Imagine being fired from a job because of your religion. Imagine being denied a rental unit because of your race. Fortunately, those are unrealistic scenarios. Now, imagine being fired because of your sexual orientation or denied housing because of your sexual identity. Those scenarios are admissible in North Dakota.
The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to issue opinions in June 2020 regarding sexual orientation and sexual identity discrimination. Legislation of that kind has been defeated in the 2009, 2013, 2015, 2017 and 2019 legislative sessions.
There have been countless instances of LGBTQ discrimination in North Dakota. From a bank employee being told a well-qualified applicant would not be hired because of his sexual orientation, to a 2018 North Dakota housing study showing high levels of discrimination against transgender individuals, it is clear LGBTQ individuals are being discriminated against in North Dakota.
North Dakotans have shared their stories, yet elected representatives have failed to get the message. Instead, opponents to LGBTQ discrimination protection make the following unsubstantiated arguments and spread narratives based on fear.
1. Special rights
One of the strongest opposition messages is that LGBTQ individuals should not get “special rights.” However, there is nothing “special” about discrimination protection for vulnerable groups. North Dakota already protects several classes from discrimination. Sexual orientation and sexual identity would be among the existing protected classes: race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, mental or physical disability, status with regard to marriage or public assistance, and participation in lawful activity.
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North Dakota has already recognized that certain groups of people need heightened protection, and LGBTQ individuals would merely be added to the list. LGBTQ individuals are not asking for special privileges; they are simply asking to be treated equally.
2. Bathroom frenzy
The topic of bathrooms is the most fear-instigating narrative opponents use. Treating LGBTQ individuals equally will not suddenly make predatory behavior less criminal.
In hearing from transgender people on this issue, they have noted avoiding public restrooms altogether because of feeling even more uncomfortable than cisgender individuals. Furthermore, issues related to a transgender individual’s bathroom usage are often times resolved quietly between necessary parties, such as between a transgender individual and a school administrator. This message from opponents simply instills fear in people’s minds in order to deny essential rights to LGBTQ North Dakotans.
3. Endless litigation
Another argument is that adding protection would open floodgates to the courts. However, The North Dakota Department of Labor and Human Rights is responsible for enforcing North Dakota human rights and housing discrimination laws. If North Dakota added discrimination protection laws for LGBTQ individuals, the anticipated new complaints could be absorbed into the existing system at the department with minimal impact on staff and resources. Data suggests adding protections would not be costly or burdensome to enforce. The anticipated number of cases would have little to no effect on the North Dakota judicial branch’s current caseload.
Whether LGBTQ discrimination protection is resolved by the U.S. Supreme Court or legislation is introduced in the future, it is time these meritless arguments against protection cease to have weight. Our LGBTQ neighbors deserve equal treatment.
Katie Winbauer, a Bismarck native, is a law school student at the University of North Dakota. She serves as the president of the North Dakota Student Media Association and is an advocate for student press rights. Winbauer has been a local speaker for the March for Our Lives movement and also works closely with Invisible Innocence.