The following column was originally published in The Jamesown Sun on March 25, 2009.
Forty below is not the only reason potential North Dakota residents choose to live elsewhere.
There’s also the stigma that this rural state is a backward one where minorities are not welcome and people who are different from the norm should look to other states. We have a chance to prove this image wrong with Senate Bill 2278.
The bill, which awaits a vote in the North Dakota House of Representatives, would add sexual orientation to the criteria on which North Dakotans can not be discriminated against in terms of employment, housing and other necessities of modern life.
Critics of this bill have claimed that it makes homosexuals into a special, protected class. That is untrue. This bill would protect every single resident of this state because you do not have to be a homosexual to be discriminated against.
I say this because, though I am a heterosexual man, I have been called a “queer” — among several related words — quite a few times in my life. I have also not been on a real date in years; not because of a lack of interest, mind you, but from every attempt being met with absolute, and often hilarious, failure.
Don’t worry about my dating life, I’ll get that sorted out eventually. What deserves your concern is that people like me are at risk of losing their livelihoods, should their bosses be bigoted enough. Imagine that I worked at a company where my supervisor is known for disliking gays, and a rival coworker spread a rumor about my love life. If my unscrupulous colleague lied well enough and that bigoted boss believed I was gay, I could be out of a job.
I’d like to believe that no one in North Dakota could be that that prejudiced, but I know better. Luckily, I have an employer who would not make this mistake, but not all North Dakotans are so fortunate. We need SB 2278 because everyone should be protected from this sort of discrimination. Your sexuality is none of your employer’s business.
Not only that, but this state’s businesses will be better off economically if it passes the bill.
There is plenty of talk about a bright future for North Dakota once the economic crisis is over and oil prices pick themselves up off the floor. But for that to become a reality, this state needs people to build its work force with fresh blood, and the younger, the better.
But the stigma I mentioned at the beginning of this column hurts our chances, and failing to pass SB 2278 will only hurt it more.
My generation is the most supportive one of gay rights in American history. We grew up seeing openly gay people on television and discussed the issue of homosexuality in school. In fact, tons of us have gay friends who made us realize that, while we may not necessarily like the idea of homosexuality, we do not want to cast people out of our lives just because they are different. In fact, we like meeting people who live and act in different and possibly bizarre ways because they make life more interesting.
But if members of my generation see North Dakota vote down SB 2278, it will hit the national news and hundreds of thousands of young people will see our state saying, basically, that gay people are not welcome here. Few will approve of the decision, and thousands could very well decide to look to other places for work.
North Dakota might be doing well for now, but it cannot afford to cut itself off from so many potential workers. One of this state’s worst problems is that many outside of here have never even heard of us, let alone heard anything bad. If this bill fails, the first impression many will get of us will be that of a state made up of ignorant bigots — bigots desperate to hold on to a means of hurting those who are not like them.
The opposition to this bill stands for that one thing: hurting others. It harms people to deny them employment or shelter in an apartment. When critics of SB 2278 say they want to be able to discriminate based on sexual orientation, they’re saying they want to hurt people for being different.
The opposition to SB 2278 doesn’t understand that letting homosexuals (or people they suspect to be homosexuals) live and prosper does not equate to approving of their sexual orientation. It just means they would be letting them be.
It is fair to argue that homosexuality is a sin, and that God commands against it. But it is for God and God alone to decide whether those suspected of sin should suffer consequences.
Our job as North Dakotans is to look out for one another and try to make our state into a better place. SB 2278 will help us achieve that.
(Logan C. Adams is the assistant editor of The Jamestown Sun. He blogs at www.areavoices.com/adams and can be reached at 701-952-8451 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org)