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TJ Jerke, Forum News Service, Published January 15 2013

North Dakota’s first openly gay legislator provides new voice

BISMARCK – After the first week of the legislative session, North Dakota’s first openly gay state legislator says he has heard many stories from state employees about a friend or relative who is gay.

“They recognize somebody who can speak to the issues firsthand,” said Rep. Joshua Boschee, D-Fargo.

State lawmakers also have shared similar stories with Boschee, who said he hasn’t experienced any negative or unusual situations because of his lifestyle.

“Like all other new people who have been accepted by both chambers and older members, I don’t think it’ll be an issue,” he said. “There is a lot of respect by lawmakers since we were all elected the same way, by our constituents.”

Boschee said he plans to help pass laws that are best for North Dakotans, but will have a vested interest in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual issues.

“I will now be able to provide a voice for those who aren’t heard around North Dakota,” he said.

Boschee has drafted a bill, that has yet to be filed, that would ban LGBT discrimination within housing and employment. Employees can now legally be fired and landlords can evict tenants based on their sexual orientation – North Dakota is one of 28 states that still allows the practice.

“The biggest thing is that a lot of people think those protections exist when they don’t,” he said.

If it passes, the bill would ensure employers or landlords cannot fire, discriminate or evict somebody based on their gender preference, and instead hold employees accountable based solely on their work performance, Boschee said.

It does not contain provisions that would penalize employers or landlords, which would be up to the Human Rights Division under the Department of Labor, Boschee said.

“I only hear about it happening once in a while and think it comes down to the fact that many people aren’t willing to report it, they keep it to themselves or family,” he said. “It comes back to the closed nature of our communities and people wanting to stand up, and now I have an opportunity to try and rectify that situation and move forward with it.”

Boschee said he was a little surprised how many legislators came to him to sign on and co-sponsor the bill, which he believes has a good chance of passing this session.

Rep. Marie Strinden, D-Grand Forks, is Boschee’s seatmate on the House floor. She said his equality legislation has a good chance of passing, but there has to be public support for it.

She said Boschee adds a wealth of information about education issues since he has spent so much time around college campuses with his education at North Dakota State University and job as the assistant director of leadership and organization at Minnesota State University-Moorhead.

“He’s a really great guy and very smart,” she said. “He knows a lot about many things.”

Boschee defeated longtime incumbent, state Rep. Donald Clark to represent District 44, one of 12 districts in Fargo.

Boschee said the start to his first session is expectedly busy, but he feels comfortable and has a good idea of what to expect now. The representative sits on the House Industry, Business and Labor Committee as well as the Agriculture Committee, which he found humorous since he considers himself a “city boy.”

“It comes down to being a freshman,” he said. “I don’t have any background, but it’s a good opportunity to learn.”


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