LGBT history in North Dakota

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The state of North Dakota has improved in its treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender residents in the late 1990s and into the 21st Century, when LGBT residents began to openly establish events, organizations and outlets for fellow LGBT residents and allies, and increase in political and community awareness.

Prior to the 20th century[edit]

In the 1860s, Mrs. Nash, a transgender woman, served as Libby Custer's favorite laundress while at Fort Abraham Lincoln, south of Mandan, North Dakota.[1][2][3][4]

Late 20th century[edit]

In the 1970s some businesses tolerated gay customers in Fargo, North Dakota and Grand Forks, North Dakota. A bar in Fargo, North Dakota had a "gay section" and local Chinese restaurant transformed into a popular disco at night.

In the 1980s, the Fargo City Mayor, Jon Lindgren, caused some controversy when he publicly supported gay rights and supported the efforts of a local gay businessman to open up a gay bar, "My Place". The bar remained the only gay bar in North Dakota, until it closed down in 1989.

In 1981, North Dakota Governor Governor Allen Olson signed Executive Order Number 10,[5] which the Governor has recently said, in interviews with the Fargo Forum Newspaper,[6] was an attempt to protect State workers from anti-gay discrimination in employment, without expressly mentioning sexual orientation.

In 1981, the North Dakota Supreme Court, in the case of Jacobson v. Jacobson[7] ruled that because of society's prejudices, the sexual orientation of a parent would be the deciding factor in child custody cases. This ruling was subsequently reversed in 2003 by the case of Damron v. Damron.[8]

In 1982, University of North Dakota students, faculty and staff formed the Ten Percent Society. A chapter of the organization was subsequently set up in Fargo, North Dakota.

In June 1984, Fargo celebrated its first recognized gay pride week, with Mayor Jon Lindgren signing a degree formally recognizing the week’s gay pride celebrations.[9]

In 1996, North Dakota lawmakers pass a State edition, "Defense of Marriage Act". The law bans legal recognition of same-sex marriage in North Dakota, including those marriages performed in other States.

In 1999, Equality North Dakota is formed to campaign for LGBT rights in North Dakota, especially the inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity in the State civil right code. The chairman of the organization was Robert Uebel.

In 1999, a gay bar opened up in Moorhead, Minnesota, which is right across the river from Fargo, North Dakota. The bar attracts LGBT customers from all of North Dakota, as well as much of Western Minnesota. The bar closed down in 2011.

Into the 21st century[edit]

In 2002, as a result of a three-year grant from the Otto Bremer Foundation, the North Dakota Human Rights Coalition (NDHRC) was formed. NDHRC is a broad-based coalition of individuals and organizations with an interest in the furtherance of human rights in North Dakota.[10]

In November 2004, North Dakota voters ratified "Measure 1". The Constitutional Amendment banned legal recognition of same-sex marriage, as well as similar options, including civil unions. Public opposition to the ballot measure came from Equality North Dakota, as well as by the Democratic Governor candidate Joe Satrom and the Libertarian Party of North Dakota.[11]

In April 2009, the North Dakota legislature failed to pass a bill (Senate Bill 2278[12]) that would have protected LGBT people from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations. The bill had passed in the State Senate, but did not have enough votes to pass in the State House.[13]

In September 2012, North Dakota State College of Science football player Jamie Kuntz was dismissed from the team after it was discovered that he was gay. The coach and the college insist that the decision was not motivated by Kuntz's sexual orientation, but because he had initially lied about it to his coach and had been seeing kissing his boyfriend.[14]

In November 2012, Joshua Boschee was elected to the North Dakota State legislature, representing District 44. He is the first openly gay person to win a legislative seat in North Dakota, possible the first openly gay person to hold any partisan, elected office in the state.[15] Boschee later unsuccessfully ran for the North Dakota Secretary of State, thus being the first openly gay candidate for a statewide office.

In February 2013, the North Dakota legislature failed to pass a bill (Senate Bill 2252[16]) that would have protected LGBT people from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations. The bill had failed in the State Senate.[17]

In April 2015, the North Dakota legislature failed to pass a bill (Senate Bill 2279[18]) that would have protected LGBT people from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations. The bill had passed in the State Senate, and failed in the State House.[19]

In April 2015, State Rep. Randy Boehning, a Republican legislator from Fargo, comes out as gay.[20]

In August 2015, the bishop of the Catholic Church’s Bismarck Diocese ordered all of its parishes and schools that sponsor Boy Scout troops to cut ties with the organization because of its decision to lift a ban on allowing openly gay adults to serve in leadership positions.[21]

An anti-discrimination resolution discouraging biased employment, rental/housing and service practices based on sexual orientation or gender identity was approved October 25, 2016 by the Bismarck City Commission. [22]

North Dakota’s Republican-led Senate rejected a measure (Senate Bill 2043 [23]) in January 2017 that would have changed state law to reflect the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision that same-sex couples have the right to marry.[24]

In February 2017, the North Dakota legislature failed to pass a bill (House Bill 1386 [25]) that would have protected LGBT people from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations. [26]

A federal judge ordered in March 2018 a drilling rig service company working in North Dakota's Oil Patch to pay a former worker as part of an agreement to settle a lawsuit that alleged he was harassed because he is gay. When the case was filed in December 2016, it was the first in North Dakota charging that an employer in the state had allowed an employee to be subjected to sexual harassment because of his sexual orientation. The judge's order for a settlement came a year later in December 2017.[27]

North Dakota Human Rights Coalition and Dakota Outright held an LGBTQ+ Summit in October 2018 in Mandan. The summit was a historical moment as it was the first statewide gathering for members of the LGBTQ+ community. The goals of the summit were to provide opportunities for networking, support and strategizing for educational opportunities as well as assisting attendees and facilitators from across the county in recognizing their political power. The North Dakota Human Rights Coalition and Dakota Outright, an organization that is dedicated to serving the LGBTQIA community of the central and western parts of the state, facilitated the summit.[28]

In January 2019, The North Dakota Senate defeated legislation banning discrimination based on sexual orientation, again turning down efforts to add LGBT protections to state law. Senate Bill 2303 (Senate Bill 2303 [29]) failed in a 20-27 vote. [30]

Laws against homosexuality[edit]

The first criminal law against sodomy in North Dakota was enacted in 1862, then the Dakota Territory. It prohibited heterosexual and homosexual fellatio. The law was expanded in 1885 to include anal intercourse and fellatio.[31] The state's vagrancy laws were expanded in 1903 to cover anyone whose speech or conduct was deemed to be "lewd, wanton and lascivious".[31] In State v. Nelson (1917), the North Dakota Supreme Court broadened the scope of the sodomy law to include acts of cunnilingus.

In 1927 the law initially designed to permit the sterilization of mentally and physically disabled inmates was expanded to include anyone who the State authorities believed might be "habitual criminals, moral degenerates and sexual perverts".[31] The forced sterilization law was repealed in 1965.

In 1973, the State legalized private, adult, consensual homosexual relations as part of a larger revision of the criminal code that set the universal age of consent at eighteen years.[32]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Bismarck tribune., November 04, 1878, Image 1". Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. Retrieved September 9, 2016.
  2. ^ "IN SERVICE". Daily Kos. November 6, 2009. Retrieved September 9, 2016.
  3. ^ "Libbie Custer's laundress actually a man". Bismarck Tribune. January 15, 2012. Retrieved October 13, 2015.
  4. ^ "Mrs Nash, the Transvestite with Custer's Seventh Cavalry". historywithatwist. August 11, 2013. Retrieved September 9, 2016.
  5. ^ "Executive Order 1981-10 Relating to Application of Personnel Policies". July 28, 1981. Retrieved March 28, 2016.
  6. ^ "Former Gov. Olson says 1981 order 'probably' intended to prohibit discrimination against gays". Fargo Forum. April 7, 2015. Retrieved March 28, 2016.
  7. ^ "North Dakota Supreme Court Opinions: Jacobson v. Jacobson, 314 N.W.2d 78 (N.D. 1981)". December 30, 1981. Retrieved March 28, 2016.
  8. ^ "North Dakota Supreme Court Opinions: Damron v. Damron, 2003 ND 166, 670 N.W.2d 871". November 13, 2003. Retrieved March 28, 2016.
  9. ^ "Throwback Thursday: Fargo's first gay pride week". Fargo Forum. August 13, 2015. Retrieved November 6, 2015.
  10. ^ "History of North Dakota Human Rights Coalition (NDHRC)". NDHRC. Retrieved December 11, 2015.
  11. ^ "Gay marriage ban approved in North Dakota". Bismarck Tribune. November 1, 2004. Retrieved October 22, 2015.
  12. ^ "SB 2278 Measure Actions". April 4, 2009. Retrieved October 22, 2015.
  13. ^ "Discrimination bill fails". Bismarck Tribune. April 3, 2009. Retrieved October 13, 2015.
  14. ^ Dixon, Ryan (September 13, 2012). "North Dakota School Speaks Out About Gay Student Being Kicked Off Football Team after Kissing 65-Year-Old Boyfriend". South Florida Gay News. Retrieved April 20, 2015.
  15. ^ "North Dakota's first out legislator takes office". Washington Blade. January 11, 2013. Retrieved October 13, 2015.
  16. ^ "SB 2252 Measure Actions". February 14, 2013. Retrieved October 22, 2015.
  17. ^ "Senate rejects anti-discrimination bill". Bismarck Tribune. February 14, 2013. Retrieved October 22, 2015.
  18. ^ "SB 2279 Measure Actions". April 2, 2015. Retrieved October 22, 2015.
  19. ^ "House kills LGBT anti-discrimination bill". Bismarck Tribune. April 2, 2015. Retrieved October 22, 2015.
  20. ^ "North Dakota lawmaker who voted against gay rights comes out as gay". Bismarck Tribune. April 28, 2015. Retrieved October 22, 2015.
  21. ^ "Bismarck Diocese cuts ties with Boy Scouts over lifting of gay leadership ban". Fargo Forum. Aug 4, 2015. Retrieved October 22, 2015.
  22. ^ "LGBT anti-discrimination resolution approved in Bismarck". Bismarck Tribune. October 26, 2016. Retrieved December 12, 2016.
  23. ^ "SB 2043 Measure Actions". January 10, 2017. Retrieved November 1, 2018.
  24. ^ "North Dakota rejects changes to state law to reflect same-sex marriage ruling". LGBT Nation. January 11, 2017. Retrieved November 1, 2018.
  25. ^ "HB 1386 Measure Actions". February 10, 2017. Retrieved November 1, 2018.
  26. ^ "LGBT supporters let down by ND Legislature, but vow to fight on". Fargo Forum. February 10, 2017. Retrieved November 1, 2018.
  27. ^ "ND Oil Patch firm must pay settlement, change policies after gay worker alleges harassment". West Fargo Pioneer. March 12, 2018. Retrieved November 1, 2018.
  28. ^ "Local Fargo Organizations Plan First Summit for LGBTQ+ Folks". High Plains Reader. October 31, 2018. Retrieved November 1, 2018.
  29. ^ "Bill Actions for SB 2303". January 26, 2019. Retrieved April 6, 2019.
  30. ^ "North Dakota Senate votes down LGBT anti-discrimination bill". Bismarck Tribune. January 25, 2019. Retrieved April 6, 2019.
  31. ^ a b c The History of Sodomy Laws in the United States - North Dakota
  32. ^ William N. Eskridge, Dishonorable Passions: Sodomy Laws in America, 1861-2003 (NY: Penguin Group, 2008), 201n, available online, accessed April 10, 2010

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