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Failed ND gay rights bill to be introduced again

FARGO -- North Carolina's bill mandating bathroom use based on the gender listed on one's birth certificate is making national news, with the U.S. Justice Department saying the law is unconstitutional.

FARGO -- North Carolina's bill mandating bathroom use based on the gender listed on one's birth certificate is making national news, with the U.S. Justice Department saying the law is unconstitutional.

A bill introduced during the 2015 legislative session in North Dakota would have banned discrimination based on sexual orientation, and would have made a law similar to the one in North Carolina illegal.

But that bill, Senate Bill 2279, failed by a 56-35 vote. Now a Fargo lawmaker expects it to be reintroduced during the 2017 session.

SB 2279 would have amended the state Human Rights Act to include language banning discrimination based on sexual orientation. It was the third attempt in six years to prohibit such discrimination.

State Rep. Josh Boschee, D-Fargo, who helped craft SB 2279, said lawmakers plan to re-introduce the bill when the Legislature next convenes in January.

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"We know North Dakotans overwhelmingly were upset that we didn't pass something last session," Boschee said. "They're supportive of making sure that LGBT North Dakotans can't be fired from their jobs or denied service anywhere in the public."

Boschee, a Realtor and the state's first openly gay lawmaker, is seeking re-election in District 44 against challenger Gail Nelson, a Republican.

Boschee said there is little that can be done in the interim to make those changes to state law.

"We'll just continue to work with North Dakotans to educate their family and co-workers and employers about why it's important we pass a bill like this in North Dakota," he said.

House Majority Leader Al Carlson, R-Fargo, said he won't be among the bill's backers.

"I didn't support it then, and I won't support it now," Carlson said. "We'll make sure it gets a fair hearing and a good vote on the floor of the House."

SB 2279 would have prohibited discrimination in public accommodations and services, housing, employment, credit transactions and brokerage services.

It would have made illegal a law like the one passed in North Carolina, House Bill 2, that states a person should use the bathroom based on the sex listed on their birth certificate.

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North Carolina became the first state to ban transgender people from multiple occupancy restrooms in public buildings.

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch on Monday announced the Department of Justice will file a suit against HB 2.

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory called the department's move a "blatant overreach."

"We're taking the Obama admin to court. They're bypassing Congress, attempting to rewrite law & policies for the whole country, not just NC," McCrory, a Republican, wrote on Twitter.

A Fargo business earlier this year decided not to work with a church that wanted a logo with a rainbow element, a symbol of the LGBTQ movement.

Custom Graphics was tasked with designing a new logo for St. Mark's Lutheran Church, which is a sponsor of FM Pride Week. Some church members participate in Pride in the Park and the pride parade, its website states. ( http://bit.ly/1ZK624J )

"We have been advocates for the LGBT community by sponsoring church and community educational events, including a 'Building an Inclusive Church' training," the church's website states.

Custom Graphics General Manager Zach Paxton said the company's decision wasn't made out of malice, but that designing such a logo for the church would help "promote their agenda."

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Boschee said a situation like St. Mark's' would have been illegal under SB 2279 and that business people he's talked with advocate for such legislation.

"Businesses, especially, are rallying around this, saying, 'We want to make sure our employees and the people who come to visit us, to work with us, have a safe, inclusive environment," Boschee said.

The Rev. Dan Heath of St. Mark's said the church hasn't yet filed a report of discrimination to the North Dakota Department of Labor and Human Rights. He couldn't say whether the church plans to file one.

In 2013, Grand Forks was the first city in North Dakota to pass a law against housing discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Fargo lacks similar ordinances or statutes that would make that discrimination illegal.

Boschee said a change to the makeup of the Legislature could make it easier for a bill like SB 2279 to pass.

"Legislators have had two more years to get to know their LGBT constituents and understand how passing this will benefit economic development throughout the state," Boschee said.

But Carlson disagreed.

"I expect the numbers to be very close to the same," Carlson said of another vote on the bill, "so I would expect the result to be close to the same."

The Department of Labor and Human Rights began tracking reports of discrimination in North Dakota based on sexual orientation or gender identity in June 2015. It has received nine reports since then, four of which led to formal complaints with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

"Nine complaints have already been filed within 10 months of them starting to track that, so clearly there's a need to explore it," Boschee said.

Boschee said he'll meet with other lawmakers to see if SB 2279 should be revised before it's introduced in January.

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