Lawmakers reach accord

Coralie Carlson

An out-of-committee compromise will save the University from a court battle to quash a homosexual discrimination amendment that threatened to tie up almost $40 million in state funding.
The House amendment would have forced school leaders to allow 4-H clubs, which are partially governed by the University’s Extension Service, to discriminate against homosexuals and bisexuals before receiving their supplemental budget. No comparable language existed in the Senate version of the bill.
While standing firm on non-discrimination, the Extension Service will review and revise the forms 4-H volunteers must sign to clarify that such a move does not mean an endorsement of the alternative lifestyles. In exchange, the amendment will be handled as a separate matter, said Rep. Gene Pelowski, DFL-Winona.
This satisfies amendment sponsor, Rep. Tony Kielkucki, R-Lester Prairie — at least for this session.
Detaching the amendment from the bill ends a month-long dispute sparked by a largely rural contingent that wanted to allow discrimination in the youth organization.
The amendment would have violated a Minnesota civil rights law in addition to University policy. Kielkucki said he won’t push the legislation through because he doesn’t want to put the state through what he believes is a lawsuit it cannot win.
But Kielkucki said he may raise the issue again next session by attacking the state law.
In 1993, the Minnesota civil rights bill was altered to exempt “non-public … agricultural organizations, including 4-H clubs, … with respect to qualifications of employees or volunteers based on sexual orientation.” The youth club is technically a public organization because it receives funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
In future attempts, Kielkucki said he would “go after the whole law” instead of just the University policy.
“I still have some people that believe we should tackle that,” he said.
In the meantime, 4-H officials are busy reviewing forms and educating volunteers on what their signatures really mean. Jeanne Markell, assistant director of the Extension Service said the group plans to have the forms updated by fall when the next 4-H year begins.
Dick Hemmingsen, associate director of State Relations, helped sway amendment supporters by showing them samples of the newly modified forms. Hemmingsen, who was a 4-H member for more than 10 years, said lawmakers reacted positively to the change.
Markell said she hopes to keep dialogue open so the issue won’t return to the capitol next year. She recounted calls she and other extension officials took from families with homosexual children in 4-H. They feared the amendment would remain and the club would be allowed to discriminate against their children, as well as gay, lesbian and bisexual volunteers, Markell said.
Kielkucki dismisses claims that his amendment was intended to produce an uncomfortable environment.
“I don’t want to make this a gay- bashing issue because it’s not just a gay-bashing issue,” he said. “It’s not.”
Kielkucki first proposed the amendment after hearing from three volunteers who could not be club leaders because they refused to sign forms that included language addressing sexual orientation. Rejecting them as volunteers is reverse discrimination, Kielkucki said.
With this battle behind it, Markell said 4-H will continue to respect and encourage diversity inside the group.
“For some people that may not be enough, but that’s where we stand on it,” she said.