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 St. Paul’s ordinance was repealed a few years later (and eventually successfully amended again in 1989) and Minneapolis made theirs trans-inclusive in 1975.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.

Celebrating LGBT Pride Month

The month of June in Minnesota is commonly associated with the reappearance of the sun, a whole lot of fun, and more than a few no-wake zones. June is also National LGBT Pride Month, a thirty day-long celebration of LGBT history that was first established to honor the 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York City. This historic event was a tipping point in the Gay Liberation Movement and led to the establishment of Gay Pride Day. In 2000, President Bill Clinton declared June to be “Gay and Lesbian Pride Month”. This celebration of the struggle for LGBT rights and its successes was expanded to include transgender and bisexual individuals in President Obama’s 2016 Presidential Proclamation, that proclaimed June to be LGBT Pride Month. In honor of LGBT Pride month we’re writing a series of blog posts about LGBT Minnesotans and their awesome activism, starting with the first same-sex couple to get married in Minnesota.

Decades before the Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage in 2015, Jack Baker and Michael McConnell wanted to get married. Baker and McConnell knew they had  their work cut out for them as same-sex relationships were viewed as deeply taboo by many communities in the 1960’s and 70’s. An attempt to apply for a marriage license in Minneapolis in 1970 was denied by Hennepin County and, eventually, by the Supreme Court itself. Instead of working within government regulations set forth for traditional marriages, they would have to outfox the opposition. Thanks to Baker’s education as a lawyer and substantial careful thought by the couple, Baker and McConnell were able to to obtain a marriage license in a series of three steps: McConnell legally adopted Baker in order for them to share legal protections, Baker changed his name to the gender-neutral title of “Pat Lyn McConnell” in order to put the marriage license clerk at ease, and they submitted their marriage application in Blue Earth County, where the adoption and name change were not known. The marriage license went through, and the two were finally wed by a pastor in Minneapolis on September 3rd, 1971.

What does Baker have to say about their expert maneuvering? “‘We outfoxed them,’ he said. ‘That’s what lawyers do: make the law work for them’“.

Baker and McConnell have been married for over forty years, and still live in Minneapolis. They were present when the state legalized same-sex marriage in 2013, and though notoriously private, they have had a huge impact as LGBT activists in the state, their influence ranging from the University of Minnesota to the state legislature itself. When asked if they would remarry now that same-sex marriage is officially legalized in Minnesota, the pair said they would not:  “To reapply now becomes an admission that what we did was not legal, and [we] will never admit that“. 

Well said, gentlemen. Well said.

 

Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Letter in Response to MN NOW Award

At our State Conference on March 25th we awarded Hillary Rodham Clinton our Charlotte Striebel Long Distance Runner Award. While she was unable to accept the award in person, she did send us a lovely letter in response. Click the link below to read the letter.

20170326 MN NOW greeting

Women’s History Month, Minnesota Edition: Nellie Stone Johnson

In honor of Women’s History Month we’re writing a series of blog posts about famous (and not so famous) women from Minnesota history. Our second post in the series is about African American union and civil rights leader Nellie Stone Johnson.

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Nellie Stone Johnson was born on a farm in Lakeville, MN on December 17, 1905. Her mother was trained as a teacher, though she spent much of her time working on the farm. Her father was a farmer, organizer, and a school board member in Dakota and Pine County. He helped organize the Twin Cities Milk Producers Association and was a member of the Non-Partisan League. Johnson and her family re-located to a larger farm near Hinckley when she was a teenager.

At the age of 17, Johnson left Pine County to finish her high school education by taking extension courses at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. She got involved with the Young Communist League while she was a student and used some of what she learned in her later work organizing labor.

Johnson got a job as an elevator operator at the Minneapolis Athletic Club in 1924, but was fired several years later for labor union activities. She moved on to the West Hotel, where she worked until new owners decided that they no longer wanted to employ African Americans. She returned to the Athletic Club in 1933 and started her (official) work as a labor organizer the next year when her employer decided to cut wages.

Johnson’s life was one of many firsts, despite her assertion that she was simply “a farm gal from Minnesota”. In 1936, Johnson was elected as the vice president of her local union, the Minneapolis Hotel and Restaurant Workers Union. She was the first woman elected to that position. She was also the first woman vice president of the Minnesota Culinary Council and the first woman to serve on a national contract committee where she helped negotiate equal pay for women.

Johnson was active in the Farmer-Labor party in the 1930s and 40s and helped facilitate the merger of the Democratic and Farmer-Labor parties in 1944. She became the first African American elected to a city-wide office in Minneapolis when she won election to the Minneapolis Library Board in 1945. She helped create Minneapolis’ first Fair Employment Practices Commission, which was established by executive order by Mayor Hubert H. Humphrey in 1946, and also spearheaded passage of Minnesota’s Fair Employment and Fair Housing Laws in the 1950s.

Johnson opened her own business, Nellie’s Alterations, in Minneapolis in 1963. In 1972, she campaigned for Van White, the first African American elected to the Minneapolis City Council.

Johnson received an honorary doctorate from St. Cloud State University in 1995. She was a long-time member of the NAACP and the National Council of Negro Women and served on the Minnesota State University Board for eight years. She was also a member of the National Coalition of Labor Women, the National League of Women Voters, the DFL Affirmative Action Commission, and the DFL Feminist Caucus, a former board member of the Minneapolis Urban League, and recipient of the Urban League’s Cecil E. Newman Humanitarian Award.

Nellie Stone Johnson died in Minneapolis on April 2, 2002, at the age of 96.

Sources:

1. Johnson, Nellie Stone, and David Brauer. Nellie Stone Johnson: the life of an activist. Saint Paul, MN: Ruminator, 2001. Print.

2. “Who was Nellie Stone Johnson?” Who was Nellie Stone Johnson? N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Mar. 2017.

3. “Johnson, Nellie Stone (1905–2002).” MNopedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Mar. 2017.

4. Minnesota, Barb Kucera Workday, and RUSA Leighann Wood. “A Nellie Stone Johnson Timeline.” Workday Minnesota. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Mar. 2017.

5. “A Brief History of Civil Rights Protection in Minneaplis.” http://www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/www/groups/public/@civilrights/documents/webcontent/convert_253586.pdf. Web. 16 Mar. 2017.

Looking Back on 2016, Moving Forward in 2017

Last year was a busy one for Minnesota NOW!

In January we celebrated the anniversary of Roe v. Wade with cupcakes and feminist fun. Here’s a photo of one participant getting their “declaration of bodily autonomy” signed by a Supreme Court judge (AKA Repro Rights committee member).

In March activists attended ERAMN’s Day of Action on International Women’s Day (March 8th). Minnesota NOW also had a presence at Planned Parenthood’s annual solidarity event.

We held our state conference in April at Normandale Community College. Attendees discussed the presidential election and heard from nonprofit organizations like Planned Parenthood and Communities United Against Police Brutality/the Committee for Professional Policing. Awards were given to deserving MN NOW activists and new board members were elected.

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Michelle Gross from Communities United Against Police Brutality and the Committee for Professional Policing talks about police brutality and accountability

Volunteers tabled at the Pride festival in June, while other Minnesota NOW activists attended the National NOW Conference and the Whole Woman’s Health rally in Washington, DC.

In August we hosted our Women’s Equality Day Happy Hour at Fabulous Fern’s. State Senator Dick Cohen stopped by to talk about state efforts to pass an Equal Rights Amendment.

In November, Donald Trump was elected President and Republicans maintained control of Congress. The Minnesota House and Senate are now controlled by Republicans as well.

We played board games and ate yummy food at our holiday party in December.

We also hosted several activist open houses, volunteered on political campaigns, and ramped up our committee work in 2016.

This year we’re going to be playing a lot of defense. Our governor, Mark Dayton, is a pretty strong ally on most of our issues but those in power at the federal level are not. Stay tuned to our website for upcoming events and action alerts.

I’m with Hillary

by Beth Anderson, MN NOW Treasurer

I’m With Hillary. Always have been. She’s a woman who has been in public life for as long as I can remember. Her issues have been my issues over the years; women’s rights, healthcare, international affairs. And now she is seeking to be the first woman President of the United States.

As a feminist and a woman in a predominantly male field, I can identify with the sexism both subtle and overt that comes with that territory. The first women who dared to enter the fields of science and engineering were punished for their ambition and interests. For many of them their work was stolen, they were under-employed and underpaid, and they faced sexual harassment in the workplace. I can tell you that some things haven’t changed that much over the last 200 years. My electrical engineering class at North Dakota State University graduated under a dozen women in 1983. Most of us have gone on to have successful careers, but we have all faced obstacles rooted in sexism. Some drop out, some change jobs, some challenge the sexism head on. It has been a struggle, though not as bad as it was a generation ago. And the reason for that is the many brave women who went before me, opening doors, demanding rights, and mentoring the next generation.

So when I see a woman actually leading us into new political territory in this country, I can’t help but smile! Hillary Clinton’s historic nomination by a major political party to be the next President of the United States fills me with pride. It has taken a long time, 240 years from that first Independence Day in 1776, to get this far.

However, you can still see the sexism at work. Hillary Clinton is one of the most qualified candidates running for President––ever. Yet she is vilified, made fun of, and scorned by so many. I sometimes think the worst sexism is the more subtle sexism that permeates our society, the damning by faint praise. We hear people say, “Well, she wasn’t my first choice, but I’ll probably vote for her because the alternative is worse.” Really? Why not “Yay! We have a qualified, woman candidate who has worked hard for our issues over the last 25 years and I can’t wait to vote for her in the next election!” If either party had produced a male candidate with Clinton’s credentials he would have been crowned nominee early in the process. That is sexism at work.

I’m not one to say that Hillary Clinton has never made a mistake. Nor will I vote for her just because she is a woman. But I do think she should be judged by the same standards you would a male candidate.

People criticize Clinton for being “dishonest.” Yet PolitiFact, a fact-checking website that rates the accuracy of claims of politicians, has rated her the most truthful presidential candidate running in either party in 2016. If you check out her ratings compared to those of her opponent, there is no question which candidate is the more truthful in their statements. Clinton is held to a different standard; that is sexism at work.

People criticize her for being paid for her speeches, particularly those given to potential constituent groups. As a person who has attended several professional conferences, I can tell you that this is normal. Celebrities, politicians, and experts in their field give speeches to all kinds of groups and are generally paid for their time. For example, in the last several years, both President Bill Clinton and Justice Antonin Scalia spoke at separate National Conferences for the DRI, an organization of Defense Attorneys. I attended both speeches and they couldn’t have been more different. I’m sure they were both paid for their time and for giving those speeches. And yet, I doubt if either Justice Scalia or President Clinton felt beholden to the members of the DRI because they received those speaking fees. Hillary Clinton is held to a different standard; that is sexism at work.

And of course there are the “scandals.” Clinton has been criticized for everything from her lack of interest in cookie baking to her use of a private email server when she was Secretary of State. Yet in investigation after investigation she has been cleared of wrong doing. She has been grilled by journalists, congressional members, and the FBI about everything from her relationship with her husband to her financial practices. Why does Hillary Clinton continue to be the target of scandal after scandal when there has been no evidence of wrong doing on her part? That is sexism at work.

Hillary Clinton has answered to the Senate, to Congress, and to the President of the United States. She has been a role model for women who face extra hurdles competing in a male dominated field. She conducts herself with integrity and never gives up. With all the criticism and challenges that Hillary Clinton has faced over her career, one could forgive her for quitting the field. Yet she has not.

Hillary Clinton is pushing the envelope. She has faced the challenges of sexism head on and won. She has opened doors for the next generation. Hillary Clinton is challenging the status quo and our image of what a President looks like, just like Barack Obama did. It is a privilege in our current time to have this kind of choice. For these reasons and many others, I’m with Hillary. She will forever change what is true and real for our daughters and our next generation of politicians.

Women of Color Opportunities Act is a Good Investment

This piece was written by our treasurer, Beth Anderson, and published on the Savage Pacer website on April 25, 2016.

Minnesota’s 2016 legislative session is well underway in St. Paul and our Legislature is discussing difficult issues like transportation funding and the copper/nickel mining prospects up north. But I want to draw your attention to a lesser-known series of bills introduced by Representative Rena Moran in the House and Senator Sandy Pappas in the Senate, addressing the educational and economic disparities of women of color in our state. Known as the Women of Color Opportunities Act (WOCOA), this legislation is designed to develop programs for women and girls of color in order to increase their economic success in our state.

The legislation consists of five bills that develop programs in key areas of education and employment and economic development. These bills are common sense ideas and programs that promote the tools that all of our young people need to succeed in our city and state. Yet these same tools have been disproportionally unavailable to women and girls of color. Here is a brief summary of the bills proposed:

  • Increase academic success by decreasing the school suspension rate for girls of color, increasing on-time high school graduation rates, and encouraging girls of color to pursue post-secondary education. (HF 3031/SF 2885)
  • Educate women and girls of color in financial literacy to lay the groundwork for an economically secure future. (HF 3032/SF 2865)
  • Encourage girls of color to explore and pursue STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) careers by funding competitive grants to community-based, STEM-affiliated organizations experienced in serving girls of color. (HF 3033/SF 2916)
  • Increase the number of women of color in high-wage, high-demand, nontraditional jobs through job skills training and apprenticeships. (HF 3098/SF 3056)
  • Provide small business loans and technical assistance to businesses owned by women of color. (HF 3099/SF 2931)

Here in Savage, with an 82 percent white population, you might ask, “Why should Savage care about the Women of Color Opportunities Act?” My answer is several-fold.

Increasingly our business community relies on a diverse, skilled, and educated workforce. If we hope to attract world-class businesses to Savage and the surrounding communities, we have to be able to provide a workforce that is well-trained and ready to produce. This may mean an apprenticeship in a skilled trade, it may mean a two-year college degree, or it may require an accredited four-year college degree. Any way you slice it, high school drop-outs and illiterate citizens do not cut it in today’s work force.

Our community is changing. In 2000, the city of Savage was 10 percent non-white, in 2010 we were 18 percent non-white, and 2013 estimated statistics showed Savage to be 20 percent non-white. These numbers are pretty typical at state levels, too. As our population ages, more diverse communities are following. According to the Minnesota State Demographic Center, younger Minnesotans are more racially diverse than older Minnesotans. There are three counties in Minnesota where the children under 5 are over 50 percent children of color. More people of color are living in Savage than ever before. This brings diversity and vibrant cultures into our local melting pot. It’s a good thing. But we in Savage must make sure that the necessary components for a successful education and successful employment are also available for this growing community.

Making sure that all of our children have the opportunity to succeed in school and at work benefits all of us. There is a bigger tax base when we are all gainfully employed and there is less reliance on government services. Statistically we have heard a lot in Minnesota about the documented employment gap between white Minnesotans and black Minnesotans — a 2013 study found that blacks were three times as likely to be unemployed as whites. And we have heard a lot about the education disparity between whites and blacks — in 2003, white Minnesotan eighth-graders topped the charts on national math tests while black Minnesotan eighth-graders came in 22nd of the 50 states. This achievement gap has been well-documented and discussed. What has not been clear is how to fix it.

Achievement gaps are often attributed to income level and home environment. Low-income families often have few educational resources. Recent immigrants don’t always have the English language skills needed to keep pace in school or the financial literacy that leads to good economic decisions. The Women of Color Opportunities Act attempts to address these resource gaps head on.

Making sure our women and girls of color graduate from high school, increase their financial literacy, pursue post-secondary education, obtain high-paying jobs, and have the tools available to start their own businesses will go a long way towards ending these disparities and making our communities a better place to live.

The bills introduced in the Women of Color Opportunities Act are administered by two departments: the Department of Education and the Department of Employment and Economic Development. The bills ask for a nominal amount of funding for pilot programs and grants to local community groups to achieve the goals of the bill. In this way, local groups who work with girls and women in the community receive the funds they need to make a difference. Reporting and oversight is at the state level and the pilot programs must be developed so they can be transferred and used throughout the state.

According to the bill’s authors, the estimated cost of this set of bills is about $4.9 million. The Minnesota Management and Budget Office is projecting a $900 million surplus in 2016. It seems to me that this small expenditure — 0.5 percent of our projected surplus — is well worth the investment in our future Minnesotans. You can ask Representative Drew Christensen and Senator Dan Hall for their support at rep.drew.christensen@house.mn andsen.dan.hall@senate.mn.