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042015-nws-lgbt-2

Supporters of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights stake a banner on the northwest corner of the state Capitol grounds in Bismarck in 2015. Shown, from left, are Kevin Tengesdal, AnnMarie Kajencki and Michelle Nelson.

An anti-discrimination resolution discouraging biased employment, rental/housing and service practices based on sexual orientation or gender identity was approved without fanfare Tuesday by the Bismarck City Commission. 

"The city commission doesn't condone discrimination in any shape or form," said Mayor Mike Seminary. 

Supporters of the local LGBT community called the city resolution a quiet victory — especially as it follows the Legislature's defeat last year of SB2279, which was seeking the same rights statewide.

"It's a promising start," said Kevin Tengesdal, who served on a roundtable on the issue in Bismarck. "We see this as a promising first step for the city and, hopefully, for a state nondiscriminatory effort. The city resolution recommends not discriminating based on orientation or gender expression."

Tengesdal said future sponsorship of legislative action for LGBT rights hinges on the outcome of the Nov. 8 elections, but he is confident such bills will be introduced again.

While the resolution does not include enforcement options, it "is a good step" for possible future city ordinances, according to Tengesdal.

"I have friends who are harassed by other co-workers, and people (who were) refused services at a store. They feel looked down upon," he said. "They just want the same rights and freedom to do as any other citizen of North Dakota without fear of repercussion."

"I'm thrilled they took the time to pass the language and make things more fair in Bismarck," said Caitlin McDonald, program assistant at the North Dakota Women's Network, an advocacy group. "This moves the issue and conversation forward where sometime it will go statewide. Bismarck stands with protecting LGBT, and discrimination is not part of its values."

Mathew Leidholm, a board member of Dakota Outright, an LGBT advocacy group, said this is one of the most important steps a home-rule city could have taken in protecting its citizens and creating a culture of acceptance.

"It's an important step, but it does not replace enforceable legislation at the state level," he said.

Barry Nelson, a board member of the North Dakota Human Rights Coalition, said with the state failing to protect rights of the LGBT community, individual entities are taking action into their own hands. He said his organization is pleased the city resolution went through so quickly after the long efforts of a local work group.

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(Reach LeAnn Eckroth at 701-250-8264 or leann.eckroth@bismarcktribune.com)

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