Local Steps Forward: Support for Non-Discrimination Ordinances and School Policies Grow

By Shane Stahl • February 2, 2018 • 2:06 pm

During the first month of the new year, support for LGBTQ-inclusive non-discrimination protections at the local level saw new gains at the local level, with several municipalities openly supporting or endorsing greater-reaching statewide protections, or passing their own version of a non-discrimination ordinance. Encouragingly, positive movement was also seen in states not traditionally seen as major players in the LGBTQ non-discrimination movement, such as Wyoming and Kansas. Here, a roundup of the most significant local steps forward from January, 2018.

LOUDON, VA: School Board Asked to Reconsider LGBTQ Employment Protections

On January 15, supporters of LGBTQ non-discrimination filled a Loudoun County School Board meeting asking the board to reconsider a January 2017 vote where the board declined to add LGBTQ specific protections to the school district’s employee hiring guidelines. A year ago, the board voted 4-5 to not add language to its employee policies that specifically stated that employees would not be discriminated against based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Andrea Weiskopf, who spoke during public comment, called the fight for equal rights for members of the LGBT community the “civil rights question of our time.”

“Fifty years ago, Loudoun stood for segregation,” she said. “Today, we recognize our shame. But if we do not stand up for civil rights and justice now, our grandchildren will be ashamed of us.”

Although they did not pass specific protections in January 2017, the School Board unanimously voted to add a paragraph to the policy that states the school system hires employees based on merit and excellence. It also states that the board “recognizes and values the diversity of the students and broader community it serves and encourages diversity within its workforce.” The board has yet to bring the issue up for reconsideration.

SCOTTSDALE, AZ: City Council Sends Letter Seeking Statewide Non-Discrimination Protections

On January 11, members of the Scottsdale City Council voted 6-1 to send a letter to state legislators updating nondiscrimination laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity in workplace, housing, business and public accommodations.

The letter mentions ethical reasons for the addition of LGBTQ-specific protections, as well as the case for strong economic development and ability to attract and retain workforce talent. City council members asked the legislature to consider the issue, “to avoid inconsistencies and patchwork policies” throughout the state.

“This is a very positive step in the right direction and is reflective of who we are,” Councilwoman Virginia Korte said in a prepared statement. “Scottsdale is a welcoming and inclusive city, and our statewide policies need to match our ethos, while also helping to improve our brand and competitiveness even more.”

Arizona is currently one of 32 states without comprehensive statewide non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people on the books.

SPRINGFIELD, OH: Sexual Orientation Added to Anti-Discrimination Code

On Tuesday, January 30, the Springfield City Council voted 4-1 to add sexual orientation to the city’s existing non-discrimination laws. In February 2012, commissioners voted 3-2 against amending the city’s anti-discrimination codes to include sexual orientation. The topic was debated for months before large crowds.

With the vote, Springfield becomes the 20th city in Ohio to have sexual orientation non-discrimination protections in the law. Equality Ohio has been a stalwart advocate for LGBTQ non-discrimination, successfully encouraging LGBTQ-inclusive ordinances across the state. Springfield Mayor Warren Copeland, Commissioner Kevin O’Neill and newly elected Commissioners David Estrop and Rob Rue voted in favor of the ordinance. “I’m supporting this because it’s the right thing to do, to make sure that all people feel welcome and protected by the law in Springfield,” Estrop said.

NORTHBROOK, IL: School District Approves Transgender-Inclusive Student Policies

On January 22, the Glenbrook District 225 Board of Education approved the district’s first policy protecting transgender students after residents expressed both support and apprehension. The board was first presented with a draft of the transgender student policy at its December 2017 meeting. The policy is meant to provide teachers and staff with a framework for working with transgender students.

John Fester, the school district’s attorney, said, “The district can avoid a lot of liability by having a transgender student policy, because a lot of cases result from some early missteps that are hard to come back from.

Board member Marcelo Sztainberg said he does not agree with comments that “one day (people) wake up and say ‘I’m going to become this or I’m going to become that.’”

Sztainberg said transgender students want to go to the bathroom and locker room of the gender they identify with to use the bathroom and change their clothes, nothing else. “These human beings are not going to stop being human beings like you or I,” Sztainberg said. “These kids have rights too.”

CASPER, WY: More Than 100 Businesses Sign a Pledge Supporting Statewide Non-Discrimination Protections

Close to 120 Casper businesses have signed a pledge of support for statewide LGBTQ non-discrimination protections that was submitted to City Council on January 11.

“Non-discrimination efforts throughout history have served to make explicit that the rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution are in fact guaranteed to all citizens equally,” states a copy of the pledge. “They seek to correct the systemic and historic discrimination some groups of people face and ensure that everyone has equal opportunity to work, live, and pursue happiness in their communities.”

Rob Johnston, the president of Casper’s chapter of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, said, “We were surprised by how overwhelmingly people were interested in supporting this. I think it was very affirming.”

Response to the letter was largely positive, according to Johnston. The council is due to bring the matter up for discussion at their meeting on February 20. Wyoming currently has no statewide non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people; the city of Laramie passed a local non-discrimination ordinance in 2015.

CHAMBERSBURG, PA: Council Endorses Statewide Non-Discrimination Bill

On January 26, Chambersburg Borough Council voted 8-2 to endorse a non-discrimination bill currently in the the Pennsylvania State Legislature.

Council passed the resolution 8-2 on Monday night to encourage the Pennsylvania General Assembly to enact Senate Bill 613, which seeks to amend the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression in employment, housing and public accommodations.

Council Vice President Alice Elia said, “I feel like part of my duty on council is to represent and ensure that everyone at the borough is treated as fairly as possible,” she said. “There clearly are people in our community who are concerned about real issues, like losing their homes or losing their jobs, and right now there’s no protection against that. So, if this is something that can help people feel more secure in our community and in our state, then I am for it.”

Elia said there are currently more than 40 municipalities in the state that have written their own ordinances to protect the LGBTQ community, thanks largely to the years of advocacy from Equality Pennsylvania. She added that Leedy said in the meeting she didn’t like that municipalities could have different rules.

“Passing a law at the state level would make it so that, at least statewide, there’s some conformity there,” Elia said.

OCEANSIDE, CA: Resolution Supporting Transgender Soldiers Passes

On January 10, the city of Oceanside gave approval to a resolution in support of the country’s transgender soldiers.

The effort was initiated by Max Disposti, founder and executive director of the North County LGBTQ Resource Center located in Oceanside. Disposti said recent tweets and rhetoric of President Trump that question the service of transgender people in the military have had a negative impact on all transgender individuals including youth. This prompted Disposti to take action.

“We live in a community that takes pride in supporting our troops,” Disposti said.

Estimates put the number of transgender troops currently serving in the military between 15-20,000. Disposti said he is grateful for the council’s unanimous support and hopes efforts will improve the climate for transgender individuals.

“We thought this resolution could send a message of solidarity and support to all our trans folks that have been the target of hateful rhetoric in the past few months.”

WICHITA, KS: Teachers’ Union President Pushes For LGBTQ Inclusive Student Protections

Steve Wentz, the president of the United Teachers of Wichita, said the week of January 18 that Wichita schools must do more to protect their LGBTQ students and stood in support of expanding the district’s official non-discrimination statement to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

“The 50,000 students in this district overwhelmingly don’t care who somebody loves,” he said. “They are more concerned with how people are treated and how people treat one another.”

Tom Witt, executive director of the LGBTQ rights group Equality Kansas, said:

“There are instances of transgender children or gender-nonconforming children who are bullied in school, and we would certainly like them to have the same protections from bullying and harassment as everybody else.”

Nearly a decade ago, a similar conversation came before the board, but board members did not revise their official non-discrimination statement because legal advisers recommended that it mirror federal law.

Mike Rodee, president of the Wichita school board, said a committee is reviewing policies regarding harassment and other issues, but so far there is no proposal to reconsider the district’s official non-discrimination statement.

“I know it’s something that is in the news and that type of thing,” Rodee said. “We just need to work through policy so we get it right and so it’s right for everybody.”

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