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February 19, 2013, 12:00 AM

Testimony about SB 2252: Adding Sexual Orientation/Gender to State Policy Against Discrimination

My name is Jean King and I have lived in Bismarck for more than 30 years.  I am here to testify in favor of House Bill 2252.

I have a great uncle James whose visits I always looked forward to as a child.  When he came, the house was full of the sounds of he and my mother laughing and gossiping about all the relatives back home.  He was a railroad engineer, he had an acute and clever sense of humor, he loved to cook and garden, and he was generous to our family. He seemed to have a lot of money: he often gave my parents things from his home as he replaced them:  an oak dining room table and chairs, a set of dishes, some carpeting, an antique bookcase full of classic books -- I still have some of those things today. Sometimes he brought a friend with him, a man named Dave, who worked in the recording industry.

Later, when they were both retired,  Dave was diagnosed with lung cancer and emphysema, and my great uncle took Dave to his doctor and hospital appointments and cared for him at home for several years.  When medical treatment was no longer of use, they sold the house in LA and moved back to Kansas where my great uncle took care of Dave until the day he died.  He still lives there with his dogs, and his garden.  He always brings beef brisket and that contagious laugh to the family reunions every year.

I never knew to think of him as a homosexual when I was young.  At some point in my life, it finally occurred to me that that's what he must have been all along.  But it was completely irrelevant to our relationship.  He was and is a good, decent, funny man, who brings a zest for life and a commitment to excellence to everything he does.  He has always been a force for good in our family, and in his community.  He worked all of his adult life, he encouraged me to listen to my parents, work hard in school, and respect others, and he's the kind of man who can be counted on when the chips are down.

Once, as I sat next to my then husband on a plane and held his hand for comfort and companionship during take-off, it occurred to me that the simple comfort of holding the hand of the person you loved when you were nervous was not something my great uncle could have looked for in a public setting, and I wondered how many other things that I take for granted in my life were difficult and dangerous for him because of who he loved.

So I hope you can see why I find it hard to believe that we would want it to be legal for someone to refuse him housing, or a job, or deny him service in a store, because the person he fell in love with was a man.

Since that time, I've met many decent, caring, honorable, and responsible people who've dedicated their lives to doing good in the world who also happen to be gay.  To me, it's one of the least important things about them, though to them, I'm sure it's more significant since many of them feel they have to hide that part of who they are or risk losing employment, a place to live, the respect of their neighbors, the ability to function in our society. 

When we talk about America, two of the first words that come to mind for me are freedom and liberty.  We talk about them all the time - they are what we are fighting for in conflicts around the world.  I am proud of my country, and believe in the promises it makes to offer liberty and justice for all.  I ask the members of this committee, representing all the citizens of this great state, which is a part of this great nation, to thoughtfully consider upholding the liberties of this group of people in what is essentially a private matter, the matter of who we love, in the same way that we uphold our right to disagree with each other peaceably and respectfully over so many other issues.

I am a member of the Bismarck Mandan Unitarian Universalist Congregation where the Board of Trustees has endorsed this bill. SB 2252 is fully in alignment with the principles of the Unitarian Universalist Association, and their Standing on the Side of Love campaign.

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