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Brandi Jewett, Forum News Service, Published June 17 2013

Grand Forks City Council OKs protection for gays

GRAND FORKS – The City Council here approved an amendment to city law Monday that protects city employees from discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.

The change will go into effect immediately and makes Grand Forks the first city in North Dakota to include this protection in city law.

Daryl Hovland, director of the city’s human resources department, said he did not see the amendment having an effect on the department.

“We hire the most qualified candidates,” he said. “I don’t see this having any impact.”

The council’s vote left some Grand Forks residents asking that the protection be extended to all employees and those seeking housing within city limits.

“The purpose of my statement is to request City Council to further pass an ordinance to protect residents who have been removed from their apartment or fired from their job due to perceived or actual sexual orientation,” said Grand Forks resident Shana Wiley.

City Attorney Howard Swanson, who prepared the amendment to the city’s existing discrimination law, said he is preparing a similar ordinance for housing but an employment-focused law would not be possible.

“The city does not have the authority to implement employee prescriptions or prohibitions (of this nature),” he said.

The amendment passed 5-1, meeting opposition from one council member and one resident present at the meeting.

Council member Terry Bjerke, the lone dissenter, said he did not believe in any of the protected classes mentioned in the city’s law.

“I think we should delete the entire paragraph from the code,” he said. “It opens us up for all kinds of potential lawsuits and grievances.”

Another opponent, Ray Dohman, traveled from McCanna, N.D., to voice his objections to the amendment.

“I find it quite incredible you would advance protection for homosexuals,” he said, adding that the amendment was “evil.”

On the other side of the debate, council president Hal Gershman called passing the ban one of the “proudest moments” in the 13 years he has served on the council.