U.S. attorney to LGBT: You have an ally

Staff Writer
Devils Lake Journal

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota's U.S. attorney told members of the Fargo area's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community Sunday that they will have a friend in government as long as he's the top federal prosecutor in the state.

Timothy Purdon delivered the keynote speech at the 13th Fargo and Moorhead, Minn., Pride Celebration in front of what he said was his largest audience since President Obama appointed him to the post in February 2010.

"It was fantastic," Purdon said afterward. "To have the opportunity to come here and talk to people who are passionate about civil rights and the Department of Justice's role in that is a privilege."

Purdon's speech followed a parade led by a handful of gay couples who were married in neighboring Moorhead earlier this month, after Minnesota's gay marriage law went into effect. The action by Minnesota lawmakers came at a time when North Dakota's Legislature was rejecting a bill to protect the LGBT population from housing discrimination.

Purdon said North Dakota has much work to do in order to "ensure equality, opportunity and justice" for its citizens, regardless of identity or sexual orientation.

"The Red River of the North is a great river. It is a powerful river," Purdon said, referring to the body of water that separates North Dakota and Minnesota. "But it's not a magic line that gay Americans cross and gain rights and lose rights as they go back and forth. And it shouldn't be."

Purdon told his story about growing up in west-central Minnesota, attending first a small high school and then a junior college in North Dakota. "I'm guessing that of the 93 U.S. attorneys, I might be the only one who attended a junior college," he said. He went onto to a four-year college and law school. He worked in private law practice for 16 years before "winning the lottery" with his appointment as U.S. attorney.

"I did what most Americans take for granted. I tried to take advantage of the American dream," Purdon said. "But I wonder if that journey would have been the same if I had been born a gay American. I wonder if my gay brothers and sisters always catch those breaks. My heart wants to say yes ... but my head says maybe not."

Purdon ended the speech with a comment from "my boss," U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, about the Justice Department's refusal to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in federal court and its commitment to end discrimination.

"As the face of the Department of Justice in North Dakota, I will make you this promise: I will continue to work hard on these issues, to work hard to make sure that the civil rights of every North Dakotan, native or non-native, gay or straight, are protected," he said. "As long as I'm in this position, you will have an ally."

Josh Boschee, North Dakota's first openly gay lawmaker and one of the organizers of the annual event sponsored by the Fargo-Moorhead Pride Collective and Community Center, said Purdon provided a national presence at the rally.