North Dakota Student Rallies Community to Protect All Citizens

Caroline Gallegos • Grand Forks, North Dakota

It had happened again: As Caroline Gallegos scrolled through her Facebook feed in the living room of her apartment in Grand Forks, North Dakota, she saw a news story announcing that the North Dakota legislature, for the third time in six years, failed to pass a bill that would protect LGBT Americans from discrimination.

Caroline had been following the bill for a few weeks – as a pre-law student in her junior year at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, she’s interested in the legislative and judicial process, keeping close tabs on policy areas that interest her.

Caroline, who is a straight ally, was angry and disappointed at her state representatives. She knows how important it is to protect hardworking gay and transgender Americans from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations, and she had hoped that this year at last, the legislature of North Dakota, the state she has called home for more than twelve years, would do the right thing.

There are serious examples – people who get fired, people who get denied housing, and it’s a life-altering thing. I was hoping that with this bill, there would be some form of legal protection in court and in the law.– Caroline Gallegos

“I see examples of discrimination in everyday life,” Caroline said. “And I know that there is so much more that I don’t see that doesn’t get reported. There are serious examples – people who get fired, people who get denied housing, and it’s a life-altering thing. I was hoping that with this bill, there would be some form of legal protection in court and in the law.”

That’s why she channeled her energy into action: She launched two petitions – one on the White House’s website and one on Change.org – urging North Dakota legislators to pass the non-discrimination bill.

Since launching the petitions, she has seen the issue raised many times in the North Dakota and regional media, calling for basic fairness for all North Dakotans. And she’s seen people in her community begin to open their minds to supporting the LGBT community.

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“I’ve talked about this issue with some friends at school, and one said that he had never really thought about it, and didn’t think it mattered,” Caroline said. “But he told me that he put himself in my shoes, and saw why I cared about this – he considered my friends who are gay, my brother who is gay – and he said that he realized why I care about it. This issue really affects average Americans – anyone and everyone who has gay friends or a gay person in their family. And until people consider that situation, I don’t think it really crosses their minds.”

Caroline said she will continue to speak about the importance of comprehensive non-discrimination protections in North Dakota – and nationwide, because she knows that without that ongoing conversation, people who are not confronted with these questions of basic fairness may not be exposed to why this is so important.

I think that if the legislature passed this bill, it would say that North Dakota values people’s talent and wants all people in the North Dakota workforce. It would send a welcoming message to LGBT people.– Caroline Gallegos

She also hopes that soon, North Dakota’s legislature corrects its mistake by finally passing the bill providing statewide protections to its LGBT citizens.

“I think that if the legislature passed this bill, it would say that North Dakota values people’s talent and wants all people in the North Dakota workforce,” she said. “It would send a welcoming message to LGBT people, and it would basically just be saying that North Dakota values all of its citizens. I want to live in a state where it doesn’t matter what your sexual orientation or gender identity is – I want the state to declare that because you’re a North Dakotan, you are valued the same as everyone else.”

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