Despite a media narrative that LGBT issues are not a campaign issue in 2014, those issues have come up multiple times in debates across the state.
Marriage equality and the newly passed Safe and Supportive Schools Act (which included protections for LGBT students) have been popular topics at debates, and for the first time in recent memory, issues affecting the transgender community in Minnesota came up in campaigns, an issue that Republicans condemned and DFLers largely dodged.
District 2A runs from the Northwest Angle through the central part of the state to Bemidji. In 2012, DFLer Roger Erickson defeated sitting Republican David Hancock. On Oct. 14, the two met for a candidate forum hosted by Lakeland Public Television. The candidates were asked about the Minnesota State High School League’s proposed transgender-inclusive athletics policy.
Hancock was opposed to the policy.
“Gender is biological. It’s genetic. We do need sympathy for the individual that believes he or she is really of the opposite gender, absolutely we need to get them some help. We need to provide them with the care that they need. But to inject that into our schools in terms of curriculum, in terms of a requirement for athletic participation… the fact that the Minnesota State High School League would even consider this means that it looks to me like we need to take a serious look at just who is controlling our schools. I understand that it’s been tabled until December, but this is the latest in what I would call an agenda that is creeping into our schools.”
Erickson also criticized the policy:
“When I read that, I was… I’m very uncomfortable with this. I don’t know of how many other states are doing it. Are they having success with it? What are the parameters of it? The idea of locker room facilities and where they are going to go with that, those things really need to be discussed and discussed at length. Again, I’m with Dave here. I’m very surprised the state high school league came up with this. It certainly didn’t come from any communities I was aware of in the last session.”
Hancock added, “I think its a continuation… It’s the same groups that are pushing the anti-bullying bill. The anti bullying bill in my estimation has been coerced upon the districts with the idea that it is going to protect students from bullying, what its really doing is saying that students, and even the community, should affirm and celebrate the idea that any sexual behavior is normal and any opposition to that view will be viewed as being a violation of the bullying policy. To me it goes against freedom of speech, it goes against freedom of religion, but it’s a continuation of a policy that is going in our schools.”
Though Erickson opposes the inclusion of transgender students, he did defend the Safe and Supportive Minnesota Schools Act.
“I have a letter still — have it down in my office in the cities — from the Bemidji superintendent stating that, ‘Thank you for the bullying bill, we finally now have some clarification.’ Now it’s a definition that’s in the law. To come up with excuses for bullying whether its some agenda or whatever, bullying is bullying. I think the law… I sat through the committees on it. I went and talked to the head author. It went over to the senate. It came back and it was in a really nice form. I’ve gotten very, very little negative feedback from all the superintendents, and i have personally met with all the superintendents in my district and there’s like 6 or 8 of them. I know them by name. I have their phone numbers now. If they have issues with it, they haven’t shared that with me.”
In District 10B which is east of Brainerd, west of Duluth, and on the north side of Mille Lacs Lake, the candidates were also asked about transgender-inclusive high school policies.
DFL incumbent Joe Radinovich punted:
“This is an issue that has cropped up over the last few weeks and I was unaware of it before, and I haven’t really had a chance to hear the details. It’s a sensitive issue for a lot of people and it’s sensitive for a variety of reasons. I think that one of the most important things we can do here is to remember that we are all people and we are all in this together and we should treat people with kindness and compassion and understanding. I think that people on both sides of this issue have rightful concerns and I would be interested in hearing about those concerns before making any decisions on the House floor. I do think, however, in the scope of things, it’s not quite the size of the issues that we are dealing with here locally, issues of education and fighting for more resources for our area, the issue of the economy, issues of transportation and infrastructure, and so it’s not something I’ve had a lot of time to think about and I look forward to hearing more information.”
His opponent, Republican Dale Leuck, took the opportunity to to bash marriage equality.
“Well, this is just one of a number of issues and while that particular one with the high school sports issue may be new, we’ve got an issue that is the fallout from that 2013 same-sex marriage vote and it goes not just at the high school level and this gender identity issue, it goes all the way down into the elementary school. We’ve got teachers in somewhat of a quandary now. How are we going to teach the issue of same sex marriage, gender identity, the whole thing? Be careful what you ask for. When we did change the law , and I say I wasn’t there, obviously Rep. Radinovich was. We opened up a whole new area that’s gonna have to be dealt with and dealt with carefully. We’ve already redefined marriage traditional marriage to suit a minority and, you know, we’re all God’s children here, but we’ve got to back up here a little and certainly respect those that are in the minority, but still to force a minority view on everyone, you know, we’ve got to back up here and deal with this in a sensible manner. But again, it’s the fallout of what happens when you’ve got one group of people with a very set agenda, a very liberal agenda, and can make decisions with no input, won‘t take any input. They’re going to do it anyway and so where we are — make no mistake this is just one of the little things that came up but there’s a whole string of things that are going to have to be dealt with part at the elementary school level.”
Radinovich disagreed. “This has absolutely nothing to do with marriage. I mean nothing at all. The comments by my opponent are fear mongering. I do believe that this is an issue that needs to be dealt with. I believe in the full light of day, we will have the opportunity to hear from both sides. This has cropped up in the last few weeks, and as my I agree with my opponent, we are all God’s children and we all deserve to have our opportunity to put forward our case. This has nothing to do with marriage and I consider his comments to be fear mongering.”
Lueck defended his assertions: “I think that’s a bit over the top. I just go back and reiterate something that I learned in my Christian background. That is, we are all God’s children and we certainly have to treat everyone that way. But when you open up a Pandora’s Box, you know, you are going to have to deal with what comes out.”
District 36A, is a north metro district flanking the Mississippi River in Anoka and Coon Rapids. LGBT issues have been a big part of the campaign. The candidates were asked about the Safe and Supportive Minnesota Schools Act as well as the MSHSL proposed transgender-inclusive athletics policy.
Uglem said he opposed the bill: “In fact, I did not vote for that bill, and there were a couple of reasons. In fact, as far as bullying goes, nobody wants anything about bullying. It is a bad situation in schools, we all realize that. However, the bill had some major problems. One of them is it was an unfunded mandate on a school. It will cost lots of money to implement. The other thing is I’m a big local control person and I believe that individual school districts can write bullying bills themselves. Bullying is much different in Anoka-Hennepin than it is in Ely, Minnesota, and you need to have that flexibility. With this single law one size does not fit all.”
Fietek, who has been an anti-bullying activist for years, supported the act.
“I do support that as I do support the safety and wellbeing of all our students in our schools. Being a school teacher in this district for as long as I have, I saw first hand what happens when a district fails to have policies in place to accurately track and follow up with issues of bullying and harassment. What was happening in our school district, it was different school to school and as I worked around the state on issues of anti-bullying, I’ve found that many school districts do not have plans in place. I think Sen. Hoffman spoke very clearly when he supported this bill as well. He was Vice Chair of the school board at the time. If this bill was in place it would have prevented a lot of the crisis that happened in our school district and the idea that this is an unfunded mandate is simply not accurate.”
The candidates were also asked about the transgender-inclusive athletics policy. Jefferson Fietek, a DFLer, is one of the few this election cycle to explicitly support the policy.
Fietek supported the policy and condemned the fear-mongering by opponents. “I think this is a prime example of using fear as a way to scare people, to make a decision. There was an ad that was in the Star Tribune that led people to be that the high school league was going to be voting on issues such as showering. The reality is that was not on the table at all and unfortunately this is something we have seen before, when people try to scare people against voting for the Safe and Supportive schools bill. All young people should have access to participate in school sports and any other school activity and the reality is if you are transgender you are not a boy standing in the shower with a girl. You are a girl standing in the shower with a girl.”
Uglem said that the Minnesota State High School League should consult the anti-LGBT Minnesota Family Council for input on LGBT issues. “Well, obviously this is a very difficult question, but I’m really concerned about the other 99 percent. I believe first of all that transgender kids should be able to play sports, and on an equal basis and everything else, but I’m also very concerned about all the other kids and all of their rights, and their feelings about all of this. And I don’t like to see anything really bad, particularly a state high school league policy that has been ill thought out, did not have any input from the the Minnesota Family Council and come of the other religious organizations. I’m concerned. What about Catholic schools? What about religious schools? This policy as it stands today is full of holes needs a lot of work and it doesn’t address the vast majority of the people either, so I think that this particular item should be tabled at the MSHSL and brought back after much further consideration.”
The Safe and Supprotive Minnesota Schools Act was also an issue in District 35A where Republican Abigail Whelan and DFLer Peter Perovich are running to replace Republican Rep. Jim Abeler who retired. the district encompasses the city of Ramsey and portions of Anoka along the Mississippi River.
Whelan said she opposed the anti-bullying law. “Unfortunately, that is an unfunded mandate in many levels and it’s going to make it really hard for our teachers and our school boards to continue to do what what we want them to do which is be more effective in the classroom. They are going to have to deal with more paperwork and things like that. The other thing, unfortunately, when you look at the unfunded mandate, there’s not parental notification required at all for somebody being bullied or someone who is bullying. If there is bullying going on, we want to make sure the parent is being notified. So there are some flaws with that that concern me quite a bit, and those are just a couple.
Perovich was not convinced. “By saying it’s an unfunded mandate, my understanding is that it has not affected the business of the school whatsoever in District 11. I think this is more of a student-teacher-administration training so they know… they know what to look for and they know how to help that child and take care of that situation. If the parents aren’t being notified, I guess I have to agree with that. I think they probably should be.
I, in fact support it. I think it’s something that unfortunately we need. I obviously grew up in a different time when we didn’t have to have things like that but I guess in today’s world, we have to have that. We have to ensure that kids are safe at school and I think that’s highly important. They have to be safe at school. We can’t send our kids to school worrying about if they are going to safe because of who they are and I just find it unfortunate we have to have things like this and I do support it and will continue to support it.”
Whelan responded, “I think everyone agrees that we need to have safe schools. I think that teachers want to have their students safe and the school board wants students to be safe and so the question… so that‘s not the question. It’s really a matter of how we go about that. When we talk about mandating teachers to do this sort of reporting and paperwork and you are going to have to hire someone to potentially manage the bureaucracy of what the state is putting on the schools. That is part of my concern, but yes, we need safe schools, but how we are going about it I think is the wrong way to do it.”
While the candidates in 35A had a more nuanced approach to the Safe and Supportive Schools Act, in the Stillwater area, District 39B, one of the staunchest opponents of anti-bullying laws — and LGBT rights in general — weighed in on the issue without even being asked. Republican Rep. Kathy Lohmer is running for reelection against Tom DeGree, an LGBT community leader.
Lohmer said, “We didn’t get a chance to talk about the bullying bill but there was some curriculum that was recommended to be used for that which I actually brought along, I don’t have it here but if anybody wants to look at it, it’s pornographic, and it’s for fourth graders and I would say that we need to have obscenity laws apply to schools.”
(Despite Lohmer’s assertion, no curriculum has yet been recommended for anti-bullying efforts).
While anti-bullying laws and transgender inclusive policies were brought up in several campaigns, Republicans are still opposed to marriage equality even though it’s the law.
In District 2B, in the northwest part of the state, both candidates were asked if they thought same-sex marriage should be legal. Republican Rep. Steve Green said that marriage equality will result in curriculum that “promotes this lifestyle.”
“Should same-sex marriage marriage be legal in Minnesota?” the moderator asked.
Green’s DFL opponent David Sobieski, said the government should stay out of the bedroom. “As far as I know, in the last session, they agreed that it was. My opponent was down there when it happened, To what extent he shaped the debate, I don’t’ know, but like I tell people at the doors, and as far as I’m concerned it’s a civil contract, and unless we want the government stepping into our bedroom — I also tell people that the hand that would reach into your gun safe is the same hand that would reach into your bedroom, and we just don’t want that. We don’t want government overreach. I think people in this state, especially in rural Minnesota, weren’t necessarily ready to have this discussion, but I think the folks on that side of the aisle pushed it because it was a cynical red meat sort of approach to ginning up votes, and what they didn’t expect was that it boomeranged on them and so they lurched from one social issue or situation to the next trying to find something to pit people against one another. As far as I’m concerned, ask me how I would have voted on the emancipation proclamation or the Volstead Act. There are real issues down in St. Paul that need to be addressed.”
Green said that marriage equality means that children will be “taught the lifestyle.”
“No, I did not vote for the marriage amendment and I don’t think it’s a good thing, and as far as what went on as far as getting… trying to pass an amendment to the constitution to make marriage between one man and one woman, the reason that was brought forward, and that was before I was there, but it was brought forward because there was talk about changing the law. In our area our own senators and representatives from that time told us we didn’t need to because there was already a law. As soon as they got that amendment shot down, they did pass the law. I don’t want to be in anybody’s bedroom anymore than everybody else does, but what this law did was open the door to attacks on our First Amendment freedom of speech and freedom of religion because right now if you own a shop a flower shop, for instance, and you happen to be a Christian, and you decide that and through your faith you say, ‘I can’t support this wedding now!’ you can be sued. It opened up the door to the bullying bill in our schools which now says that curriculum that promotes this lifestyle can now be brought into our schools and so it has far reaching effects and I think we are going to see that into the future.”
Sobieski called that argument a canard.
“Well, I just think that we decide these things as a people and we move forward. When we stop to re-examine them either because it is a trick or canard that’s worked in the past — I think that my opponent was down there when it was voted into law. If he wanted to change it or shape it he would have from that route. We’ve got a lot of challenges facing this, and we will continue to have special challenges facing us. It is, in my opinion, mean-spirited and the attitude towards this stuff has been purposely done to get us all worked up. And going forward I think it’s just important that we be a little more forgiving.”
Green accused Sobieski of not answering the question.
“It’s not about being mean. It’s not about being forgiving. It’s about what’s right and wrong, and yes, I was there and I did try to inject myself into the conversation but as everybody is aware the liberals in Minnesota had the House, the Senate and the Governor, and they would pass anything that they wanted to. They didn’t need a single Republican vote to pass what they wanted to pass, and as a result you see what has happened in our state over the last two years. So I think that my opponent’s comments are simply geared to throw something out there that he doesn’t want to have his own answer to. So yeah, we will move forward on this and we have this now but I don’t think that especially people in rural Minnesota wanted it. I think they will make that known in the next elections.”
Marriage equality was also an issue in District 5B when the moderator asked both candidates whether they thought same-sex marriage should be legal. Republican Justin Eichhorn said he was against it, then said the government should have no place in the issue.
Eichhorn: “I think it’s more important to vote with your district than with your party. It’s important to work with both side of the aisle. One issue in particular: we can take the marriage amendment that was on the ballot. 5B overwhelmingly voted not to have gay marriage put in place. They wanted it defined as between one man and one woman in the constitution and when it came time to vote for it in the Legislature,
Tom did end up voting for that. Regardless of where you stand on the issue,
he still went against the district on that policy and its unfortunate.
DFL incumbent Tom Anzelc answered simply:
“Yes. It’s been decided. I voted for it, and I believe that people have the right to love whom they wish to love.”
Eichhorn said that he didn’t think the government should be involved in the issue at all.
“On the issue of same-sex marriage, again I would have sided with my district on that. I think it was a good thing that we allowed the voting public an opportunity to vote on it. I think if the question had been flipped and been on the ballot again,
I think it also wouldn’t have been put as a constitutional amendment. I think it would have failed again even if the question was worded the other way. I think from what I hear from people out door-knocking and talking to constituents, they don’t want the state as part of the equation. Your marriage should be between you, your partner, your God, and your family and that’s it. You know the state doesn’t have to be part of the equation and that’s where I stand. I don’t think the state needs to be involved in it. I think the whole… the marriage issue, gay, straight or otherwise, it seems to be a revenue source for the state and I don’t really know why the state needs to be in that business.”
Anzelc added, “The bullet has left the dock. The elected Minnesota Legislature has decided this issue. There are those who want to rewrite history or disregard history or go back but the people of Minnesota have spoken, and I believe we should go forward.”
Eichhorn followed up, “I would say the State Legislature has spoken, not the people of Minnesota. That’s unfortunate. I would have liked to see that on the ballot the other way let the people decide again, but the ship has sailed like Tom said. It’s a moot point at this point.”