Fargo city leaders pass resolution in support of LGBTQ residents
FARGO -- In a unanimous vote Monday, Fargo's city commissioners passed a resolution that states: "The city of Fargo encourages tolerance and acceptance of all citizens, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.”
It added language that noted that the city recognizes those residents whose gender identity “may not fit their assigned sex at birth.”
Commissioner Melissa Sobolik, who spearheaded the effort culminating in the 5-0 vote, acknowledged that the city cannot pass a significant measure to prevent housing discrimination against its LGBT residents, as the city's Home Rule Charter prevents such an ordinance without established pre-existing precedence codified in state law which North Dakota currently does not have.
Sobolik told reporters, it is difficult for the city to ban such discrimination without that foundation. The resolution accepted by the commission Monday is a statement of principle, not an enforceable law.
“I wish there was more I could do at this point,” Sobolik said. “But please see this as a first step, and it’s a journey I’m committed to.”
City residents who attended Monday's session urged the city's leadership to take the lead in the state on the issues of LGBTQ equality rights.
North Dakota has a state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage and an earlier effort by the Legislature to pass an anti-discrimination measure that would have protected LGBT residents this year failed.
Commissioner Sobolik noted that although the city of Grand Forks, N.D. recently banned housing discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, she and the City Attorney's office allowed that Grand Forks officials were able to do so as part of that city's building & housing codes in its building registry.
Rental property owners there must register with the city and follow certain city policies and regulations. Sobolik said there are a “multitude of reasons” for the city to explore a registry, but she added it could be studied by the commissioners at a later date.
Fargo attorney Tom Fiebiger challenged commissioners Monday to keep working with the City Attorney’s Office to “put some teeth” into city law to prevent housing discrimination against LGBT residents reported North Dakota media outlet InForum.
Tom Freier, president of the conservative North Dakota Family Alliance, which opposed the resolution, argued that in his opinion [Fargo] is "already inclusive" and such a move would be divisive.
A local businessman and rental property owner stated that while he respects people of all sexual orientations, but he is not OK with the commission granting “special status to splintered groups,” which might infringe upon the rights of rental property owners.
“There are many of us here who are in support of existing housing laws and think they are just fine,” Brad Friesen said. “We support heterosexual standards and traditional family structures that have been the basis of strong society since the beginning of time.”
He also equated being gay with paedophilia, and asked the commission where they “draw the line.”
A spokesperson for the North Dakota Human Rights Coalition criticised the resolution saying it didn't go far enough to protect LGBTQ people.
“It’s frustrating that North Dakota has not changed its laws with respect to LGBT residents despite several other states taking that step," Barry Nelson, chairman of the North Dakota Human Rights Coalition, said.
“I’m disappointed that this is the baby step we need to be taking when people in our community live in fear that they may be displaced or lose their job because of their sexual orientation."
Nelson added that he hopes that Monday's resolution will “send a message” to the rest of the state.
“You will be adding to the momentum begun by the city of Grand Forks,” Nelson said. “It is right for all of our citizens.”