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Pride Month: Assessing where North Dakota stands on LGBTQ equality

The Peace Garden State has the smallest population of residents who identify as LGBTQ, making up just 2.7%. Many North Dakota LGBTQ activists say that the small population is owed, in part, to an atmosphere of intolerance.

Pride month
The rainbow flag is widely considered a universal symbol for gay rights.
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DICKINSON — The state of North Dakota has seen steady improvement in its treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer residents since the late 1990s. However, rigidly anti-LGBTQ sentiments remain deeply rooted in the political atmosphere of the state.

Homosexual activity has been legal in North Dakota since the Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that same-sex couples are eligible for all of the equal protections available to opposite-sex couples, but it wasn’t always the case. In November of 2004, North Dakota voters ratified "Measure 1," a constitutional amendment that banned legal recognition of same-sex marriage and similar options, including civil unions.

Fierce public opposition to this ballot measure came from Equality North Dakota, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Joe Satrom and the Libertarian Party of North Dakota. Nearly two decades later, the state has begun to see more LGBTQ community events, a proliferation in organizations and social outlets for LGBTQ residents and their allies in the celebration of diversity.

While the rainbows, glitter and festivities may catch your eye, the month-long celebrations are rooted in a call for greater unity, visibility and equity for marginalized individuals of the LGBTQ community. All of these June events are organized to boost political and community awareness for a segment of the population that has a long and storied record of persecution and triumphant successes. One group helping to advance the cause is GLAAD — the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.

"The number and variety of Pride events throughout the country and the world reflect the diversity of the LGBTQ community both in the United States and abroad,” GLAAD stated on their website. “The fight for equality remains, however.”

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Why is Pride Month in June?

Pride Month is observed annually each June to commemorate the anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising. In the late 1960s, sodomy and even being openly gay was generally prohibited in most places. New York, in particular, had a rule that the simple presence of a gay or gender queer person counted as disorderly conduct, effectively outlawing gay bars.

On June 28, 1969, patrons of the Stonewall Inn, a popular bar with a diverse LGBTQ clientele, stood their ground after police raided the establishment. The resulting clash led to days of riots and protests, known as the Stonewall Uprising.

One year later, on the anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising, thousands of people flooded the streets of Manhattan in the Christopher Street Gay Liberation Day March, widely regarded as history’s first ever gay pride event.

Another seminal turning point in the culture came in April 1997 when Ellen DeGeneres publicly came out as lesbian on her ABC sitcom “Ellen.” The public announcement sparked intense debate within American society.

“When I came out, people warned me that it was going to ruin my career, and they were right for a while… but look at me now,” DeGeneres said on her talk show in April of this year. “It really goes to show you how important it is to be your authentic self, and how important it is to accept others as their authentic selves.”

Pride Month’s beginnings officially started approximately two years later in 1999, when President Bill Clinton officially declared June as Gay and Lesbian Pride Month, setting aside the month as a time to recognize the gay community and highlight achievements within it.

An uphill battle

Most Americans have gradually embraced equal treatment and access for LGBTQ Americans over the last two decades. Yet, the challenge remains for many who seek equality. According to a Gallup poll in 2020, 70% of Americans supported same-sex marriage, compared with about 44% in 2010.

While there has been progress toward equality; opposition voices, activists and politicians continue to hold strong influence in North Dakota, which was ranked 47th in the nation by the website 24/7 Wall St in their review of the states most and least welcoming to the LGBTQ community.

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North Dakota is one of 26 states that as late as the early 2000s, had statutes the American Civil Liberities Union classifies as “anti-sodomy laws,” criminalizing certain homosexual activities. Such laws are considered by the vast majority of Americans, 87%, as archaic and discriminatory in recent polling data. These laws were invalidated by a 6-3 U.S. Supreme Court decision in the 2003 case Lawrence v. Texas.

The Peace Garden State has the smallest population of residents who identify as LGBTQ, making up just 2.7%. Many North Dakota LGBTQ activists say that the small population is owed, in part, to an atmosphere of intolerance.

As is often the case, even in the worst states for LGTBQ Americans, more liberal cities in the state in Fargo and Grand Forks are considered LGBTQ-friendly cities. Fargo was the first city in the High Plains state to pass an anti-discrimination measure that shielded gay people, and it also holds the distinction of hosting the longest-running Pride festival in the state.

For more information, visit homoglobin.org/north-dakota-lgbtq-resources — which highlights LGBTQ resources available in North Dakota.

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