This Week in Non-Discrimination: Where Pro-LGBT Bills and Discriminatory Legislation Advanced

By Adam Polaski • February 4, 2016 • 3:31 pm

We’re in the middle of legislative sessions in nearly every state in the country – and as legislators debate vital issues for their local communities, LGBT issues and bills related to non-discrimination protections have emerged as significant priorities. Dozens of pro- and anti-LGBT bills have been introduced, and many have already advanced out of committee.  As we push forward on proactive attempts to protect LGBT individuals from discrimination, we’re also standing alongside our coalition partners nationally and in the states to coordinate work to defeat anti-LGBT bills.

Here’s a look at developments in state legislatures this week. Beyond the movement in these states, Freedom for All Americans is also working with local and national partners in Massachusetts and Arizona.

LegislativeWeekofFeb1

Indiana

This week, legislators in Indiana continued to perpetuate inaction on LGBT non-discrimination by allowing a bill, Senate Bill 344, to languish on the Senate floor, with no consideration at all. The bill was far from perfect – besides broad religious exemptions, the bill also completely left out transgender people. Advocates from Freedom Indiana, as well as a robust coalition of business leaders from Indiana Competes, were working with lawmakers to fix the bill, but by refusing to consider the protections, legislators have left LGBT Hoosiers vulnerable, once again.

Freedom for All Americans Executive Director Matt McTighe said this week: “The Indiana legislature’s failure to update existing civil rights laws and protect LGBT Hoosiers today is deeply disappointing. Senate Bill 344 was far from perfect, but it deserved to be debated and amended to ensure all Hoosiers are protected from discrimination. Over the last year, discrimination has been equated to Indiana. That must change, but it cannot happen without updating existing civil rights laws to protect LGBT Hoosiers from discrimination. … While we are disappointed with today’s decision, the fight for equal protections under the law is not over. We will continue working with business, civic, faith and grassroots leaders across Indiana to ensure that one day, no one in Indiana can be discriminated against because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Georgia

In Georgia this week, lawmakers met – with almost no warning – for a hearing on the so-called “First Amendment Defense Act,” a bill that seeks to offer businesses an individuals a legal “license to discriminate” against LGBT people. Jeff Graham, Executive Director of Georgia Equality (Freedom for All Americans’ state partner for Georgia Unites Against Discrimination) discussed the surprise tactics of anti-LGBT legislators in this video:

Meanwhile, hundreds of Georgia businesses are working more aggressively than ever to declare their support for LGBT non-discrimination protections, explaining that these protections make the state – and the economic climate in the state – stronger. Learn more about this coalition, Georgia Prospers, here. Additionally, civil rights advocates and thought leaders convened in Atlanta for an event on the long history of civil rights opponents leveraging religious exemptions to justify discrimination against minority communities. The event was coordinated in conjunction with the release of a new report from the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Striking a Balance: Advancing Civil and Human Rights While Preserving Religious Liberty. Read more about the report here. 

Massachusetts

In Massachusetts, the Statehouse News Service reports that Speaker Robert DeLeo is counting votes to ensure that there is enough support to override a potential veto on a bill that would fully protect transgender Bay Staters by including gender identity protections in the state’s public accommodations non-discrimination policies. The news is a welcome, important step forward after incredible momentum has built in the state over the past year, with hundreds of businesses and individuals calling for these protections – including every professional male sports team in the New England area. Freedom for All Americans is proud to serve as a founding and leading member of Freedom Massachusetts, which has been working since the summer to formally push for public accommodations protections.

Missouri

Great news out of Missouri! Following a compelling hearing last week, where dozens of supporters of non-discrimination protections spoke to a Senate committee, the committee this week voted to advance the Missouri Non-Discrimination Act (MONA) forward.

Florida

After a delay two weeks ago, the historic, first-ever hearing of an LGBT non-discrimination bill in the Florida legislature has been rescheduled for Monday, February 8.

The bill, the Competitive Workforce Act, has broad support from the business community. The state’s business coalition – Florida Businesses for a Competitive Workforce – is composed of more than 400 employers, including Fortune 500 companies like AT&T, CSX and Walt Disney World. Businesses and organizations representing the state’s tourism industry, retail and lodging associations and realtors are among those calling on lawmakers to pass the non-discrimination legislation.

Pennsylvania

Yesterday, Pennsylvania Competes – a strong business coalition in the Keystone State calling for LGBT non-discrimination laws statewide – hit an important milestone: Now, nearly 1,000 Keystone State employers are supporting passage of the Pennsylvania Fairness Act, legislation which would update the commonwealth’s nondiscrimination law to include protections for sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. This collectively represents around 150,000 employees and include both small family-run businesses and large companies with some of the most recognized brand names in the region. Among those supporting the Pennsylvania Fairness Act are the Campbell’s Soup Company, The Hershey Company, Dow Chemical, Penn State University, the Pennsylvania Association of Realtors, Alcoa, and GlaxoSmithKline. Freedom for All Americans is proud to serve as a leading member of PA Competes.

Freedom for All Americans Executive Director Matt McTighe explained why so many businesses have expressed their support for non-discrimination this week. He said: “Business owners of all sizes, whether it’s a small family-owned shop or a Fortune 500 company, are among some of the strongest supporters of legislation that protects LGBT people from discrimination – and it’s no surprise why. We’ve seen first-hand in states like Indiana and Arizona the disastrous economic consequences of lawmakers disregarding the advice of the business community. Nondiscrimination protections make states more prosperous places to work and raise a family, and we’ll continue partnering with businesses to advocate for these types of bills.”

South Dakota

In the past week in South Dakota, legislators have advanced three anti-LGBT bills. On February 3, lawmakers from the House State Affairs Committee voted to advance H.B. 1007 and H.B. 1112, two bills that seek to chip away at gains the LGBT community has made in the past several years. The bills, respectively, would allow businesses and individuals to use religion as a reason to discriminate against LGBT people, and ban any transgender-inclusive policy in South Dakota high schools. The movement on these bills comes just a week after legislators advanced H.B 1008, a bill that restricts transgender students from using restrooms and facilities that correspond to their gender identity.

Freedom for All Americans Executive Director Matt McTighe said yesterday: ““Today South Dakota legislators took an enormous step backwards by voting to advance two dangerous bills that would exacerbate the discrimination that LGBT people face in their state, including a bill that targets transgender students specifically. It is egregious for lawmakers to support a bill that would single out transgender children in schools and make it nearly impossible for them to participate in activities that should be part of every child’s educational experience. No person should live in fear of discrimination at school, at work, or anywhere else. These harmful bills should be stopped as soon as possible.” We’re working with state and national partners in South Dakota to push back against these dangerous bills, and continue building toward LGBT non-discrimination across the state, and throughout the country.

West Virginia

Even after dozens of fair-minded West Virginians expressed their opposition to passing the so-called “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” in West Virginia – a law very similar to ones that advanced in Indiana and Arizona in recent years, threatening to cripple those states’ economies – the House Judiciary Committee voted to advance H.B. 4012, which would ease efforts to discriminate against LGBT individuals.

The movement comes even after significant steps forward in the past week. The Lewisburg, WV City Council unanimously adopted LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination protections, and just last week, a bipartisan array of lawmakers – including the Senate Majority Leader – expressed their support for non-discrimination measures in a great video by Fairness West Virginia.

Oklahoma

After defeating every anti-LGBT bill proposed during the last legislative session, activists in Oklahoma – including our friends at Freedom Oklahoma – are working on overdrive to defeat another slew of dangerous bills. Last week 26 bills – a record number of anti-LGBT bills – were filed in the legislature, with many designed to use religion as a license to discriminate.

Today, February 4, lawmakers called a special meeting at 3 PM today to discuss HB 3044, which seeks to remove the discretion of school counselors and teachers when dealing with vulnerable and at-risk youth. The bill would have far-reaching, dangerous implications for young people, with Freedom Oklahoma pointing out that it would even restrict counselors from providing to LGBTQ young people the phone number for a suicide prevention hotline without informing their parents, “even in cases where the parent may be the catalyst of the harm.”

Virginia

Some great news in Virginia, as the state Senate voted in favor of two LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination bills on Friday, January 29. One bill, Senate Bill 12, would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in state employment while a second, Senate Bill 67, would add sexual orientation and gender identity to protected classes in the Virginia Housing Law.  The bills’ advancement marks a huge moment of momentum in the state of Virginia and the South as a whole, declaring that increasingly, elected officials are growing to understand the urgent importance of embracing non-discrimination.

In addition to this advance, however, a Virginia House of Delegates subcommittee advanced two anti-LGBT bills on February 4. One bill, H.B. 385, seeks to block municipalities from advancing LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination. The other, H.B. 781, would restrict restroom and facilities access for transgender students.


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