The Fight for LGBT Rights in MN: Amending the Minnesota Human Rights Act

Much progress has been made in the fight for equal rights for LGBT Minnesotans, particularly in the last 25 to 30 years. In the 1970’s the cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis amended city ordinances to prohibit discrimination against gay men and lesbians. St. Paul’s ordinance was repealed a few years later (and eventually successfully amended again in 1989) and Minneapolis made theirs trans-inclusive in 1975. Though the State of Minnesota had anti-discrimination laws on the books since the 1960s they did not protect LGBT people. It wasn’t until 1993 that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals were guaranteed the same protections as all other Minnesotans. The basic human rights of employment, housing, education, and public services that should be afforded to all could, before this amendment was made, be denied under the law. State Senator Allan Spear and State Representative Karen Clark helped lead the fight to include protections for LGBT Minnesotans in anti-discrimination laws. 

Both members of the LGBT community, Spear and Clark were the first openly gay and lesbian members of the Minnesota legislature. They made waves with their annual attempts to introduce an amendment to the Minnesota Human Rights Act that would protect LGBT individuals. For many years their efforts were thwarted by fellow legislators, but they remained determined to succeed. Even the recommendations of a commission appointed by Governor Rudy Perpich could not sway legislators.

A second commission, appointed by Governor Arne Carlson, toured the state and held listening sessions that included sharing stories about the lived experiences of LGBT Minnesotans. These efforts, along with the grassroots organizing of the Gay and Lesbian Community Action Council (which has evolved into the influential OutFront Minnesota organization) and the Minnesota Alliance for Progressive Action, mobilized a large number of people from different walks of life to support protections for LGBT Minnesotans. Alexa Bradley, who cochaired the grassroots campaign known as “It’s Time Minnesota,” said, “People went all over. We went to rural gay softball leagues, to labor unions o women’s organizations—anyone we could think of that we thought might possibly be allies”.

Legislators began to take notice, and word eventually reached Republican Minority Leader Sen. Dean Johnson, who gave a passionate speech on the floor in support of the amendment. His support cost him his own career in governmental politics; he eventually moved to full-time civil rights work. With the combined efforts of all of these individuals and groups, so many people coming together to fight for the rights of many, the amendment to protect LGBT individuals in Minnesota finally passed in 1993. This was a huge step for minority rights in Minnesota, and set the bar for other states in terms of human rights advancements. Due to the passion and determination of legislators, activists, and volunteers, Minnesota is a safer and more respectful place for all, leaving a legacy that is still wholly visible today.

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