City Council mulls law

EQUALITY City Council Finance and Development votes against housing discrimination.

Monday, UND students and staff joined other members of the community in weighing in on a law proposed by Grand Forks City Council to create an ordinance banning housing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the city.

More than 40 people gathered to hear and speak on the proposed law, which received unanimous support from the council’s Finance and Development Committee. The law now moves to the full council to be discussed. This hearing will take place at the next City Council meeting Oct. 7.

UND’s residence halls would not be included under the laws protections, if passed.

Grand Forks would be the first city in the state to pass such a ordinance, according to Ten Percent Society member Jacob Thomas.

“Members of the finance committee, we have an opportunity today to say the status quo is no longer an option,” Thomas said. “You are telling would-be citizens of this great city that they belong here.”

The Ten Percent Society at UND — which works to provide a “safe, respectful and supportive environment,” according to its website— has been helping to work on the ordinance to end housing discrimination since February.

“I am a gay man,” TPS member Kyle Thorson said. “By saying that, I could potentially be removed from my apartment. There could be a notice on my door when I go home. Fear is something that is driving this ordinance. I have little fear that I could be evicted.

“But that fear is something I carry with me.”

Landlord Janet Hanson said she was “deeply offended” by the proposed ordinance, saying she has never discriminated — despite not supporting the lifestyle of same-sex couples — and doesn’t know any others who have.

“I think that this whole thing is extremely offensive,” Hanson said. “And I question the whole group who would bring such an ordinance forward.”

Hanson said she didn’t believe the ordinance was needed; and fellow Grand Forks landlord Lowell Nelson agreed, adding that he had surveyed others and had not found discrimination to be a problem. Nelson said that he doesn’t like “additional laws where there doesn’t appear to be an issue.”

However, others disagreed with Hanson and Lowell’s assessments.

“I think some of the testimony makes it obvious that this ordinance is needed,” UND professor Jim Whitehead said. “There are a lot of nasty thoughts and feelings against this group that just wants the same basic freedoms as the rest of us.”

Other’s were worried about the future and the Grand Forks their children may someday live in. One such person was UND women and gender studies professor Nikki Berg-Burin, who spoke to the committee as a mother and on behalf of her five-year-old son, who gave his mom a simple message to relay to the committee.

“What speaks most to me most clearly is my role as a mother,” Berg-Burin said. “I asked (my five year old) what he wanted me to say tonight and he said ‘tell them to be nice.’”

Rep. Kylie Oversen, D-Grand Forks — a law student at UND — also spoke in favor of the proposed law. Oversen was one of the cosponsors on a bill during this past legislative session that would have enacted similar protections across the state. At the time, City Council passed a resolution of support for the bill, which later failed 21-26 in the Senate.

Oversen said she is hoping the council will continue to show support for this issue.

However, for UND campus minister Kathy Fick, it all comes back to fear.

“I come to you today to ask that you protect this population,” Fick said to the audience and committee. “No one should have to worry at night about something as simple as this.”

Carrie Sandstrom is the editor-in-chief of The Dakota Student. She can be reached at [email protected].