A DFL state senator from Apple Valley has filed an ethics complaint against GOP Sen. Glenn Gruenhagen for sending an email containing video that Gruenhagen described as "graphic and disturbing" images of gender affirmation surgeries on minors.
On April 12, Gruenhagen emailed the 34 state senators on the DFL listserv with a link that he said depicted "videos documenting mutilating transgender surgeries on minor children," according to the complaint filed by Sen. Erin Maye Quade.
She faults Gruenhagen for violating the standards and norms of Senate behavior. "There has to be a line and he jumped so far over it," Maye Quade said Thursday in an interview.
Her one-page complaint against Gruenhagen cited a Senate rule requiring members to adhere to the highest standard of ethical conduct. Emailing pictures of a child's genitalia is "egregiously violating" norms, Maye Quade's complaint said.
Gruenhagen said in a written statement that the complaint is without merit and that he expects the committee will decide it fairly. He said there were no photos in the email and the video did not indicate an age for the patient.
In an interview, Maye Quade, of Apple Valley, said she forwarded Gruenhagen's email to a lawyer and did not click the link he provided. She said Gruenhagen, who lives in Glencoe, should face "consequences for this wildly inappropriate behavior."
The subject line on his email read: "transgender surgery male to female video — Google search."
Maye Quade's complaint went to the four-member bipartisan Senate Ethical Conduct Subcommittee, chaired by Sen. Bobby Joe Champion, DFL-Minneapolis. The panel has 30 days to address the complaint and can determine if it lacks probable cause, decide to defer action or start an investigation, Maye Quade said.
She said her preference would be to defer action until after the legislative session wraps on May 22. But ultimately, she believes, Gruenhagen should apologize and receive training about why the email was inappropriate.
"I just want him to acknowledge that this is wrong and it is not OK no matter how you feel about a subject," Maye Quade said. "They've dehumanized trans children so much that in his mind this was an appropriate thing to do."
Gruenhagen said he's disappointed that Maye Quade filed a complaint without trying to resolve it with him. He noted that his email included a warning to colleagues about "disturbing and graphic" imagery and that he left it up to them to decide whether to click the link.
The video was created by the University of Louisville as "a tutorial for gynecologists to familiarize themselves with a male-to-female gender transition surgery, even if they don't perform this surgery, to understand caring for a transgender patient. It was also informational for our members," his statement said.
The senator, a conservative Republican, was elected to the House in 2010 before moving to the Senate this year. He reliably speaks out in floor debates against the DFL's progressive proposals, including a transgender refuge bill scheduled to be considered on Friday.
The proposal, which already passed the Minnesota House, aims to protect transgender people, their families and medical practitioners from extradition orders and legal repercussions for traveling to Minnesota to receive care to affirm their gender identity. The vote comes as GOP-led states across the country are proposing bans on gender-affirming medical services for minors.
"He's obviously a true believer and more power to him," Maye Quade said, adding that "everybody is entitled to their own thoughts and beliefs but you can't send" photos of genitalia to your colleagues.
Legislators can file complaints when they believe a member has violated rules for ethical conduct. Last summer, the Senate ethics panel examined two ethics complaints against Sen. Omar Fateh, DFL-Minneapolis. The subcommittee dismissed one complaint against Fateh and upheld another, recommending training on campaign finance rules.