North Dakota considers $1,500 fine for using pronouns other than those assigned at birth

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As more than a dozen states consider passing anti-transgender legislation this year, North Dakota lawmakers are diving into a bill that would make people pay $1,500 each time they refer to themselves or others with gender pronouns different from the ones they were assigned at birth.

The Senate bill would apply to people in public schools, state agencies and any other places that receive state funding.

READ MORE: Republican states aim to restrict transgender health care in first bills of 2023

The measure is intended to discourage schools from “promoting transgenderism,” Republican sponsor Sen. David Clemens, of West Fargo, said this week. Others testified at a Wednesday Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that the bill is designed to discriminate, and could impact the state’s behavioral health providers.

“Its very purpose is gender-based discrimination,” Christina Sambor, of the North Dakota Human Rights Coalition, said Wednesday.

The Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously gave the bill a “Do Not Pass” recommendation, but the legislation is scheduled for a broader vote on the Senate floor Friday.

Reed Eliot Rahrich, who identifies as transgender, testified this week that the bill is “a poorly thought out affront to human rights.”

Dan Cramer, a psychologist and clinical director at the state Department of Health and Human Services, said it would create “significant problems” for human service centers in meeting basic accreditation standards and funding requirements. Those standards prohibit discrimination against a client’s sexual orientation and gender identity.

READ MORE: State-level anti-transgender legislation reverberates on Day of Remembrance

Karen Van Fossan, an ordained minister and licensed professional counselor in Fargo, said the bill directly conflicts with the American Counseling Association’s code of ethics. She said it would also force counselors out of practice in the state.

“This bill would bar me from doing my job or – because of the $1,500 fine per incident – would entirely run me out of business,” she said, noting that the measure would also affect her “beloved” transgender grandchild.

Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee said they agreed with the bill’s intent, but that it was poorly written and would be difficult to enforce. It would also harm people who do not identify as transgender and would possibly violate First Amendment rights, they said.

“All honor to the sponsor and his intent. But I can’t support this bill,” said Republican Sen. Janne Myrdal, of Edinburg. She plans to support other bills that align with her belief “that God gives you your identity and your sex at conception.”

North Dakota lawmakers will consider other bills this session that would obstruct transgender and non-binary people from using their preferred pronouns, criminalize doctors providing gender-affirming care, deter transgender youth from joining school sports teams, penalize drag-show performers and more.

WATCH: Critics say new school policies in Florida ostracize LGBTQ students

More than two dozen bills seeking to restrict transgender healthcare access have been introduced in at least 11 other states — Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Virginia — for the legislative sessions beginning in early 2023. Bills targeting other transgender issues have been filed in many of the same states and are expected in several others with GOP majorities.

Rahrich, who testified against the bill, said he lived in North Dakota until he was 25 but moved away in 2016 after “a series of escalating brushes” with anti-LGBTQ violence. Those events included being followed into a restroom by a drunk man screaming and questioning which facilities Rahrich was using and being refused service at bars because his driver’s license didn’t reflect his new name and gender.

Politicians and a handful of other people Rahrich called “narrow-minded” didn’t want him to stay in North Dakota, so he moved to Minnesota, where he hoped his rights would be respected.

“I could wax poetic about the rolling prairie, or how much I miss the enormity of the sky,” he said about North Dakota. “But what I can’t do is compel you to see me as a human being.”

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