North Dakota LGBT Vote Leads To White House Petition

By John Celock

The decision by North Dakota lawmakers to reject legislation that would have added sexual orientation to the state’s non-discrimination laws has galvanized at least one resident to try to organize in favor of the measure.

Caroline Gallegos, a student at the University of North Dakota, has launched a campaign to raise awareness of the legislation and the issues facing the LGBT population in North Dakota. Gallegos, whose brother is gay, has launched a White House petition in effort to raise national awareness of the North Dakota vote, along with trying to organize more LGBT rights groups in the state. The LGBT non-discrimination was defeated in the state House of Representatives, after winning passage earlier this year in the state Senate, the furthest it had gone in the legislative process.

“I am hoping that enough attention and pressure is put on North Dakota and that we can come up with the times or people will not view North Dakota in a great light,” Gallegos told The Celock Report.

Gallegos said that she has been reaching out to national LGBT support and advocacy groups in order to see what resources they have in North Dakota. She said as part of her research, she has found many are not organized in the state. Gallegos said part of her goal is to organize to bring some of the groups into the state in order to build a larger advocacy community in order to fight for the legislation when it can come before lawmakers again in 2017.

In terms of the White House petition, Gallegos said she is using the petition as a way to attract national interest on the issue. She noted the recent national debate over the religious freedom bill in Indiana and said that she hoped to see a similar debate over North Dakota’s decision not to adopt the bill.

“Maybe if North Dakota got the same that will put pressure on the Legislature,” Gallegos said.

Gallegos said that she has been in touch with some of the state’s younger lawmakers about the issue and they have been supportive of her efforts. She said that she believes the growth of younger lawmakers in the state has helped the LGBT community in North Dakota and would like to see more elected to promote the issue.

Rep. Kylie Oversen (D-Grand Forks), who has been pushing the LGBT non-discrimination legislation and who represents the University of North Dakota, told The Celock Report that the work Gallegos is doing can have an impact on a long term basis. Oversen noted that the petition Gallegos launched on has allowed for those signing it to have an email sent to their state legislator in order to promote the issue.

“I think on many levels that type of advocacy can be effective,” Oversen said. “It might not be effective in changing votes. It can be effective in the election season in changing seats.”

Oversen, the state Democratic Party chairwoman, said she hopes that energy from those upset over the vote against the LGBT bill can galvanize voters for the 2016 election. She noted that more voters have become “energized” since the House voted against the bill and that Democrats has similar success in 2014 after voter anger led to organizing by individuals and groups.

“We saw that had an impact in the last election cycle when people were rallied with the reproductive health bills,” Oversen said. “We ousted two of the champions of those bills.”

Gallegos said that she plans to continue her efforts long term on this issue.

“I don’t plan on stopping my work wit this until it is fair,” she said.