Listen: Gay rights in the Twin Cities with Senator Florian Chmielewski, DFL-Sturgeon Lake and Jack Baker

MPR’s Rich Dietman reports on the fight over local laws protecting homosexuals from discrimination. Dietman talks Florian Chmielewski, DFL state senator of Sturgeon Lake; and Jack Baker, a Minneapolis attorney and a coordinator of the Target City Coalition.

In 1977, there were 40 American cities which had laws on their books to protect homosexuals from discrimination. Three of those cities were in Minnesota (Minneapolis. St. Paul, and Marshall). The laws were enacted by city councils and were never voted on in a general election. They were generally designed to prohibit discrimination with regard to a person's sexual preference. Opponents fought to overturn ordinance, with the help of visits from Anita Bryant and Save Our Children Incorporated group.


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RICH DIETMAN: There are 40 American cities which have laws on their books to protect homosexuals from discrimination. Three of those cities are in Minnesota. Those cities are Minneapolis, Saint Paul, and Marshall. The laws were enacted by city councils and were never voted on in a general election. They are generally designed to prohibit discrimination with regard to a person's sexual preference.

Opponents of gay rights say that when these laws are put to a general and popular vote, many will be repealed, as the one yesterday in Florida. And opponents in Minnesota today confirmed that they have asked the help of Anita Bryant and the Save Our Children Organization. State Senator Florian Chmielewski, a DFLer from Sturgeon Lake. Senator, are you one of the people who has requested the help of Save Our children Incorporated to come into Minneapolis to work against the gay rights organization there?

FLORIAN CHMIELEWSKI: Yes, I have. And I also hope that the organization will be active in promoting passage of this bill and that when the bill is drafted finally, that we can have that organization testify on behalf of the bill and for the desperate need for such legislation.

RICH DIETMAN: When do you expect to-- what have you heard from Save Our Children Incorporated? What do they plan on doing as far as providing assistance?

FLORIAN CHMIELEWSKI: Well, I would imagine not more than to provide persons here that will provide information and testimony as to their experience are gained in viewing the action in other states. And that would be valuable testimony. We want Anita herself. But we could bring other people too. And that's, frankly, the position I think they will take, is simply to provide personnel to give testimony on pending legislation.

RICH DIETMAN: I see. But before the legislature comes into session, do you expect that some of the people that you've talked to will be doing some organizing in the Twin Cities area?

FLORIAN CHMIELEWSKI: Oh, there's no question about it. As a matter of fact, Senator Manning has been asked personally by Anita Bryant to serve on the National Organization of Save Our children and on the National Board.

So he is actually going to take the lead in Minnesota to organize some local effort too. So what we'll do is we'll join with the organization on a statewide level first to make ourselves a part of the national effort. And then we will ask those people who are already experienced and testifying before the legislatures to come before ours on our pending legislation.

RICH DIETMAN: The legislation of which Chmielewski speaks was proposed by him today. The proposal will incorporate a 1976 Supreme Court decision, which he says stated that persons could be imprisoned for homosexual acts committed in private between consenting adults.

Chmielewski also said the bill will contain a proposal for a rehabilitation program which would lead gay persons back to, quote, "natural lives," unquote. A spokesman for Save Our Children in Miami, Bob Dailey, told this reporter that he would not name the organizations in Minneapolis which have asked for help in fighting the gay ordinance. He compared the situation to a war and said he would not want to alert the opposition. He did say, though, that Save Our Children would not bring in large numbers of outsiders to work on the campaign. Rather, he said, help would probably come in the form of advice on ad campaigns, fundraising, and, as he put it, defining the issues.

The gay community, for its part, doesn't seem too upset about the possibility of a confrontation over present gay rights ordinances, even if the opposition has outside support. Jack Baker, a Minneapolis attorney and a coordinator of the Target City Coalition, an organization which it's hoped will serve as a rallying point for the pro-ordinance forces.

JACK BAKER: We welcome that kind of intervention. We think that it would be a nice contest here if they would-- if Anita Bryant would bring her case here in attempt to repeal any of the ordinances.

It would add an entirely new dimension to the gay movement. It would help to further unify us. And we think we could withstand any challenge that she would make to any of the local gay rights ordinances.

RICH DIETMAN: How would it do that?

JACK BAKER: It would bring media attention here and help educate the public on the issues that we've been raising over the last eight years. See, the situation here in Minnesota is a lot different from what it was in Dade or what it is in Dade County, Florida.

Gay community in Florida has been trying to do in six months with $400,000 what we have been doing over the past eight years, namely raising issues and educating the masses and getting them to discuss and understand the issues and ultimately to let to encourage them to see that just the issue of human rights, they have to agree with us.

So we have polls that show that the number of people in the state of Minnesota and locally is 75% to 85% who agree with the gay rights ordinances. So that we've done our homework. And if she comes into here into Minnesota and attempts to do the same thing she did in Dade County, she's in for a very rude awakening.

RICH DIETMAN: Baker also says that because of the widespread support for gay rights around the state, the gay community will not bring in big names from outside the region. Florida activists sought the help of Poet Rod McKuen and feminist Gloria Steinem. Some feel that worked against the gay community. I'm Rich Dietman.

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