Listen: St. Paul gay and lesbian rights ordinance repeal defeated

MPR’s Chris Roberts reports on the vote results of St. Paul gay and lesbian rights ordinance repeal. Roberts visits the Prom Expo Center in St. Paul, election headquarters for Campaign 90s, the group supporting the ordinance, to get reactions. Roberts also contacts spokesperson for Citizen’s Alert, a group behind the repeal effort.


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[CHEERING] CHRIS ROBERTS: It wasn't until 10:00 PM that bedlam broke out at the Prom Expo Center in Saint Paul, election headquarters for Campaign 90, the group supporting the ordinance. It was then that the group's chair, BJ Metzger, told a stunned crowd of supporters that with all but eight precincts counted, the effort to repeal the ordinance was behind by 4,000 to 5,000 votes, and victory was close at hand.

BJ METZGER: I have a really great speech in my pocket that I wrote.


And I wrote it thinking we were going to lose.


SPEAKER 1: It's good to be prepared.

BJ METZGER: And that really wasn't because I thought we were going to lose. It was just because I couldn't imagine what it would feel like to win.


SPEAKER 2: How does it feel?

BJ METZGER: But well, I'm going to ask you, how does it feel?


CHRIS ROBERTS: Unofficial results show that the effort to repeal the ordinance was defeated by a rather narrow margin of more than 4,000 votes. But for Campaign 90 spokesperson Deb Schlick, that margin was not indicative of the size of the victory.

DEB SCHLICK: It was close. It was close. But that we won during a snow storm that our supporters bothered to turn out tells me had we had a higher turnout, we would have had a bigger victory.

CHRIS ROBERTS: Saint Paul politicians who supported the ordinance made appearances throughout the evening at the Prom Expo Center. When defeat of the repeal effort was announced, Mayor Jim Scheibel called it a victory on an issue that transcends politics.

JIM SCHEIBEL: I was talking to one council member today and she said, if I lose, it would be because of the repeal effort and I don't care. So it was an issue people felt strongly about. And the council candidates who supported the ordinance deserve a lot of credit for going out there and campaigning.

CHRIS ROBERTS: It was also seen as a vindication for city council member Dave Thune, who introduced the ordinance last year and received hate messages and experienced harassment in the months that followed.

DAVE THUNE: The city is all about kindness, brotherhood, sisterhood, caring about our neighbors, and this vote proves it. We don't care what people look like, who people are. We love people because they're our neighbors and our friends.

CHRIS ROBERTS: Gays and lesbians who volunteered with Campaign 90s and spent the evening at the center awaiting the outcome expressed relief, pride and a new sense of ownership in the city.

SPEAKER 3: I just think it's wonderful for Saint Paul. That's what I can say. This is just a wonderful city and it's really time that we look at the rights for all people. And I'm just very pleased and I think it's good for our city.

SPEAKER 4: It's almost amazing that it comes up for a question whether you have rights as a gay or lesbian person. And it just seems to me so amazing that we passed because it was so questionable earlier on. And it just feels comforting, I guess, is the word I would use.

SPEAKER 5: Now I can buy property in Saint Paul and feel good about it. I want to buy property and I've been really upset because I want to buy it in Saint Paul. And I refuse to buy property in a city that doesn't acknowledge my rights as an individual.

CHRIS ROBERTS: By 7:30 PM, Tuesday, Campaign 90 as an organization completed 30,000 phone calls to prospective voters, mailed 65,000 letters and 24,000 postcards, and distributed over 250,000 pieces of literature. Bob Fletcher, spokesman for Citizens Alert, the group that tried to repeal the ordinance, says on an organizational level, his group was soundly beaten.

BOB FLETCHER (ON PHONE): The other side raised four to five times as much money as we did. And we were just content to let the public have its opportunity. And everyone who really felt strongly about the issue had a chance to go vote and express themselves.

But we were out organized. And one of the big differences in this campaign was the voter identification and the get out to vote that the opponents did. Clearly, they did an excellent job. They should be commended for the campaign they put together.

CHRIS ROBERTS: Fletcher says the failure of his group's repeal effort closes a chapter in a fight that has spanned nearly two decades. He envisions only a couple situations which could reignite opponents of the ordinance.

BOB FLETCHER (ON PHONE): Well, I think if there was a new legislation like this in Minneapolis or an organization was sued by the human rights department, I think that could potentially bring the issue back. But short of that, I think we'll have a year or two of non-debate on the issue.

CHRIS ROBERTS: Campaign 90s manager Susan Kimberly agrees that the battle over human rights protection for gays and lesbians in Saint Paul is probably over for good. But Kimberly says another battle continues.

SUSAN KIMBERLY: These laws don't stop discrimination. They give people a means of protesting discrimination. And now the hard work of educating people that being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender is just a different way of being in this world. That's the hard work that's underway now,

CHRIS ROBERTS: Susan Kimberly. This is Chris Roberts.

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