Two House bills draw GLBT community’s ire

GLBT activists will rally Thursday at the Capitol.

K.C. Howard

Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender activists will meet at the State Capitol on Thursday to protest two controversial House bills.

House File 330, sponsored by House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, would repeal benefits for the same-sex partners of state employees but would allow employees to take time off if their partners die or become sick.

“A lot of people fought hard to get these benefits into the state labor contracts,” said Monica Meyer, public policy director for OutFront Minnesota, a Minnesota organization that promotes GLBT rights and awareness of GLBT issues.

House File 341, sponsored by Rep. Arlon Lindner, R-Corcoran, would remove clauses in Minnesota’s human rights statute that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Employers, landlords, banks and admissions officers would be allowed to require applicants to reveal their sexual orientations on applications.

House File 341 would also prohibit the state from recognizing GLBT people as Holocaust survivors.

“I see no justification for that,” said Kate Nelson, co-chairwoman of the University’s Queer Student Cultural Center.

“GLBT people were killed in mass numbers during the Holocaust, and it would mean that they weren’t being recognized,” Nelson said.

Losing benefits

University junior Anthony Heryla said the thought of not having benefits for his same-sex partner after he graduates and has a job scares him.

“As someone that is in college now, looking toward my future when I will have a full-time job and career, I’m concerned about the financial feasibility about maintaining a partnership like that,” Heryla said.

The Legislature is constitutionally required to ratify state labor contracts. Last year, when the Legislature was hung up on language permitting benefits for state employees’ same-sex partners, the session ended before the Legislature ratified a contract.

Gov. Jesse Ventura then implemented the contract by executive order.

Now that the Legislature is in session again, it is required to ratify a contract.

Rep. Rob Eastlund, R-Isanti, one of the bill’s co-authors, said there is simply not enough support in the state to have language in the contracts supporting same-sex partner benefits.

“The vast majority of people that I’ve talked to think that it is inappropriate that the state would provide benefits to same-sex partners,” Eastlund said. “We could talk about why people feel that way, but that’s another issue.”

Eastlund said the state has an obligation to ratify its contract with employees, and the Legislature does not want to penalize employees because of one clause in the contract.

“We want to get it done as soon as possible so state employees know that their past economic settlement is not in jeopardy during the budget-cutting process,” Eastlund said.

Eastlund said legislators do not have any homophobic intent when dealing with the state labor contract. He said people have different motivations for taking benefits away and that he does not want to trivialize their intentions.

“Everybody recognizes that this can be a volatile issue, but we’re seeing people come from a broad perspective on this issue,” he said. “They recognize that it is more important that we get the economic component here ratified than trying to make a philosophical statement about where we should be going as a society.

“If we allow same-sex domestic partners to get benefits, what about opposite sex domestic partners?” Eastlund asked. “If we’re going to be equitable here, we basically open the door for every other preferential type of relationship to request benefits. That seems to be a door that nobody wants to open. The long-term economic costs could be huge.”

Nelson said legislators worried about saving money and not knowing where to draw the line. If unmarried same-sex couples can get benefits, they have a solution available.

“Same-sex couples don’t have the right to get married. If they did, it would make the process a whole lot easier,” she said. “If they want to draw a line, maybe they should just legalize marriage.”

Heryla said he has heard legislators argue they do not want to extend special rights to GLBT people, rights that would extend beyond what married heterosexuals would receive.

“In no way, shape or form do I identify these as special rights,” Heryla said. “If I could, I would marry my long-term, committed partner, but I’m not able to do that, so the next best thing I could do is secure some of the benefits and rights.”

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Losing civil rights

Lindner, author of the bill to remove the prohibition on sexual orientation discrimination, said he does not think a person’s sexual desires or appetites should be codified into law.

Lindner also said his bill seeks to protect children from inaccurate information taught in schools about AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.

“Many homosexuals think that nobody should be able to talk to kids about that lifestyle except for them,” Lindner said. “They put pressure on the school to tell people about AIDS and sexuality, and in some cases they’re pretty graphic about it.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if they tried to recruit kids into that lifestyle,” Lindner said.

Lindner also said he is confident his bill would pass the House, but is less certain about the DFL-controlled Senate.

“Hopefully it will take away the excuse that school administrators are giving parents when they complain about their kids being taught some of that stuff,” Lindner said. “The administrators are telling them that it’s the law.”

Lindner said current practices put children at risk for sexually transmitted infections.

“It’s being promoted as a healthy lifestyle, and it’s anything but healthy. There’s not a week goes by without new cases involving high school or elementary kids with STDs,” Lindner said. “A lot of this is because of the way we have promoted oral and anal sex over the past 10 years.”

Pawlenty’s press secretary, Leslie Kupchella, said the governor would veto Lindner’s human rights revision.

Nelson said, “I think it’s really, really horrible. So much work has been done to get this into the human rights statute. To take it out after so long, I just think it would be really sad.

“GLBT people are victimized on a daily basis,” she said, “and to take that protection away is to not recognize that it happens. It is a hate crime; it’s not a random act.”

University admissions director Wayne Sigler said he was reluctant to comment on the House File 341’s possible effects on the University’s admissions process because he has not seen the bill, but he said adding sexual orientation as a question on the application has not been discussed.

Sigler said the University is required to report group data about applicants to the state and federal governments.

In a confidential section on the application, applicants are asked about their race and sex. However, Sigler said, they are not required to respond.

“We say that the information is voluntary and will not be used as a basis for admission,” Sigler said.

Sigler also said the University hires attorneys every year to make sure the application complies with state and federal law.

Lobby day

At Thursday’s OutFront Minnesota rally, GLBT activists plan to encourage legislators to keep them in mind while voting on policy issues.

They will rally at 1 p.m. and then meet with legislators.

Heryla said more than 400 people are already registered for the event.

“I think they’re expecting a huge turnout of people,” Heryla said.

“We really want a lot of our allies to come out about this, so that they know that this isn’t OK,” he said.

Emily Johns covers politics and welcomes comments at [email protected]

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