Last week, Gov. Tim Pawlenty was interviewed by Newsweek about his presidential aspirations. When the interview delved into social issues, Pawlenty reiterated his opposition to relationship rights for same-sex couples and added a new twist: He says that current laws that prohibit discrimination based on gender identity should be changed.
Pawlenty said: "That statute is not worded the way it should be. I said I regretted the vote later because it included things like cross-dressing, and a variety of other people involved in behaviors that weren't based on sexual orientation, just a preference for the way they dressed and behaved. So it was overly broad. So if you are a third-grade teacher and you are a man and you show up on Monday as Mr. Johnson and you show up on Tuesday as Mrs. Johnson, that is a little confusing to the kids. So I don't like that."
Newsweek's Howard Fineman followed up: "Has the law been changed?"
Pawlenty replied, "No. It should be, though."
There wasn't any elaboration on what changes should be made. The 1993 Minnesota Human Rights Act made it illegal to discriminate against someone "having or being perceived as having a self-image or identity not traditionally associated with one’s biological maleness or femaleness."
In other words, people cannot be discriminated against because they are transgender or are feminine men or masculine women. A person's gender is not the basis for determining how well they can perform their job.
There have been a few tests of the law. In 1998, a librarian at Minneapolis' Southwest High School underwent a transition from male to female -- with the overwhelming support of parents, staff, and students. Debra Davis' story is a testament to how gender has little to do with an employee's performance, despite Pawlenty's protestations, even in a school setting
Pawlenty voted for that law in 1993 and it's a vote he says he regrets. But one has to wonder: why is the law flawed? It has been on the books in Minnesota for 16 years -- and a similar law has been in place in Minneapolis for more than 30 years. Neither law has caused much controversy and has likely helped protect the jobs of dedicated employees against ignorance and bias.
Minnesota was also the first state in the nation to enact such an anti-discrimination law and has served as a model for a dozen other states who have implemented similar legislation. It has been that lack of problems in Minnesota's experience that has prompted other states to follow our lead.
So why would Pawlenty tell a national magazine during an interview about his presidential aspirations that he wants a law -- a law that works and that he voted for -- to be changed? Maybe he needs to bolster his name recognition with the intolerant wing of the religious right.
At least that's the opinion of Minnesota' largest LGBT advocacy group, OutFront Minnesota. “This is a tactic he’s taken before to appeal to a conservative base in the Republican Party,” OutFront's public policy director Monica Meyer told The Advocate. “He has handed out paperwork saying, ‘this is my biggest regret, this vote.’ It is really unfortunate, but not surprising. It is so sad when we watch candidates and elected officials try to pander to some kind of fear in voters.”