This Time Anti-Discrimination Activists Hope to Bring Evidence of Discrimination to the Legislature

Rebel Marie, left, is a 31-year-old transgender woman and activist. She is pictured with Vyla Grindberg, a 35-year-old transgender woman. Submitted photo

For going on a decade now Democrats have brought to North Dakota’s biannual legislative session an anti-discrimination bill aimed at protecting homosexual/transgendered citizens from discrimination.

It’s been the same bill, over and over again, to the point where some (including this observer) have questioned how serious Democrats are about passing the bill. Did they really want a victory on this front, or is this issue merely a cudgel with which Democrats can pummel Republicans? If it’s not the latter, why haven’t Democrats put this issue to a statewide vote by way of an initiated measure? Or even worked with the Republican majorities in the Legislature to find parts of the proposal which could pass?

Even more problematic is that this debate in past legislative cycles has seen little evidence that discrimination against the LGBT community is a widespread problem. Responding to repeated assertions by Democrats during the 2017 session that discrimination against gays is widespread, state Rep. Robin Weisz said, during floor debate, “we did not receive any testimony to support that.”

Democrats cited anecdotes, but what’s problematic is that while there are a lot of people who claim to have been discriminated against, there are none to my knowledge willing to make public the specifics. Like who discriminated against them.

Vague accusations are not a sound foundation for public policy.

Having learned their lesson on that front, it appears as though anti-discrimination activists are heading into the 2019 session next month prepared. “North Dakota fair housing study finds discrimination against transgender community,” reads a headline over an article from Bismarck Tribune reporter Amy Dalrymple.

Here’s what they found:

The findings include:

  • 80 percent of transgender testers were shown fewer housing units or inferior units than the control testers.
  • 70 percent of transgender testers experienced subtle forms of discrimination, such as no eye contact or handshake or refusal to use proper pronouns.
  • 60 percent of transgender testers were asked prying questions that the control testers were not asked.

There are some reasons to be suspect of this study.

For one, it was conducted by an advocacy group that very much has a policy agenda when it comes to this issue. There’s nothing wrong with that, but when advocacy groups release findings which are useful for their agendas we should take it with a grain of salt.

Another problem is that the sample is small. They did 15 tests. Even in a state as small as North Dakota, it’s hard to see that as something representative of what experiences might be statewide.

Also, they’re using an awfully broad definition of “discrimination.” Drawing conclusions from things like eye contact and handshakes seems a bit dubious. As for the use of proper pronounces, that can be confusing for anyone.

I do find it troubling that transgender testers were shown fewer, or inferior, units than the control testers. That’s real discrimination, and I don’t condone it, though I’m not sure legislation is the remedy.

Nowhere in Dalrymple’s report is there any indication of who was guilty of this alleged discrimination. I think that undermines the credibility of this study – if we’re going to base public policy on this sort of evidence, said evidence should be transparent – plus naming names is probably more effective than any legislation ever could be when it comes to stopping discrimination.

It will be interesting to see what happens with this issue this session. Democrats are making it seem uncertain as to whether or not we’ll get another bill – “We’re just looking at capacity and what kind of progress might be able to be made this session versus any other session,” House Minority Leader Josh Boschee told Dalrymple – but it’s a safe bet we will.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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