Question for the Candidates

November 2016 is right around the corner – while there is a lot of attention on the presidential race already, many lower-profile races have significant influence over North Dakotans’ quality of life. In particular, the state legislature makes a lot of decisions that influence NDHRC’s major issues and that particularly impact the state’s native, LGBT, immigrant, women residents.

The good news is that we have a lot of opportunities to interact with the candidates for the legislature. The next time you do, ask them the following questions, and let us know what they have to say.

So-Called “Religious Liberty” legislation

Many states have been debating these measures – they sound nice (“religious liberty”); in reality, these bills are reinforcing the legal right to discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity. For example, Mississippi recently passed a law that allows businesses and religious groups to deny services, like counseling, wedding planning, and adoption support to LGBT individual (http://www.cnn.com/2016/04/06/us/religious-freedom-laws-why-now/).

There was not a similar law debated during the last session of the North Dakota legislature, but it is entirely possible such a bill could be introduced this session – and because legislators must vote on every bill that is introduced, this could very well be an issue in the coming legislative session.

Ask your candidates:

  • Would you support legislation that would allow organizations and individuals to deny services to LGBT individuals?

Anti-Discrimination Legislation

While marriage equality is the law of the land, there are no federal protections against employment, housing, or public accommodations discrimination. That means this equal protection is left up to individual states, and also puts many LGBT individuals in an awkward bind – while everyone has an equal right to marry, LGBT individuals still face the possibility of being fired, evicted, or other forms of discrimination.

The North Dakota legislature came so close to implementing an LGBT anti-discrimination law in 2015; NDHRC was proud to be spear-heading efforts to educate legislators about the discrimination that LGBT North Dakotans deal with every day. SB 2279 would have prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation in housing, employment, public services, and personal business transactions. It passed in the Senate but failed in the House.

Many people showed up to testify in support of this bill, often sharing very personal stories about the discrimination they have experienced, just as many did in 2009 and 2013 as well. Each time, however, the North Dakota legislature defeated this important legislation.

Ask your candidates:

  • Would you support legislation to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity?

“Bathroom Bills”

North Carolina has served as the poster child for the latest wave of attack on transgender rights. These “bathroom bills” generally require that individuals use the bathroom that matches the sex on their birth certificate or their current ID. It is not difficult to imagine the difficulty and outright violence that might meet individuals who present as a different gender than their state-issued ID indicates – indeed, transgender individuals often experience violence in many aspects of their lives. These bills are hateful, mean, and, to top it off, largely unenforceable in a polite society.

The good news is that some governors have vetoed similar legislation – most locally, in South Dakota. However, the debate around these legislative initiatives creates a (more) dangerous and inhospitable environment for our trans brothers and sisters.

Ask your candidates:

  • Would you oppose legislation that would require individuals to use the bathroom that matches the gender on a state-issued ID?
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