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How LGBTQ+ Rights, ERA, and Congregations Are Collaborating in a Minnesota Network

"Diversity in Politics" coverage is made possible by Women Winning and Vote Run Lead.

Minnesota organizations are co-creating ways to welcome people who feel oppressed in their states and are seeking gender-affirming care. 

The death of 16-year-old Nex Benedict in Oklahoma in February, the day after a bullying incident in a high school bathroom, led to vigils around the country, including one led in Minneapolis by the student organizers from the Gender and Sexuality Alliance at Edison High School.

In Oklahoma, for example, new laws target transgender and nonbinary people with restrictions on which bathroom they can use, what sports teams they can participate on, and what medical care they can seek. A potential bill this year would prohibit school employees from using a student’s pronouns if they are not the same as the sex assigned at birth. Another law would prohibit recognition of any gender other than male or female.

In some circles, democracy — equality by law — is being rejected by those who believe immigrants, LGBTQ+ individuals, and women are diluting the purity of a patriarchal world, wrote Heather Cox Richardson in a March 10 essay.

A trans refuge network is in process in Minnesota to help people move to safety, involving trauma-informed teammates. 

After Governor Tim Walz signed the Trans Refugee Act in March 2023, it is now illegal to share private information with people out of state about health care patients who are in Minnesota. Iowa, North Dakota, and South Dakota, among others, have banned gender-affirming care for trans people under 18; Minnesota law now says caregivers do not need to cooperate with other state investigations about why someone is in the state.

A March 2023 Executive Order Walz issued resulted in expanded access to gender-affirming care through Minnesota’s Medical Assistance (Medicaid) program and in State-regulated insurance plans; legislation making its way through the 2024 legislature seeks to embed these protections in statute.  These efforts build on long-standing, successful work to broaden insurance coverage for this type of care in Minnesota.  A challenging byproduct of this campaign is that there are wait lists at Minnesota clinics for gender-affirming care. 

A group of religious and other leaders are working together to provide for the safety and well-being of people who are coming to the state for this care. Temporary housing, remote office space, grocery gift cards, and an overall village of support are being organized.

Outfront Minnesota is coordinating the resource availability of congregations doing this work, including Unitarian Universalist, United Church of Christ, United Methodist, Presbyterian, and Reformed Jewish congregations.

Rev. Kelli Clement, who is associated with First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis (FUS), a non-theistic Humanist congregation [where this author is a member] talked about next steps with a group of members. She quoted United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities associate professor Rev. Justin Sabia-Tanis, who said at the local vigil for Benedict that “the Bible is filled with calls to love your neighbor as yourself and to care for those who are different and who are vulnerable.” He implored attendees to “not cede the public square to narrow and false moralizing.”

Healthy Collaborations

Clement, a long-time reproductive justice advocate, added, “If we get the Equal Rights Amendment in Minnesota, we will have the most inclusive language in the country for equal rights for everyone. The 2024 language for passage — Minnesota is one of the few states in the nation that does not have an Equal Rights Amendment — says: 

 

“All persons shall be guaranteed equal rights under the laws of this state. The state shall not discriminate against any person in intent or effect on account of race, color, national origin, ancestry, disability, or sex, including but not limited to pregnancy, pregnancy outcomes and reproductive freedom, gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation.

 

Clement added, “For many years, we had the pro-choice crowd and the gay rights crowd. We mostly were in agreement, but we didn’t really collaborate and work together to get these things done. In this [current] environment, when authoritarians want to control the ways we reproduce and the ways we are sexually and the ways we show up as gender beings, the [new Minnesota wording of] ERA is a result of a lot of collaboration.”

“We’re talking about the freedom to control one’s body, to be able to understand who one is,” said FUS member Justice Bovee at the discussion. As people are arriving from other states, Bovee said, “They’re coming in with an immense amount of noise they’ve had to deal with. … When you come to Minnesota, you’ve now lost some of that noise, but you’re struggling to find human connection. We’re looking for places to build relational locations.”

Bovee is co-founder of the Minnesota Trans & Intersex Resource Network (MNTIRN), which is creating a centralized hub for organizations such as Twin Cities Pride, Outfront Minnesota, Transforming Families, Pfund, Reclaim, Bridge for Youth, Gender Justice, Tigers Transforming Families, Rainbow Health, Trans Health Coalition, The Aliveness Project, Human Rights Campaign, and several others.”

Proposed Legislation

Some states are considering bills that prohibit LGBTQ+ pride flags from being flown in classrooms. On the other hand, the Minnesota House will vote soon on whether to prohibit schools and local governments from removing pride flags, banners, and posters. Bill author Rep. Leigh Finke told MPR News, “The bill does not require anyone to display rainbows, nor does it supersede policies that prohibit the display of all banners, flags or posters. It just prohibits rainbows from being singled out and banned in schools, libraries, and other government spaces.” 

Worthington is one local city that required both a pride and a Puerto Rican flag from being taken down in a teacher’s classroom

Other current legislation being considered in Minnesota:

  • HF3567 (Hollins)/SF3504 (Maye Quade) Uniform Parentage — edit language of existing law to be gender neutral and inclusive of all types of parenting
  • HF2607 (Finke)/SF2209 (Dibble) Gender-Affirming Care Requirement — require health plans, including medical assistance, to cover gender-affirming care
  • HF173 (Her/Bahner)/SF37 (Kunesh/Dziedzic) — Minnesota constitutional amendment to ensure that the state shall not discriminate on account of race, national origin, ancestry, disability, or sex, including pregnancy outcomes, reproductive freedom, gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation
  • HF3386 (Finke/Greenman)/SF3502 (Maye Quade) — supports nonprofit grant funding to assist LGBTQ+ people in seeking medical care in Minnesota

Related Resources

Pink Haven Coalition is offering mutual aid as part of a national trans safety network 

Minnesota Trans & Intersex Resource Network is in the beginning stage of connecting organizations and individuals assisting people who are coming to Minnesota

Outfront Minnesota  is building the local Trans Refuge Congregation Network with partners

Rainbow Health is developing especially mental health services for the LGBTQ+ community