Where North Dakota's Gubernatorial Candidates Stand On The Transgender Bathroom Issue


States grappling with how to accommodate trans-gendered citizens when it comes to publicly accessible restrooms has been much in the news recently. In fact, laws passed in some states have prompted widespread protests and boycotts from celebrities and corporate America.

Here in North Dakota we have four people running to be the next governor. Many of you readers have asked me where these candidates stand on this issue.

I didn’t know, so I asked each one how they would deal with a bill like the one passed in North Carolina (which has perhaps garnered the most headlines) should it land on their desk as governor. Here’s what I got back.

First, Democratic candidate Marvin Nelson, who says he’s against “discrimination” when it comes to bathroom choice.

Discrimination of any form is plain wrong. We must stand up for all North Dakotans and against discrimination, whether it’s in the voting booth, at the workplace, or in public spaces like bathrooms. That’s why every Dem-NPL legislator last session voted in favor of the bill banning discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation that finally passed in the state Senate for the first time. While we made progress, the bill didn’t make it through the state House — but we can change that by electing officials who will give every North Dakotan and American the equal voice and equal rights they deserve.

Next, Libertarian candidate Marty Riske, who said he would veto such a bill because he’s against the “toilet police.”

Libertarians living in North Dakota want fewer laws, not more. We do not want the state to micromanage our children because we believe when our children are confronted with the unusual or challenging it helps them handle life better as an adult.  How many toilet police do we want to hire in the face of an $800 Million short fall beginning at the next biennium? As governor of the Great State of North Dakota, I would veto the bill.

Both Riske and Nelson are running unopposed for their party’s nomination, but on the Republicans side we have three candidates on the statewide ballot.

First up, Fargo businessman Doug Burgum who said he wouldn’t comment specifically on the North Carolina legislation, but that he both respects religious liberty and hopes to foster tolerance. As such, he said he would hope to keep this a local issue:

As I have not studied the North Carolina law, I won’t comment on their legislation specifically. I do believe we need to support religious liberty and foster a culture of respect and tolerance. I believe that the best government happens closest to the people. As governor, I will fight to empower local jurisdictions to make these decisions locally.

Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem wasn’t that far off from Burgum, saying he’d like to leave the issue up to individual businesses and local governments:

I have serious concerns about the entire issue of personal choice when it comes to transgender use of public accommodations like bathrooms and locker rooms. It is incumbent on us to protect the rights of all people affected by this issue, not just one minority group. Ultimately, I believe it is up to individual businesses and local government to decide what is right for their situation and circumstances and I will oppose any legislation that requires or mandates choice in public accommodates for transgender individuals.

Bismarck businessman Paul Sorum said that he opposes any legislation which would allow an adult male into the same bathroom as a young female, but that he feels the issue is unlikely to come up in the Legislature:

This question on a social issue is strictly hypothetical as the North Dakota legislature is highly unlikely to propose legislation similar to North Carolina HB2.  It is not likely to become a legislative issue in the near future in North Dakota.

Also, there are already sections in place intended to protect everyone’s civil rights in both the North Dakota Constitution and the U.S. Constitution.  I would be sure that any legislation I signed in relation to this issue would be in compliance with both Constitutions – I would not overlook the rights of anyone involved including those who are not transgender.

To be clear, I would veto a bill that would potentially put a biological male in the same public bathroom as a 13 year-old girl.  No one has a right to put young people or women at risk.  We should all be concerned that passing a pro-transgender law might give cover to human traffickers or sexual predators to abuse the public.

I believe in the people of North Dakota.  They have a right to get involved in this issue as well through referred or initiated measures.  I will protect their right to do so.

To be fair to the candidates, it’s tough answering questions about hypothetical legislation which may or may not reach their desk. Still, their answers are illuminating as far as they go.

Nelson and Riske would oppose legislation prohibiting transgendered people from using the bathroom for the gender they identify as.

Sorum seems to be at the other end of the spectrum and supports those prohibitions.

Burgum and Stenehjem are more nuanced, not supporting a state ban on restrictions for transgendered bathroom use but also not opposing local/private restrictions.

For my two cents, I think private businesses/organizations should be able to develop whatever bathroom policies they like. The government, however, has a duty to be as accommodating to the public as possible, so I think the solution there is are family/unisex bathrooms.

A lot of newer facilities will have a family bathroom available for parents with young children. I’ve always appreciated this as a father to two young girls who has often faced the dilemma of whether to take my girl into the men’s room with me or let her go into the women’s restroom unaccompanied. There is no reason why these facilities can’t also work for transgendered folks.