Six Minneapolis legislators inserted a cultural wedge between Minnesota’s Somali and the LGBTQ communities in the final days of the 2017 campaign for Ward 6. Ilhan Omar, Karen Clark, Jim Davnie, Scott Dibble, Raymond Dehn, and Patricia Torres Ray’s letter supporting Mohamud Noor and criticizing Councilman Abdi Warsame on gay marriage also damaged the relationship between Minnesotan’s Somali community and the DFL party.
There are plenty of issues on which they could have criticized Warsame, but this letter was unfair and an absolute gutter politics. It injected a cultural wedge between communities which many of us have been building bridges for many years.
When we worked to help defeat that hateful anti-gay marriage amendment in 2012, we were strategic and cognizant of cultural sensitivities. I and many who worked with me recommended to many in the Somali community to leave it a blank with full understanding that leaving it blank was an equivalent to a NO vote.
It was win-win scenario for those in the Somali community who wanted to protect the Minnesota constitution without betraying their own values. We stopped and prevented discriminatory language from being inscribed into Minnesota’s constitution and addressed cultural sensitivities at the same time.
Our contributions were no more noble than the thousands of Minnesotans who had personal conversations about that hateful amendment with friends and families and ultimately convinced them to vote NO. They too can look back and be proud of their efforts.
We were all doing our part in standing up to exclusion and discrimination. We were all standing up for human dignity and decency.
Today, many of my friends in the LGBTQ community are facing more subtle discrimination. Housing and job discriminations as well as services for LGBTQ youth is what I most often hear.
These are common rights regardless of race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation. Warsame’s in his first term as a councilman should have been judged based on his performance on these rights. Instead, what we got from these six legislators was a fully-fledged cultural attack.
The letter did nothing to advance the rights or protections of LGBTQ people. If anything it further elevated the probability of Trump policies prevailing in Minnesota by potentially encouraging Somalis to withdraw from the DFL base increasing the likelyhood of GOP governor.
Donald Trump came within two percentage points of winning Minnesota. The difference was a turnout by the DFL party base.
Minnesotan’s Somali community was certainly part of that base and the state GOP recognized it. State GOP leaders continue to push cultural antlers such as gay marriage despite the fact it’s a constitutional right.
The reason GOP leaders continue to push cultural prongs is because they work as an incendiary political ploys. Cultural horns had been used to suppress votes in the broader black community for many years. The letter that six Minneapolis legislators wrote against a DFL endorsed candidate gave credence to this tactic.
The letter also re-enforced a specific suspicion Somalis have about white progressive leadership. A first time Somali-American delegate confronted me with this suspicion at the 2017 Minneapolis DFL endorsement convention. She asked why white progressives don’t support the candidate Somalis want instead of picking a candidate of their own among Somalis and using their majority might to shove it down our throats. I knew she spoke for many in her community, but I had no good answer for her.
I’m certain, however, that the letter these six Minneapolis legislators wrote solidified her suspicions. Signatures from the only Somali and Latina legislators won’t compensate for this.
Now that Councilman Warsame had been re-elected, it’s clear that he has considerable support in Minnesota’s Somali community. It’s time for activists and Minneapolis legislators to acknowledge that. It’s also a time for him to rise above the fray of cultural wedge issues and help mitigate some of the political damage this letter inflicted to the DFL party.
Finally, the letter is “Exhibit A” of dumb political engagement of Minnesotan’s Somali community. It’s the kind of gift that allows Donald Trump and state GOP to suppress more votes.