Protest at Minnesota State Capital over proposal to remove sexual orientation from the state's human rights law

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MPR’s Laura McCallum reports on more than a thousand gay and lesbian Minnesotans appearing at the Minnesota State Capitol to protest a proposal to remove sexual orientation from the state's human rights law. They called the bill mean-spirited. The bill's author says he wants to prevent homosexuality from being taught in the schools.

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LAURA MCCALLUM: Outfront, Minnesota's largest ever GLBT lobby day included a rally in the Rotunda, where more than thousand supporters packed the three levels of the Capitol. Explorer Ann Bancroft told the crowd that she's overcome many physical obstacles during her polar expeditions.

ANN BANCROFT: But the greatest obstacles that I have faced in my life have not been on the ice. They have been people's attitudes about what I can and cannot do, what I shouldn't, and what I should not do. And today, we're here to continue to change attitudes so that the people that come beyond us, behind us, will not face the obstacles that we have been facing.

LAURA MCCALLUM: Bancroft says the state's human rights law doesn't include special rights for gays and lesbians, but simply basic human rights. Bancroft, a former teacher, says the law protects gay and lesbian teachers and students from discrimination, and is not used to teach homosexuality in schools. Republican State Representative Arlon Lindner of Corcoran disagrees.

ARLON LINDNER: In some of the schools we've got children as young as three in preschool, on up through the years, that are being taught homosexual practices. And it doesn't mean they're going to be homosexual, but unfortunately, they hear about some of the sexual activities of the homosexual and they're being told that it's safe, and so forth, and healthy, and it isn't.

LAURA MCCALLUM: Lindner says parents have complained to the schools, and administrators have told them that there's nothing they can do because of state law. Lindner's Bill would remove a 1993 provision that added sexual orientation to the state's human rights law. He met with several gay and lesbian Minnesotans who wanted to know why he's pushing for the bill. And he said he tried to explain his position.

ARLON LINDNER: I don't hate any of those people. I know they accuse me of hating and wanting all kinds of terrible things to happen to them, but I don't hate any of them. I do love them. Actually, this would benefit them if they were to leave that lifestyle or if they would, maybe be more faithful to one partner if it's got to be that way. But it's my understanding that gays have hundreds and even thousands of partners over a lifetime.

LAURA MCCALLUM: Lindner acknowledged that he's no expert on the subject. Gay and lesbian Minnesotans take offense with Lindner's comments and say most gays and lesbians are in committed relationships. They also object to Lindner's suggestion that homosexuality is a lifestyle choice. 17-year-old Anders Matson of Minneapolis, says he realized he's gay in junior high.

ANDERS MATSON: It wasn't because I was under the sinister influence of homosexual militant leadership.

[LAUGHTER]

That's an actual quote from Lindner. In fact, I didn't see homosexuality anywhere around me. Whenever I did encounter the word gay, my pulse literally rose, because it was like a validation that I exist.

LAURA MCCALLUM: The crowd also heard from former Minnesota Viking Esera Tuaolo, who publicly admitted he is gay after retiring from the NFL. Tuaolo told the crowd Lindner's Bill is wrong, and gays and lesbians need to make their voices heard. Governor Tim Pawlenty says he welcomes them to the Capitol.

TIM PAWLENTY: Our administration and I support human rights. We don't support special rights, but like I said before, I supported the 1993 Bill, I have some concerns about aspects of it, but I don't think people should be thrown out of a restaurant, or a public accommodation, or a house, simply because they're gay or lesbian.

LAURA MCCALLUM: During the campaign, Pawlenty said the one vote he regretted during his 10-year legislative career was his 1993 vote for the bill that added sexual orientation to the human rights law. But he has since said he would not support Lindner's Bill. Republican House Speaker Steve Sviggum of Kenyon says he doesn't support Lindner's Bill either.

Sviggum says it's too broad, and is not likely to pass the House. Lindner says he hasn't been able to get a hearing on his bill yet, but says he's confident if it passed the legislature, governor Pawlenty would sign it. At the Capitol, I'm Laura McCallum, Minnesota Public Radio.

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