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Our view: Tuesday’s City Council meeting was a step forward for inclusivity in Grand Forks

Anyone who witnessed Tuesday’s conversation cannot help but have a better understanding of the issues that exist for the LGBTQ+ community.

Herald pull quote, 1/22/22
Herald graphic
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We hope people who hadn’t heard the stories of indignation and discrimination from the LGBTQ+ community tuned in to the broadcast of Tuesday’s meeting of the Grand Forks City Council.

Many residents may not know someone who classifies themself as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer. But hopefully, anyone with an open mind and a willingness to learn will take a few minutes to meet someone who checks one of those boxes. And, in a pinch, just read the report from the meeting published in the Herald earlier this week.

A number of people spoke during the public-input portion of the meeting, voicing displeasure at a comment made last week on Facebook by Grand Forks Mayor Brandon Bochenski.

The mayor, in his post, threw his support behind a letter penned by the North Dakota Catholic Conference that was critical of a proposed policy at UND that would have required students, administrators and others on campus to use names, gender references and pronouns that match a person’s stated gender identity.

“Compelling speech and forcing ideology on our students, our children and our community is abhorrent,” Bochenski wrote.

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That Bochenski weighed in on the issue isn’t really the point anymore. Friday morning, UND announced that “as a result of the recent discussions and because existing policies already provide equal opportunity protections to all of our campus members, UND will cease its work on this draft policy and will not implement it.”

Tuesday night, the mayor apologized for how he worded his Facebook comment. In a call after the meeting to clarify if he was also apologizing for siding with the Catholic Conference or just how he worded his post, he said, “it means I wish I would have used my words differently.”

“I would say right now, I was just glad to hear everyone out,” the mayor told us. “I’m open-minded at this point.”

That’s progress.

Back to the council meeting: Among those who spoke was Leo Otte, who left some in the crowd in tears.

Otte recently “got called by my proper name and proper pronouns for the first time.”

“You have no idea how hard I cried when I heard that for the first time,” Otte said. “It was so warm. It was so nice.”

The mayor and the council politely listened to every word of every speaker.

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It was a step forward in a much-needed conversation about inclusivity, and the good people who spoke out Tuesday must be commended. How the mayor felt about the policy does, of course, matter to those whose lives the policy would have affected. But in the end, he’s entitled to his opinion – as we all are.

Anyone who witnessed Tuesday’s conversation cannot help but have a better understanding of the issues that exist for the LGBTQ+ community.

At the end of the meeting, City Council President Dana Sande weighed in on the atmosphere of the meeting and, it appeared, on the weight of the comments that had been made over the previous hour.

“Treating people nice shouldn't be something that you should have to remind people of,” Sande said. “I, unfortunately, will once again suggest to all the citizens of Grand Forks to be nice to one another. Be respectful and be nice. I think if everyone did that, our community would continue to be a good place and probably be a better place.”

Responded Bochenski: “I think we can all agree to that.”

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