North Dakota
A new LGBTQ bar is opening near Moorhead, WDAY reports:

Shane Friesz left North Dakota in his 20s to “go be gay” somewhere more progressive.
The native of New Salem, N.D., is back now and recently opened a gay bar—the only one of its kind near Fargo-Moorhead in several years.
Friesz and his partner, Shawn Weber, opened The Sanctuary Bar & Bistro on Saturday, Dec. 16, drawing patrons to check out how the couple converted a small-town watering hole into a gay bar.
But first, patrons had to make a drive through the country to get there. It’s well outside of town, located at 9816 21st St. N. just off U.S. Highway 75 in Kragnes Township north of Moorhead. According to the latest U.S. Census data, the population of Kragnes Township, Minn. is 222.
Friesz said he and Weber knew it would take a lot of work when they first saw the former Kragnes Inn bar in February. The decor was old, it lacked a proper kitchen and everything needed updates, especially its well system and interior finishes.
“We both have really good decorating skills, as you can tell,” he said, gesturing to the bar area that’s been repainted and freshened. “We kind of looked at each other and said, ‘I think we can make this work.’ “

A Wyoming company settled a sexual harassment case that involved homophobic harassment in Williston, according to press release from the EEOC:

Rocky Mountain Casing Crews (RMCC), a Wyoming company that formerly did business in the North Dakota oil patch, has agreed to pay $70,000 to settle a sexual harassment and sexual orientation discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in 2016, the agency announced today.
According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, RMCC, which formerly maintained a workforce in Williston, N.D., subjected a male employee to harassment because of his sex, male, and his sexual orientation. The agency said that coworkers called the employee by offensive and homophobic slurs, and the office manager made him the target of derogatory sex-based comments, including giving him a Santa cap with a Spanish slang word for “homosexual” on it.
The EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. Rocky Mountain Casing Crews (RMCC), 1:16-cv-00428-DLH-CSM (D. N.D.), alleging that RMCC had violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by this misconduct. The consent decree settling the suit provides that RMCC will pay the discrimination victim $70,000 and adopt and enforce a policy against sexual harassment in the future. RMCC management and employees will undergo training on the prohibitions against harassment in the workplace.
“Sexual harassment is illegal whether it is against women or men,” said Julianne Bowman, the EEOC’s district director in Chicago, who managed the federal agency’s pre-suit administrative investigation. “Employers must respond appropriately when they receive complaints of this kind of abuse.”

A Grand Forks City Council member is pushing for a more welcoming city, but fellow city council members are pushing back, the Bismarck Tribune reports:

Grand Forks City Council member Sandi Marshall said she wants to tell the world her city is a welcoming, inclusive place to live.
It hasn’t been that simple.
Marshall introduced an “inclusion resolution” at Monday’s council committee meeting. It’s a statement of values — not a law or regulation — that disavows bigotry and advertises Grand Forks’ better nature. Notably, it says “promoting differentiation or superiority” for a list of identities — like race, religion, gender identity and sexual orientation — is “scientifically false, morally condemnable, hateful, socially unjust and dangerous.”
Marshall said she’s trying to officialize a positive, inclusive city philosophy — not create a code of conduct. And while most agree Grand Forks ought to be inclusive, the resolution’s details are proving politically charged, drawing passionate public comment and leaving city leaders debating its exact language. The debate is reminiscent of the city’s 2015 consideration of a diversity commission — a never-formed group that would have advocated for local minorities’ interests.
“In my opinion, this is anti-God, anti-Constitution, anti-America and anti-common sense,” said Terry Bjerke, a former City Council member and 2016 Grand Forks mayoral candidate, who characterized the document as a politically correct manifesto at Monday night’s meeting. “No City Council is ever going to tell me what to think.”

South Dakota
LGBTQ South Dakotans held a Queer Christmas for folks who can’t go home for the holidays, Black Hills FOX reports:

One organization opened their arms on Monday to a group of people who they say are not always welcome at the family dinner table.

Black Hills FOX Reporter Katrina Lim takes a look at what Queer South Dakota did for the LGBT community this holiday season.
Queer South Dakota Board Member Nancy Rosenbrahn says, “Whether they be a gay man or a gay woman or transgender individual, they can’t go back home. It’s too uncomfortable. It’s too stressful. And sometimes they’re not even welcome back at all.”
Queer South Dakota hosted what they called “A Queer Christmas” at Jayde Tree Salon.

A Sioux Falls family sends holiday cards to lawmakers to remind them that they have LGBTQ constituents, the Argus Leader reports:

“All for love and love for all.”
That’s the message scrawled below a photo of two smiling children on a holiday card that a handful of state lawmakers, congressional delegates and other elected officials received this month.
Tucked into the envelope with the card is a request from the mothers of the little boy and girl in the picture:
“We kindly ask you to remember our family when discriminatory anti-LGBT legislation comes up in South Dakota,” they wrote in a holiday letter. “Like our children know, there is no place for bullying in our great state and country that we love.”
For the past several years Stacey Burnette, 36, and her wife Danielle Wilcox, 37, have printed a handful of extra holiday cards to send to their elected officials. Inspired by the season of love and giving, the pair sent out the notes again this year.

Iowa
The Press Citizen profiled a lesbian Methodist pastor following her being disciplined by the national church for living an authentic lesbian life:

For the Rev. Anna Blaedel, being an open, admitted homosexual is one of the most authentic ways she can express her faith in God.
And the more her own church disagrees, the more Blaedel stands firm. She is convicted: God wants her to be gay — and happily so, no matter how hard the Methodist Church tries to tell her, and the world, otherwise.
“Deep into my bones, I believe my queerism is a gift,” says Blaedel, director of the University of Iowa Wesley Foundation who became internationally known for bucking the United Methodist Church’s ban against “open, avowed homosexuality.” “I believe God delights in my queer-love. I am convicted of that with every ounce of my being and soul. I have never, ever had a sense that being gay was sinful, or that God was displeased with me being gay.”
Earlier this year, Blaedel was disciplined by the United Methodist Church for officiating at a lesbian couple’s wedding. She appealed the discipline, and news reports at the time proclaimed a “resolution” when Blaedel and the church board agreed to pass the topic on to the international Judicial Council to explore the issue when it convenes in 2019.

Zach Wahls is best known for his passionate speech in support of his two moms and his work to end the Boy Scouts’ ban on gay members, is running for an Iowa Senate seat, the Muscatine Journal reports:

Iowa City native, advocate and author Zach Wahls announced Thursday he will run for the Iowa Senate seat held by Bob Dvorsky, who does not plan to seek re-election in 2018.
“I’m running for the Iowa Senate for one simple reason,” Wahls, a Democrat, told more than 100 people crammed into the Old Town Hall on Thursday afternoon for the announcement. “This is an all-hands-on-deck moment that will determine the future of our state for generations to come, and I feel responsible.”
Wahls, 26, gained national attention when his 2011 testimony before the Iowa House Judiciary Committee about growing up with gay parents went viral and became YouTube’s most-watched political video of 2011.
On Thursday, Wahls celebrated his parents, Jackie Reger and Terry Wahls, on the 21st anniversary of their commitment ceremony, during which they walked down the aisle to the theme song from “Star Trek Voyager.”

A Christian group at the University of Iowa lost its recognition by the school after it rejected a student after finding out he is gay last year, the Daily Iowan reports:

A Christian student organization on the University of Iowa campus, Business Leaders in Christ, has been removed as a recognized campus organization following findings of discrimination in the group.
As previously reported by The Daily Iowan, Business Leaders in Christ had offered then University of Iowa sophomore Marcus Miller a leadership position in the organization, then rescinded the offer upon Miller revealing that he was gay.
Miller said he filed a formal discrimination complaint against the organization on Feb. 20, and the UI found the claim against Business Leaders in Christ had merit.
UI Media Relations Director Anne Bassett said in an email to The Daily Iowan that the UI does not tolerate discrimination of any kind, in accordance with law.
“The University of Iowa respects the right of students, faculty, and staff to practice the religion of their choice. During orientation, new students are invited to learn about the 20 religious student organizations on campus and the worship opportunities in the surrounding community,” Bassett said.

A week later, the Business Leaders in Christ filed suit, KCRG reports:

A christian group on the University of Iowa campus has filed a lawsuit against the university.
According to the lawsuit, the UI revoked the registration of the group Business Leaders in Christ last month. This stems from a 2016 complaint where a member of the group, who is openly gay, asked if the group would consider him for vice president.
He claims the group denied this because of his sexual orientation. But the group says its leaders have to abide by the group’s religious beliefs which include avoiding any sexual activity outside of a marriage between a man and a woman.
Business Leaders in Christ filed the lawsuit on Monday. It includes 20 counts against the university.

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Andy Birkey

Andy Birkey has written for a number of Minnesota and national publications. He founded Eleventh Avenue South which ran from 2002-2011, wrote for the Minnesota Independent from 2006-2011, the American Independent from 2010-2013. His writing has appeared in The Advocate, The Star Tribune, The Huffington Post, Salon, Cagle News Service, Twin Cities Daily Planet, TheUptake, Vita.mn and much more. His writing on LGBT issues, the religious right and social justice has won awards including Best Beat Reporting by the Online News Association, Best Series by the Minnesota chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, and an honorable mention by the Sex-Positive Journalism awards.

1 COMMENT

  1. A group of students at the University of Iowa, titled Business Leaders in Christ, has sought to establish a sanctioned relationship within the university to promote the group’s particular religious convictions. Found by the university to be in violation of the UI’s Human Rights Policy drafted in compliance with the Iowa Civil Right Act, the group has been denied such a relationship.

    The sticking point being the student organization’s discriminatory ban of full participation of anyone disposed to entry into a same-sex relationship—such individuals are prohibited from holding a leadership position within the organization. The president of the group, Jacob Estell, stated in apparent echo of some Washington, D.C.-based legal counsel by Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, “Our beliefs weren’t made by us, and they can’t be changed by us either.” To wit, some equal protection of the law is more equal than some other equal protection of the law.

    Given the long history of human suffering and loss of freedom that has come when religion and government have gotten entangled, one member of the various faithful, yours as truly as I can be, believes that equal protection is best served by keeping matters of faith and governance as separate as separate they can officially be.

    President Thomas Jefferson in an 1802 letter in response to some Danbury Baptist’s concerns that via government others might try to deprive them of their religious freedom wrote affirming in no uncertain terms that their freedom of faith was constitutionally protected by the First Amendment—the wording that Jefferson used has passed down as an assurance of “a wall of separation between church and state.” Later by the adoption of one of the “Civil War Amendments” (the Fourteenth) it was made clear that this safeguard from interference also extended down through all other levels of government—of which the University of Iowa is part and parcel, and by legal intent prevented from being used in furtherance of someone’s religious purposes.

    However via exercise of one’s freedom of speech an individual may proselytize to his faithful heart’s content within any public space provided he neither unduly disturbs the peace nor disrupts the purpose to which some institutional setting has been legally established. Thus an individual’s faith is protected and left as a private concern, and not a matter of government promotion or elimination.

    Given the array of private musings of those that with certainty can contend to have seen into the private depths of their immortal souls and viewed the absolute, ultimate, universal, perpetual and irrefutable light of truth; reason suggests that others left somewhat in the dark are not likely to soon if ever see it the same way. True, though differing all of us cannot be right, each and every one of us is free to be WRONG in our own special way.

    If one has need to express his special way to others, he might best serve tolerance of religious freedom for himself and all others by expressing himself in harmony with the sentiment Thomas Paine penned in forward to his “Age of Reason.” Paine wrote:

    “. . . my opinions upon Religion. You will do me the justice to remember, that I have always strenuously supported the Right of every Man to his own opinion, however different that opinion might be to mine. He who denies to another this right, makes a slave of himself to his present opinion, because he precludes himself the right of changing it. The most formidable weapon against errors of every kind is Reason.”

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