Take a Breath, Then Continue
the Human Rights Song
BY ROBYN ROHDE
These adjectives and many more were uttered by a small group of people meeting recently to find out what they can do following the North Dakota legislative decision to actively condone discrimination based solely on sexual orientation.
During the “Organize! Your role in LGBTQ+ Human Right Initiatives in ND” event held Feb. 13 at the Pride Collective and Community Center on First Ave S, Fargo, news of the defeat of bill ND 1386 left more questions than resolutions. The bill, introduced by Rep. Joshua Boschee, D-Fargo, related to the prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. On Feb. 10, the North Dakota House of Representatives voted down the bill 22-69. That same day, the amendment to send it back to the committee also failed by a 32-59 vote.
“Losing 14 votes between last biennium and this biennium is a bit discouraging,” said Ken Story, board president at the Pride Collective and Community Center, referencing the difference in voting from last session in which a similar anti-discrimination bill received 36 yays.
Needless to say, the effective death of ND 1386 put a damper on the weekend, communally called Winter Pride, knowing a love for rainbows could put people’s jobs, housing and, in extreme cases, safety at risk. However, empowered by colorful paintings of famous human rights advocates, the gathering in the state’s only LGBTQ+ center of 20 people of all sexual identities simply needed a moment to share their frustration and disbelief before refocusing their efforts on human rights.
“The state legislature is incredibly infuriating at times,” said Dr. Kjersten Nelson, political science professor at North Dakota State University and representative of North Dakota Human Rights Coalition. “Even in its best years it does some pretty awful things.”
Sexual Identity Defines Experience for Some
Not having protections in place leads to barbarisms such as a 22-year Marine veteran, who works for the State of North Dakota Veteran Affairs helping veterans find employment, but must go out of his work building to use the bathroom because he identifies as transgender.
“I’ve lived and fought in 20 different countries around the world,” said Kujo, who prefers to go by a pseudonym. “I fought for freedom but I feel discriminated against because I can’t present my gender in the workplace.”
Story added, “I think what’s happening across our state is a lot of these different issue areas, which have been individually focused, are now running into each other in the face of solidarity. You have women’s issues up for debate, you have people who are just trying to find peace and opportunity up for debate, you have gay and lesbian and transgender individuals who have rights and protections up for debate. What you are seeing is a real sentiment of disenfranchised communities crying out for help.”
Personal sexual orientation didn’t matter in the space as an older husband and wife spoke about how they have never been involved in LGBTQ+ action before but attended to find other pools of ally’s “outraged by some of the stuff that’s happening.”
“I’ve been astonished by the cruelty of some of the bills lately,” the husband said.
Another woman who identifies as an LGBTQ+ ally said, “I’m feeling just as you are, blindsided by everything. I look at my life and I have all kinds of people in my life who are for me, just important people, but they are also gay. Their lives are at risk. They are my friends; they are important people to me and I feel I need to help.”
Compassion Supply found in Downtown Fargo
For eight years, the LGBTQ+ community residing in North Dakota has asked to simply be treated with the same professional respect that their heteronormative brothers and sisters have been granted. I know people who have left the state; I know people who will never come back to the Midwest; I know people who have purposefully moved six blocks away to purchase homes in Moorhead because of unjust laws.
I also know people who don’t classify the worthiness of an entire selection of people simply by who they are attracted to. I know this opinion is not the majority in the area and it can be exhausting to continue to beat the drum of human rights. Make no mistake, this is exactly the crutch of the issue: All human rights.
A gay man in attendance shared a powerful email he received from a fellow member of Fargo-Moorhead Gay Men’s Chorus equating the campaign for human rights to performing a group musical piece.
“Sometimes music requires a singer to hold a note longer than they can actually hold a note,” he read. “In those cases we were taught to mindfully stagger when we took a breath so the sound appeared uninterrupted. Everyone got to breathe and the music stayed strong and vibrant . . . We will literally lose our will to continue the fight in the face of the onslaught of negative action. [When that happens] let’s remember music, take a breath, the rest of the chorus will sing and the rest of the band will play. Rejoin so others can breathe. You don’t have to do it all but you must add your voice to the song.”
So celebrate the little victories, support the conversation, take a breath. Then join the song again so others may have their breath and we all produce beautiful human rights music. Together.
(Robyn Rohde is a senior majoring in multimedia journalism at MSUM. She’s showcasing her skills in a new medium before graduating in May, with hopes of going on to earn her MFA. Contact her at email@example.com.)