Entries from: Nondiscrimination

Missouri State Legislature Starts LGBT Discrimination Debate

800px-AP_of_Missouri_State_Capitol_BuildingMissouri’s legislative activity today offers a peek into the current state of the nondiscrimination debate and the changing concept of what is “pro-LGBT.”

Currently, the Missouri House is reviewing a bipartisan bill introduced by a Republican that would amend the state’s Human Rights Statute to include gender identity and sexual orientation. The sponsor, Rep. Kevin Engler, does not support LGBT marriage but calls his bill a “pro-business” move  that brings the state in line with  others who have updated their laws.

Yet, also in line with a handful of other states, the Missouri Senate is considering SB 916, another “pro-business” measure introduced by a Republican that would allow private businesses to discriminate on the basis of their religious beliefs.

While HB 1930 falls short of federal standards of evidence for discrimination cases as a tactic to garner more votes, Engler and his colleagues are at least dismissive of religious opposition to the bill. Opponents oppose creating more protected classes when most companies already have their own non-discrimination guidelines.

Sponsor Sen. Wayne Wallingford has voted in favor of employment non-discrimination and sees this as an extension of that stance: “I don’t want to see discrimination against people on the job, but I don’t want to see discrimination against individuals that own their own companies… [this is] fair to all sides involved.”

Though the religious freedom bill has a slim chance of passing the legislature or being signed into law by Democratic Governor Jay Nixon, it seems as though this kind of bill has become a symbolic debate in state legislatures and a distraction from the real work to be done. In a state where an amended Human Rights Law has never made it past committee despite the governor’s support, expressly banning what is not even legal is a subtext used to make a statement – one that Missouri’s own house proves might not be likely to shore up the base, but does generate a buzz.

Senate committee OKs LGBT job bias bill with GOP support

dome (480x640)The Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would ban employment discrimination in the U.S. based on LGBT status, today passed easily in the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, a first step on the way to a historic full vote on the Senate floor, according to the Washington Blade:

A Senate committee made history on Wednesday by approving for the first-time ever a trans-inclusive version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and picking key Republican support from Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).

Lawmakers on the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee reported out ENDA by a 15-7 vote after a short period of discussion. No amendments were offered except for a manager’s amendment, although Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said he’ll reserve three that he planned for consideration on the Senate floor.

The new GOP support raises the likelihood that the measure will overcome the 60-vote threshold to end debate and pass the bill.  Prospects for passing ENDA in the GOP-controlled House remain unclear, however.

“It is time for the full Senate to follow suit, for the House to vote on this measure without further delay, and for ENDA to become the law of the land,” said House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, who called today’s vote, “a significant step forward for civil rights, equality, and fairness.”

The White House also weighed in after the vote.  ”The President has long supported an inclusive ENDA, which would enshrine into law strong, lasting and comprehensive protections against employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.  We look forward to the full Senate’s consideration of ENDA, and continue to urge the House to move forward on this bill that upholds America’s core values of fairness and equality,” said Press Secretary Jay Carney in a statement.

Out state lawmakers fight for transgender rights

tomammianoOpenly gay and lesbian state lawmakers are spearheading efforts in multiple states to pass laws protecting transgender people.

In California, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (pictured) is fighting to protect California’s transgender students from discrimination in schools. Last week, he introduced legislation that would grant students the right to use public school bathrooms and participate on sports teams that match their expressed genders, according to  the Associated Press.

Discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation is already illegal in California, but Ammiano’s bill would be the first in the country to specifically address transgender students’ right to use the restroom and join the sports team that corresponds with their gender identity.

Just next door, Nevada law does not currently protect people from discrimination based on gender identity. Pat Spearman, an openly lesbian state Senator, introduced a bill Monday that would make Nevada the next state to include gender identity in its hate crimes statute.

Sen. Spearman, who said she was the victim of an attack when she was 21, emphasized the importance of adding gender identity to existing hate crimes laws. “Whenever crimes are committed by perpetrators and they are clearly committed only on the basis of a particular aspect of that person’s characteristics, then I think justice requires us to act,” she told a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee.  The Las Vegas Sun reported that supporters from the community filled the room, overflowing into the hall. No one present opposed the bill.

In Maryland, openly gay state Sen. Rich Madaleno and ally state Sen. Jamie Raskin have proposed the Fairness for All Marylanders Act of 2013, which would add gender identity to the list of protected identities under the state’s hate crimes statute. The measure died in committee in 2012, but supporters are confident that the important bill will pass this year.

“Many of the most vulnerable people in the LGBT community are left with no legal protections in our state laws,” Sen. Madaleno said. “I come before you today as the sponsor of Senate Bill 449 with my good friend from Montgomery County and ask you to fix this omission and ensure that all Marylanders, including my transgender sisters and brothers, are afforded protection under our anti-discrimination laws.”

Governor O’Malley told the Washington Blade last week that he is “absolutely” reaching out to lawmakers to urge them to pass the bill.

Photo: Sacramento Bee

Legislation would end Scouts’ tax exemption in Calif.

lara221An openly gay California state senator has proposed a bill that would strip tax exempt status for youth organizations that openly discriminate.

State Sen. Ricardo Lara introduced the “Youth Equality Act” Tuesday in the midst of the nationwide debate over the Boy Scouts of America’s controversial anti-gay policy. If it passes, the legislation would revoke the tax exempt status of youth organizations (including student groups organized through private and public schools) who discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

“Our state values the important role that youth groups play in the empowerment of our next generation; this is demonstrated by rewarding organizations with tax exemptions supported financially by all Californians,” said Lara. “SB 323 seeks to end the unfortunate discriminatory and outdated practices by certain youth groups by revoking their tax exemption privilege should they not comply with our non-discrimination laws.”

Supporters of the bill say they recognize it directly targets the Boy Scouts’ discriminatory policy, particularly as the organization’s national leadership debates the rule throughout the coming months. The Board of the Boy Scouts is expected to reconsider its anti-gay policy in May.

“I thought it was necessary for California to make sure we don’t condone the discriminating practices of youth groups like the Boy Scouts of America,” Lara said. “We’ve given the Boy Scouts ample time, and they’ve chosen not to address this issue.”

The bill would require a two-thirds vote in the state legislature to pass.

Out Maryland legislator introduces transgender rights bill

SVoss-Madaleno08Maryland could soon become the 17th state to pass laws that ban discrimination based on gender identity or expression in the workplace, housing market, and public accommodations.

Openly gay State Sen. Rich Madaleno (D-Montgomery County) introduced the “Fairness for All Marylanders Act of 2013” Tuesday along with co-sponsor State Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-Montgomery County). The bill had more than 20 co-sponsors upon its introduction, just a vote shy of the total required for passage.

A similar piece of legislation failed to make it past a Senate committee last year. But advocates are optimistic this year given Maryland’s historic marriage equality vote last November, and the strong, early support the measure has garnered so far.

“Put simply, the process of passing a bill requires that you line up the votes you need to make it through a chamber,” Dana Beyer, executive director of Gender Rights Maryland, told the Washington Blade. “That process is eased considerably when those legislators are willing to sign on as co-sponsors. I am very pleased we can show this degree of support in the Senate, which I attribute to the diligent work of Senators Madaleno and Raskin and their staffs. The trans community should be very hopeful that this is the year.”

The bill will head to the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee in the coming month, where it is expected to pass easily. It will then go to the Senate floor for a vote (assuming Senate President V. Thomas “Mike” Miller permits it on the floor), followed by a full hearing in the House.

Photo: Steven Voss