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Minnesota same-sex marriage: Still closeted on UND's campus

Jorja Petersen, former president of UND's Ten Percent Society and a student, says Minnesota's gay marriage law is a step in the right direction, but gay students on campus still fear discrimination. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

After watching her home state of Minnesota legalize same-sex marriage, Jorja Petersen, a gay rights leader and UND student, said she believes the new law will make voices on both sides of the issue "louder."

"I can see both sides to it," she said, "but there's really not, because it's my life."

Until more protection is established for the state's gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender residents, she said, she thinks Minnesota's new law could encourage some Grand Forks residents to move across the river to East Grand Forks.

"I think (Minnesota's legalization of same-sex marriage) is going to make a lot of people leave, if it doesn't happen here quickly," she said. "And I don't see it happening quickly here at all."

Petersen is a former president of the Ten Percent Society, the oldest LGBT organization in the state. She went to her first meeting with a friend while a freshman, and found a sense of community within the group.

Outside the group, however, campus can be unwelcoming to LGBT students.

"I have a lot of friends (majoring) in aviation, and they're all very closeted," Petersen said. "In North Dakota, you can get fired for being gay. So, if you know somebody's against it, a lot of people will shrink and become invisible as much as they can."

Petersen said some students stay closeted to avoid the possibility of future employers finding out; North Dakota employers are not forbidden from discriminating against gay people.

Student athletes feel particularly forced to hide their sexuality for fear of being removed from their teams, she said.

In September, a football player said he was kicked off the North Dakota State College of Science team for being gay; the school said it was because he lied about it.

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