BISMARCK — A top North Dakota Republican official has apologized for a series of anti-LGBT statements that delegates approved as a part of the state party's official extended policy platform.
North Dakota GOP Executive Director Corby Kemmer said the party regrets any offense caused by the rhetoric, which the state's only openly gay legislator says promotes harmful lies and bigotry.
Delegates from the state's dominant conservative party recently voted in favor of a package of 53 resolutions that assert the group's values and policy positions on all kinds of political and moral issues.
The document advances the common Republican position that marriage should only be defined as a union between one man and one woman, but it also includes a rejection of any laws that ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, often referred to as "SOGI."
That resolution contains the following statements:
"SOGI bills grant protection to voyeurs who wish to prey on members of the opposite sex."
"Research has shown that causes of Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) compulsions are primarily developmental and not genetic as in color and gender."
"SOGI laws empower those practicing LGBT behaviors to assume positions of mentorships of minors often over objections of parents, influencing their emotions and thereby recruiting for their lifestyles."
"Many LGBT practices are unhealthy and dangerous, sometimes endangering or shortening life and sometimes infecting society at large."
The final line of the resolutions says the party "opposes the passage of legislation which adds sexual orientation and gender identity to our Century code as protected classes." The full text of all 53 resolutions can be found at the end of this article.
Party Chairman Rick Berg said Wednesday, July 22, that the resolution relates to an individual's religious liberty and protecting business owners from lawsuits, like when a gay couple sued the owner of a Colorado bakery who refused to serve them because of their sexual orientation. The Supreme Court ruled two years ago in favor of the baker in that case.
Berg said the party is "definitely not" anti-LGBT, but he would not comment any further about the specific language of the resolution.
Kemmer said in a statement Wednesday night that party officials would look at amending the language of the resolution.
"The intent of the delegates was to stand up for individual and religious liberties, and, unfortunately, this language falls woefully short of that goal," Kemmer said. "We regret any offense this may have caused, and we will be reconsidering this resolution at a future meeting to bring it more in line with what delegates were attempting to communicate."
House Minority Leader Josh Boschee, D-Fargo, said the resolution's rhetoric is hurtful and disturbing to him as a gay man living in the state. He further contended that the anti-LGBT language gives the state a bad look.
"Statements like this by the majority party don't help when it comes to workforce recruitment or retaining the students we educate for 12-16 years," Boschee said. "We see a lot of people leave the state because of bigotry like that."
Boschee added that he assumes the statement about LGBT practices "infecting society at large" is a reference to the decades-long AIDS/HIV epidemic.
Gov. Doug Burgum, who has supported previous efforts to pass LGBT anti-discrimination laws in the state, denounced the language of the resolution in social media posts published just after midnight Thursday.
"As I’ve long said, all North Dakotans deserve to be treated equally and live free of discrimination. There’s no place for the hurtful and divisive rhetoric in the NDGOP resolutions," Burgum said on Facebook. "We can respect one another’s freedoms without disrespecting or discriminating against the LGBT members of our state and our party, whom we support."
Democratic and Republican state lawmakers have introduced several bills in the last decade that would grant protection from employment and housing discrimination for some or all LGBT residents, but the proposed measures have been voted down by a Republican majority each time. North Dakota law already includes protections based on race, sex, religion and national origin.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that employers cannot fire a worker merely for being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, according to the New York Times. The decision applies to the entire country, but other kinds of protections for LGBT residents of North Dakota still aren't on the books.
Boschee said he has worked on anti-discrimination legislation before and knows it's not widely popular with his colleagues across the aisle, but he said it was shocking to hear "blatant lies like that in their formal document."
"I thought the Republican Party had come further along than that," Boschee said. "This party has a lot of work to do if they want to be a big tent party, regardless of how much power they have in elected office in North Dakota."
Rep. Mary Johnson, R-Fargo, sponsored a bill last year that would have protected gay residents from discrimination, though it failed by a wide margin. Even some Democrats, including Boschee, voted against it because it did not include protections for transgender people.
Johnson, whose district includes North Dakota State University's Fargo campus, said she "wholeheartedly disagree(s)" with the rhetoric forwarded in the recently passed resolution.
"The Republican Party needs to become more compassionate about their fellow human beings," Johnson said. "It is the obligation of the majority to protect the minority, and right now we’re not doing that."
Johnson said she doesn't think most Republican lawmakers oppose gay rights, but that they vote against bills like hers because they think their constituents are staunchly anti-LGBT. Johnson noted that she thinks a majority of North Dakotans, regardless of their political affiliation, support basic gay rights. The Fargo representative also said she has more faith in the direction of the party with Burgum at the helm.
Fargo Republican Rep. Thomas Beadle, who is running for state treasurer, said in a tweet that he strongly disagrees with the anti-LGBT language in the resolution. He added that the party "should be welcoming to others, not discriminatory against people for how god made them."
Three Republican state senators from Grand Forks joined together to condemn the anti-LGBT resolution, saying that few elected Republicans pay any attention to the party-approved platform and instead listen to their constituents.
Sens. Ray Holmberg, Curt Kreun and Scott Meyer said in a letter late Wednesday they stand in solidarity with the LGBTQ community and will continue trying to change the party from within.
Republican U.S. Rep. Kelly Armstrong said in a tweet "we need to do a lot better" in reference to the "hateful and divisive rhetoric" in the resolution.
There is a difference between promoting religious liberty and promoting hateful and divisive rhetoric. There is a difference between science and junk science. The NDGOP Anti-LGBT resolution failed to recognize any of these differences. We need to do a lot better.— Kelly Armstrong (@Armstrong_ND) July 23, 2020
U.S. Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-ND, said he was disappointed by the language in the resolution, adding that Republicans "should be in favor of ideas, not opposed to certain people." Sen. John Hoeven, R-ND, said the rhetoric in the resolution "did not live up to that standard and should not be included in the Party’s official documents."
Insurance Commissioner Jon Godfread tweeted that the anti-LGBT statements are "dangerous" and said he voted against the whole package of resolutions for that reason.
State Superintendent Kirsten Baesler, who occupies a nonpartisan office but has been endorsed by Republicans, said the resolution does not represent her views and called it "unacceptable."
"We can and must do better to respect one another without denigrating and disrespecting the LGBT community," Baesler said. "I will continue to work every day to ensure our schools are a welcoming and safe environment for all young people."
State Democratic-NPL Party Chairwoman Kylie Oversen said in a tweet "there is no way for the (North Dakota GOP) to defend any of this nonsense as business related," adding that the rhetoric is "shameful" and "harmful."
ND LGBTQ+ Summit, which is made up of 16 pro-LGBT organizations, released a statement saying the rhetoric is rooted in prejudice and endangers the lives and livelihoods of the state's LGBT residents.
"We call on the Republican party of North Dakota to immediately rescind, not tweak, these hateful and discriminatory principles from the party’s platform," the statement read. "The damage it has already caused to our community and to LGBTQ+ youth in North Dakota cannot be measured."
Berg, the party chairman, said Republican delegates got an up-or-down vote on the whole package resolutions via mail-in ballots. The party opted against holding a statewide convention this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, but a smaller group of top Republicans met in Medora last weekend to conduct essential business, elect party officials and issue an endorsement of Baesler. Berg estimated that 95% of the party's 950 delegates submitted ballots to weigh in on the resolutions and other issues.
Rep. Mike Lefor, R-Dickinson, oversaw the process of compiling the resolutions with input from district-level Republicans around the state. Lefor could not be reached for comment in time for publication.
The party passes an updated set of resolutions every two years, and Berg said "tremendous work" goes into the process. Berg was unsure if a similar resolution on SOGI laws had been included in the 2018 version of the resolutions.