This Week in LGBT Non-Discrimination: As the Nation Pushes Back, Lawmakers Quietly Abandon Anti-LGBT Bills

By Adam Polaski • February 26, 2016 • 5:03 pm

This week national momentum against heinous anti-LGBT bills surged forward – and a huge number of anti-LGBT bills were quietly abandoned by oppositional lawmakers. From Mississippi to South Dakota to Wisconsin, several extreme anti-LGBT bills were passed over by committee, left to die without a vote, or simply pulled from consideration entirely. These moves – in a legislative session during which time more than 100 anti-LGBT bills were proposed – signal that national outcry over terrible legislation in Georgia, South Dakota, and other states is helping legislators see that their proposals are out-of-step with the supermajority of Americans who support comprehensive non-discrimination protections.

While we took big steps forward in defeating anti-LGBT measures this week, however, several heinous bills are dangerously close to becoming law. Here’s a look at this week’s landscape for LGBT non-discrimination:

LegislativeWeekofFeb21

Georgia

A particularly broad, harmful religious exemption bill – HB 757 – continues to threaten Georgia. The bill would allow individuals and faith-based organizations receiving taxpayer funding to refuse service to anyone who conflicts with their religious view of marriage as between one man and one woman. With its exceptionally broad language, the bill even gives cover to for-profit entities if they include religious beliefs in their mission statements. Momentum is building for its defeat, with Governor Nathan Deal acknowledging the problems with the legislation, tens of thousands of Georgians contacting their legislators, and a growing number of Republican representatives expressing their disapproval.

The business community has been at the forefront of the fight to defeat anti-LGBT legislation in Georgia. In December 2015, the Metro Atlanta Chamber warned that the economic impact of a religious refusals bill, like HB 757, could cost Georgia about $1 billion. In just the past few weeks, businesses like Porsche, Salesforce, and Marriott have spoken out – and several leaders of the film industry expressed fear that all of the work and money the state has invested into leveraging Atlanta as the “Hollywood of the South” will be for naught if the bill passes.

Freedom for All Americans executive director Matt McTighe explained the business opposition to the bill this week, saying, “We’ve seen in other states, from Indiana to Arizona, that businesses will not sit by idly while lawmakers pass legislation that damages a state’s brand. We’re already seeing the economic consequences of the Senate passing this bill, and should it continue further through the House those consequences will grow exponentially.”

South Dakota

Outrage continues to become more vocal – and more national – around South Dakota’s HB 1008, which has passed both chambers and is now sitting on Governor Dennis Daugaard’s desk. The chorus of voices calling for his veto of the invasive bill – which would single out transgender youth for discrimination by prohibiting them from using the restroom that matches their gender identity – grew exponentially this week. Transgender public figures like Laverne Cox and Caitlyn Jenner have called for the governor to repeal – and on Tuesday, Gov. Daugaard met with several transgender South Dakotan students, shortly after he received 80,000 petition signatures urging him to veto.

Governor Dennis has until Tuesday to veto the bill.  If signed into law, South Dakota will become the first state to adopt such a policy. We’re working to urge Gov. Daugaard to veto the bill – if you haven’t weighed in yet, click here to send the Governor a letter, or send a tweet at the governor here.

The good news in South Dakota this week, however, is that a separate anti-LGBT initiative – HB 1107, a bill that would have allowed religion to be used as an excuse to discriminate against LGBT South Dakotans – was voted down 6-1. That still leaves a few anti-LGBT bills in the Legislature, but we’re surely surging forward in the Mount Rushmore State.

Kentucky

An anti-LGBT bill passed out of a Senate committee in Kentucky on Thursday. The bill (SB180) would allow businesses to cite their religion as an excuse to discriminate against or deny service to LGBT customers – and it also would strip municipalities of LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination ordinances they have already passed.

The bill now goes to consideration before the Senate.

Mississippi

It’s a mixed bag this week in Mississippi, where three extreme anti-LGBT bills were defeated in committee. However, a proactive bill to add LGBT non-discrimination to the state’s laws also did not advance – and advocates on the ground are still pushing back against HB1523, which passed the House last week.

HB1523 is a broad and discriminatory bill which would allow individuals, faith-based entities and private organizations to discriminate against LGBT people if they possess a belief that marriage is between one man and one woman. The bill is similar to Hb 757 in Georgia with its broad religious refusal components, but it also lashes out at transgender Mississippians by defining male and female as immutably tied to one’s anatomy at birth. The bill now heads over to the Senate.

West Virginia

The debate continues over West Virginia’s HB4012, the bill that would codify discrimination against LGBT people, overturn any local protections already passed by residents of West Virginian cities or towns, and ban voters from ever passing such protections.

The bill was scheduled for review several times this week – including on Thursday, and later Friday. Advocates at Fairness West Virginia have fiercely rallied against the broad, terrible bill – and momentum is growing.

North Carolina

Great news out of North Carolina – on Tuesday, the city of Charlotte – after several hours of discussion and weeks of thoughtful conversation across the city – approved an ordinance that extends comprehensive non-discrimination protections in employment, housing, public accommodations, and more to LGBT people in the city. In response, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory said that he would urge the NC General Assembly to take legislative action to block the ordinance. Such an action would be a gross violation of the important local control that municipalities are able to take. We stand with national and state partners – including our friends at Equality NC and the Campaign for Southern Equality – in urging Gov. McCrory to allow the Charlotte ordinance to stand and do what it is designed to do: Protect LGBT North Carolinians.

Missouri

Lawmakers in the Missouri Senate are pushing legislation that would send to the ballot a proposed constitutional amendment, allowing individuals and small business owners to refuse services to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Missourians based on their religious beliefs. The legislation, SJR 39, specifies that religious leaders and organizations cannot be penalized for acting in accordance with their religious beliefs – a principle which is already protected under state and federal law. However, SJR 39 goes further – it would allow individuals or small businesses to turn away LGBT people, citing their religion. The legislation could be on the Senate floor as early as Monday. Freedom for All Americans executive director Matt McTighe said on Friday: “This bill is reflective of a national push to deny LGBT people fairness and equality under the law, and to single out some of the most vulnerable populations for further harm. Freedom of religion is protected under the First Amendment and no one is trying to change or weaken that. We’ve seen this tactic tried in other states, and would expect similar backlash in Missouri – from the businesses and faith leaders and others who understand that our communities are at their strongest when everyone is treated fairly and equally.”

 

Virginia

Some of the most problematic elements of Virginia HB 773, including a broad license to discriminate against other residents based on religious beliefs, were removed by a Senate committee on Friday. However, the bill maintains that government officials need not solemnize marriages between same-sex couples, and several other clauses make it little more than a bill to push through discrimination.  Governor Terry McAuliffe has vowed to veto anti-LGBT legislation if approved.

Wisconsin

The adjournment of the legislative session in Wisconsin means that a terrible bill – one that would have prohibited transgender children from using public school facilities that match their gender identity – will not move forward. The death of the bill, which was heard by a committee last fall, is a huge victory for the LGBT community in Wisconsin and signal growing momentum from Americans that discrimination is unacceptable.

Freedom for All Americans was proud over the past six months to provide communications support, digital strategy and execution, and legislative guidance to Fair Wisconsin, generating hundreds of contacts to lawmakers in opposition of the bill.

Massachusetts

In Massachusetts, a bill is pending that would fully protect transgender people from discrimination in public places. Speaker Robert DeLeo, who announced his support for the bill in November, continues to discuss the bill with lawmakers to ensure that there is enough support to override a potential veto by the governor. More than 200 businesses across the state have endorsed the bill, and last month, every professional sports team in New England announced their support. The endorsements for the bill continue this week, with many women’s organizations calling for the bill’s passage:

Freedom for All Americans is proud to serve as a founding and leading member of Freedom Massachusetts, the campaign to fully protect transgender Bay Staters from discrimination.

Tennessee

In Tennessee, HB2414, a bill that would target transgender students and prohibit them from using the restroom and facilities that correspond with the gender they live every day, could be heard on March 1 in the House Education Administration and Planning Subcommittee.

Oklahoma

Freedom Oklahoma has been hard at work rallying against a huge slate of anti-LGBT bills, which numbered 27 at the beginning of the legislative session and are now down to just two.

The Executive Director of Freedom Oklahoma wrote this week in the Oklahoma Gazette, “Each time one of these ill-conceived pieces of legislation is brought forward, our movement grows stronger and more organized. We will not stand by while our rights are stripped away. This is our home too. And our greatest hope is that the politics of distraction will end and we can work together toward a brighter future for all Oklahomans.”

Washington

Opponents of equality are pursuing plans to launch a ballot initiative to repeal the Washington Human Rights Commission’s clarification that the state’s public accommodation rules cover gender identity, protecting transgender Washingtonians. Last week, leading groups supporting the discriminatory ballot initiative actively encouraged men to break state law in protest by entering and disrobing in women’s locker rooms. Following these online statements, this actually took place in a Seattle rec center Monday evening. Endorsing any criminal activity in support of discrimination is a tremendously troubling escalation of a policy dispute.


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