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Bill sponsor says language would add clarity to Minnesota Human Rights Act on gender identity discrimination

Words matter.

And how words are defined in the law matters even more as they determine how laws are interpreted.

For that reason, Rep. Leigh Finke (DFL-St. Paul) sponsors a bill that would create a new definition of “gender identity” in the Minnesota Human Rights Act.

“It’s important that we continue to evolve our laws as our understanding of what it means to be a full and authentic human is,” Finke said.

She sponsors HF1655, which would define gender identity to mean a person’s inherent sense of being a man, a woman, both, or neither, and clarifies that identity might not align with the primary or secondary sex characteristics commonly associated with being defined as a man or a woman.

It also adds that “a person’s gender identity is not necessarily visible to others.”

The House Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Committee approved the bill, as amended, via a split-voice vote Tuesday night and sent it to the House Floor.

The proposed legislation would also remove language from the existing definition of “sexual orientation” that includes having or being perceived as having an identity not traditionally associated with one’s biological male or female traits.

Human Rights Commissioner Rebecca Lucero said the change would not expand the classes of people protected under the act.

“Gender identity has been the law as a protected class status along with sexual orientation under the Minnesota Human Rights Act since 1993,” she said. “This is about clarifying and updating what has already been the law, making it more in alignment with where we are right now.”

The bill would also remove an exception that allows homeowners to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation when renting a building that has only one or two units, and repeals an existing law that allows discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation related to hiring employees for organizations providing services to youth.

Language in the human rights law stating that nothing in the Minnesota Human Rights Act “shall mean the state of Minnesota condones homosexuality or bisexuality or any equivalent lifestyle” would also be repealed.

Lucero said that would bring about a “long overdue” acknowledgement that “Minnesota does not object to someone based on their sexual orientation.”

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