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​How To End the Culture Wars in North Dakota

Editorial | April 5th, 2023

By Faye Seidler

fayeseidler@gmail.com

Guest editorial: If I can help you, I will do it. Even if you’re a legislator hurting people I care about.

Being a Republican has never been more unappealing to me than watching this 2023 legislative session unfold. We’re censoring books, taking medical autonomy away from parents, banning vaccinations, and otherwise legislating morality at a cost to small and large businesses.

A smaller state government has never seemed like a better idea and when can I get some Republicans on the ticket to stop some of this nonsense?

That’s the weird part, right? We have a super majority of Republicans in our state and I honestly don’t know what the word means anymore. We only have 18 Democrats in the 141 seats of our State House and Senate. And for the record, I don’t really know what Democrat means anymore either. In 2022, 57% of North Dakotans didn’t vote. Looking back 20 years, it was the lowest turnout I could find.

Whether it’s the blue guys or red guys, our day to day life hasn’t seemed to get a whole lot better. Folks are anxious, a lot of them are struggling, and we’re lacking in key sectors of our state. We have shortages everywhere, unfilled jobs, burnout. We lost 2,500 people to COVID-19, thousands more are suffering from long COVID, and where is the real relief here?

I’ll tell ya, everything would be great, if only it wasn’t for them! And I know what you’re thinking, is that one them or many thems? It’s the Republicans, Democrats, MAGA, blue hair, woke, or even unsexy M&Ms. Or people pivot and say it's the culture war itself that is the problem and people should just get over it!

Let me tell you the problem. The problem is us and if you don’t recognize that, we’re not going to be able to work towards a solution. You might be thinking, Faye, the problem is actually them. I get it. They suck. But we can only really change ourselves, we can’t change other people.

As a queer person, I grew up with a lot of hostility towards religious institutions and the harm I knew they inflicted on queer populations. I derided religion, I attacked it. I saw it as the enemy. As an adult I read a qualitative study of queer people talking about their faith. I saw how important it was to them and how their relationship with God saved their lives. And I thought, how can I hate religion, when it can have this impact on someone’s life?

And this thought doesn’t forget or forgive some of the horrible atrocities committed by religious institutes historically or the hundreds of indigenous graves we’ve recently found. What we do is take it all in and we find some way to heal.

I see a lot of liberal and democratic-aligned individuals spending their days with memes about how bad Republicans are and vice versa. I get the stress and stress relief that leads people to do that.

We all want to feel like good guys, but the thing is, most people are good. I think it’s worth believing that, and that a lot of people want to help each other. If the conversations we started were asking for help rather than demanding people do things, we’d get further.

But when we hear conversations about how voting Republican or being religious means you’re anti-LGBTQ+, I think about all of the religious or Republican individuals that legitimately care about, fight for, and love LGBTQ+ individuals in their life. And about the Democrats who spent decades saying it wasn’t the time to push for LGBTQ+ rights. When you treat an entire party or group of people as the enemy, you’re alienating every person of that group from the opportunity or investment to improve.

As I grew up in North Dakota, I grew up with all of the prejudice of our state and culture. I said terrible things about LGBTQ+ people and it took me a long time to unlearn that stuff. I was lucky to find people who were patient with me and that’s why I try to be patient with people. Had I had worse experiences starting out, I might have repressed my identity or started to see LGBTQ+ individuals as the enemy, or both.

When we experience trauma or anxiety, it’s very easy to start to see the world as safe people and enemies. In that world communication can break down, because who cares what the “enemy” says? And the sad part is that a lot of people just want to be heard.

Senator Janne Myrdal during the committee hearing of SB 2231 asked what I felt was a sincere and honest question about why pronouns mattered and I don’t think she was given a good answer.

Pronouns matter because it’s how gender-diverse kids feel safe. Legal framework aside, philosophy aside, ideology and everything else aside, using the pronoun a kid prefers makes them feel safe. If they’re misgendered, they don’t feel safe, they don’t show up, they don’t want to be here.

The culture war isn’t the cause of our problems, it is a symptom of the underlying instability and uncertainty in our world. We fix it by showing up for each other and working together. Obviously, we’ll need a few trust fails first. And remember, this isn’t a call for unity so the other side will come to see reason. It’s a call to take a step back and think about what we can do for each other.

And why would we ever work for or help our enemy? Because how else would they become our friend? History keeps cycling and my words are probably the echoes of ghosts, but we’re the ones making history now. And while I don’t consider myself a particularly important person in North Dakota, let me be the one to put that olive branch out there first.

I’m a suicide prevention advocate. If I can help you, I will do it. Even if you’re a legislator hurting people I care about. If you need help connecting to suicide prevention resources I will not hesitate to help you.

If your kid comes out in five years and you’ll have had a change of heart, I’ll do everything I can for you. I may never be offered the same by other people, but I can’t change other people. I can only live toward the kind of world I want to leave behind. 

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