At council meeting, Grand Forks Mayor Brandon Bochenski apologizes for wording of recent Facebook post – Grand Forks Herald
GRAND FORKS — Mayor Brandon Bochenski apologized to the LGBTQ+ community for his phrasing in a Facebook post in which he supported the Catholic Conference of North Dakota’s opposition to a proposed gender inclusion policy in the UND.
The mayor’s apology came after several community members spoke during the public comment portion of Tuesday’s Grand Forks City Council meeting.
“Without a doubt, my words were unduly harsh, and I apologize for that,” Bochenski said. “I’m happy to be able to sit here tonight and learn.”
Bochenski took to his Facebook page last week to support a letter from the Catholic Conference of North Dakota, which had criticized the proposed policy at UND, which would require students, administrators and others on campus to use nouns, gender references and pronouns that match a person’s utterance. gender identity.
“To argue convincingly and impose an ideology on our students, our children and our community is abhorrent,” Bochenski wrote. “Is it possible for a university to focus on academic rigor and prepare our young people to enter the workforce with adult skills? A sad day for my alma mater.
He also wrote that “in Grand Forks, ND, we treat everyone with respect, dignity and civility. This exact statement is already in the UND Student Life Code and a cornerstone of our Christian faith.
At Tuesday’s council meeting, several attendees expressed the pain they felt after Bochenski’s message.
“We are human like you,” said Charles Vondal, UND student and president of Queer & Trans Alliance.
Participants discussed the need for a gender inclusion policy in schools, such as the one proposed by the UND.
“The gender inclusion policy is a human rights policy,” Grand Forks resident Claire Gaddie told council members. “It reflects the worth and dignity that all individuals deserve.”
Gaddie continued: “It’s not just about pronouns. It is about establishing protection for a marginalized people.
Raquel Smith spoke about the lack of inclusion that LGBTQ+ children face on a daily basis. “I see, every day, the heartbreak when they are harassed, when they are abused.”
Many have spoken of the high suicide rates among LGBTQ+ youth. “If this policy can save a life, that’s all that matters,” Smith said.
Brenda Lewis, assistant superintendent of elementary education for Grand Forks Public Schools, spoke about the letters she has received since the mayor’s Facebook post. Lewis read aloud a letter she received and concluded her comments by saying, “It is my job to ensure that all of our voices in Grand Forks Public Schools are heard with a particular focus on our students who are the most marginalized, historically and today. ”
UND student Leo Otte was the last to speak at the public consultation session, leaving some participants in tears.
“At UND, we train to become a career professional. … A big thing with professionalism is tolerance,” Otte said. “When a person meets you and tells you their name, you will call them by their name as a professional and by their pronouns as a professional. If our teachers don’t call us by our names and pronouns, it’s unprofessional and sets a bad example for the students. From a personal point of view, I have enough misunderstandings and wrong names at home. I don’t need that at UND either.
Otte has only recently come out publicly and thus has “never really been called my pronouns before, or my chosen name”.
However, at an event on Saturday, Otte “was called by my proper name and proper pronouns for the first time. You have no idea how good that makes me feel. You have no idea how I cried when I first heard that. It was so warm. It was so nice.”
Bochenski, after Otte’s conclusion, thanked those who spoke and apologized.
“I appreciate all of the stories, the deeply personal stories, that everyone was able to share tonight,” he said. “I’m glad you came. Thank you.”
From the crowd, someone then replied, “Thank you for the apology. We really appreciate that.”
In a brief interview after the meeting, the Herald asked Bochenski if he had changed his mind about the opinion of the Catholic Conference or if he wished he had used different wording.
“It means I wish I had used my words differently,” he said. “I would say right now I was just happy to hear from everyone. I’m open-minded at this point.
In other council news Tuesday:
- The council has approved a conditional use license to operate ShareHouse, a residential addiction recovery center located at 1122 North 43rd St. Grand Forks ShareHouse will provide 16 single occupancy rooms for people suffering from the disease of addiction . The Planning and Zoning Commission and City Council may periodically review the permit and revoke it if established conditions are not met.
- Council members approved the establishment of the Olive Ann Boutique Hotel Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) public hearing for the March 7 council meeting. The local government advisory committee met Jan. 12 and voted 6-1 for a 100% PILOT exemption for years 6-10 and an 80% PILOT exemption for years 11-15.
- City attorney Dan Gaustad hinted that negotiations with Fufeng Group, China’s agribusiness seeking to build a new manufacturing plant in the north, could soon become public.
Gaustad suggested city council members could meet the week of Jan. 31 for a potential business session to review a proposed development deal. He made no promises about the pace of negotiations. But when that document is complete, it will outline the main responsibilities of the city and the Fufeng Group, as the two are spending large sums to bring the factory – and its hundreds of jobs – to the city.
“We don’t have a deal in front of you tonight, and that’s because we had quite a lengthy meeting with Fufeng’s representatives and their attorney last Thursday,” Gaustad said. “It was a productive meeting, but there is still work to be done on the development agreement and the (tax incentive) agreement. I think the best way to put it (is) is a complex process, and getting everything aligned isn’t necessarily easy, but we’re moving in the right direction.
-Sam Easter contributed to this report.