Doug Burgum Seems To Have Flip-Flopped On Transgender Issues


Doug Burgum campaigns at the Cardinal IG plant Friday, May 27, 2016, in Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

Last week when it became news that eleven states would be suing the federal government over President Barack Obama’s transgender bathroom directive, gubernatorial candidate Doug Burgum jumped on his opponent, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, for not immediately joining our state to the suit.

“It’s disappointing that, despite his recent campaign rhetoric, our current Attorney General did not take the time to join his Republican colleagues in fighting this egregious example of federal overreach,” Doug Burgum said in a statement released by his campaign yesterday. “North Dakotans know that these decisions should be made at the local level, not by Washington, and our elected officials have an obligation to stand up for our rights as a state.”

Stenehjem did ultimately announce that North Dakota would be suing the feds too. But during this campaign Burgum has become suddenly outspoken on this issue. Back in April he told me he would fight to “empower local jurisdictions to make these decisions locally.”

Yet just last year Burgum supported legislation which would have made it illegal, statewide, to discriminate against people based on their “actual or perceived gender-related identity,” which is hardly in keeping with his stance on leaving this issue to “local jurisdictions.” And what Burgum supported would have also applied to private businesses, making it far more extreme than what has caused controversy in states like North Carolina where the debate has largely been limited to government-run facilities.

The legislation was SB2279, and it was considered during the 2015 legislative session. In March of last year, towards the end of the session, Burgum gave an interview to the High Plains Reader – a very left-wing publication in Fargo – in which he called the passage of SB2279 “an important message to all of our citizens, that we as a state will protect the rights of ALL citizens.”

You can read the full text of the legislation here. Ostensibly it prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, but check out how sexual orientation is defined in the law. It’s not really just sexual orientation, but also gender identity:


The law has a further definition of gender identity which makes it clear that a person’s gender, for the purposes of this law, would have been whatever they decided it to be:


This legislation would have prohibited discrimination based on not just sexual orientation but gender identity in a whole host of areas, including private businesses which offer any service to the public for remuneration. Here’s the definition of “public accommodation” in the law:


Now here’s the bit which makes it illegal for those offering public accommodations – again, meaning private businesses offering any sort of goods or services to the public – to discriminate based on sexual orientation including gender identity:publicaccomodation

Keep in mind that the national furor over the transgender bathroom issue has mostly dealt with laws which deal with public services. Which is to say government-run rest rooms and locker rooms at places like schools and highway rest areas. Far less controversial is the idea that private businesses should be able to decide for themselves how they’ll accommodate transgendered citizens in their facilities.

And yet SB2279 – which Burgum supported – would have made it illegal for private businesses to deny access to the women’s rest room to a man who says he is now female. Or vice versa.

Now, I realize that this is a hugely controversial issue with a lot of different viewpoints. The question here isn’t about whether or not you agree with SB2279, but about why Burgum the candidate seems to be taking a much different position on transgender issues than pre-campaign Burgum.

One of the biggest knocks on Burgum – frankly, the biggest reservation I have about him as a candidate – is that he isn’t being authentic on the campaign trail. That he’s just saying things he believes Republican primary voters want to hear so that they’ll vote for him.

Stuff like is why a lot of people believe that.

Whatever your ideology – conservative or liberal or libertarian or whatever – candidates should have the courage of their convictions, no?