Housing discrimination banned

ORDINANCE City Council rules in favor of renting to LGBT residents.


City Council at the meeting Monday banned rental housing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identification. Photo by Carrie Sandstrom/ The Dakota Student.

Monday, as members of the LGBT community across the country celebrated National Coming Out Week, Grand Fork’s City Council voted 5-2 to pass a law banning housing discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identification.

“The week is an opportunity for youth and young adults and people who have not come out across the United States to express who they really are -— to tell their family and friends that they’re proud of who they are,” UND student Kyle Thorsen said. “Grand Forks has an opportunity to spread that message as well.”

Grand Forks Resident Zack Petrick told his own story of coming out and the reactions he recieved to the council and a rustling crowd. Individuals lined the back of the room as he spoke and additional chairs had been brought in to accommodate the high number of audience members at the evening’s meeting. Petrick came out in 2009 in a letter to the editor addressing the state’s failure to pass anti-discrimination legislation during the State Legislature’s session.

“My landlord and boss sat me down and told me I’m no better than the blacks,” Petrick said. “Except he didn’t say ‘black.’ ”

Other UND students speaking at the meeting argued it was within a property owner’s right to deny services, including housing.

“Why do to proponents of this bill believe they have a right to a business owner’s products or services?” UND student Robert Reinpold said. “That’s what this bill is about.

“It is perfectly within the right of the property owner to decide who they do or do not want to do business with.”

Such statements gave way to murmuring in the audience and “deeply disturb(ed)” councilman Hal Gershman.

“I usually don’t talk like this, but I’m Jewish,” Gershman said. “Are you saying that you have the right to not rent or do business with me because I’m Jewish?

“I can’t believe what you are saying.”

Reinpold, however, said he doesn’t support special protected classes in any instance — including in the form of child labor laws. Instead, Reinpold said the market, when allowed to act on its own, would weed out businesses — or renters — that did business in a way community members felt unacceptable.

“I wonder about the motivations of the council members who support this bill,” Reinpold said. “Are you more interested in granting special protections to a specific segment of society? Are you more interested in protecting the rights of all property owners in Grand Forks?”

UND student Jacob Thomas emphasized the law would protect all members of the community, not just one group.

“This law isn’t just for the gays,” Thomas said. “The benefits of this law extend to everyone who calls Grand Forks home.

“This law is a declaration that all are welcome, all are safe.”

The law does have some limitations. The law does not cover campus housing. It also comes with built-in exemptions for churches and religious housing, along with single family units.

Even with these exemptions, some still feel the law takes away rights from those renting units.

“My position is that this is an intrusion to the rights of property owners,” Grand Forks landlord Lowell Nelson said.

Although both the council and community members were divided on the issue, Petrick said the law is an important step for the city.

“When we fail to acknowledge that there are people who don’t feel safe in our community, we’re no longer a community,” he said.

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