted that, especially in respect to public accommodations. We know the private sector and the government condoned discrimination on the basis of race. We also had the same level of discrimination by the private sector. “For the majority, that didn’t sound like an accurate representation of what’s happening today. We don’t see people being discriminated in respect to public accommodations based on their sexual orientation. We didn’t accept the idea it was analogous to the Civil Rights movement.”
“We heard testimony that the (LGBT) population in North Dakota was 1.5 to 1.7 percent – it could be a higher percentage, but truthfully, nobody knows,” Hogue said, noting that the majority in the Judicial Committee did not accept the idea that North Dakota was “a hostile community or state for gay men and gay women.”
“We really did not see a problem, at least the problem was never defined to us in explicit discrimination or even implicit discrimination,” thus the Committee voted 4-2 to Do Not Pass, Hogue noted.
Sen. Carolyn Nelson (D-Grand Forks), the prime sponsor of the billl, argued that SB 2279 “clearly states North Dakota values: respect and acceptance of all our people, regardless of who they love.”
“Quite frankly, I see 2279 as a bill to allow all of our citizens to advance towards their American dream,” she said, noting that Grand Forks probably has the largest population of LGBT people. “They are my constituents….They are caring people in our community.”
Nelson pointed out that twenty-one states, as well as the District of Columbia, have total non-discrimination policies. “It extends the basic protections in home and the workplace to members of the LGBT community in North Dakota, by including sexual orientation to the North Dakota Fair Housing Act and the North Dakota Human Rights Act. The people this legislation is designed to protect – from losing their jobs or being evicted from their homes because they are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered – are our children, our sons, our daughters, our brothers, our sisters. They are folks we work with, and the worshippers we sit next to in the pews on Sunday. They are our friends and our families. They are people that we love.”
With its passing at the Senate level, SB 2279 will now go on to the North Dakota House of Representatives in the coming weeks.
This was the third time that the bill was brought to the Senate Floor. According to Boschee, the bill was passed by the Senate, but failed at the House of Representatives in 2009, and in 2013, it failed in the Senate.