Local Steps Forward: Big Moves for LGBTQ Protections in Cities, Counties, School Districts and MoreBy Shane Stahl • July 20, 2018 • 10:03 am
Over the past two months, municipalities have continued to move forward to prevent discrimination against LGBTQ people. School districts in Rhode Island and Maine passed comprehensive nondiscrimination policies to protect their LGBTQ students, and cities in Michigan moved to enact their own local ordinances. Meanwhile, a city in MIssouri and a county in Ohio began discussion on a new policy that would provide protections for their LGBTQ residents.
These local steps forward are so vital – and they don’t happen in a vacuum. Every time a community unites for LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination, it builds momentum for the comprehensive federal protections that Americans need, in addition to tangibly increasing the percentage of Americans who live in jurisdictions with protections from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Check out stories about LGBTQ nondiscrimination at the local level for the months of June and July:
The Kittery School District in Maine recently passed a policy that will prohibit discrimination against LGBTQ students, and allow transgender students to use the bathrooms and locker rooms in line with their gender identity; that is, transgender boys will be permitted to use the boys’ facilities and transgender girls will be permitted to use the girls’ facilities, a positive step toward basic human dignity for all.
The school committee passed the policy with a unanimous vote of 6-0, which will also require the school to use a student’s preferred name and pronouns on school rosters, in yearbooks, and on diplomas. Committee member Anne Gilbert said the committee’s “first and foremost responsibility is to protect our students, all of our students. Anyone who’s on this school committee is on it to protect students, not for votes or any other reasons.”
Following the vote, Chairwoman Julie Dow proclaimed, “I have never been more proud to be on the School Committee.”
ST JOSEPH, MO
Community members including local employers, people of color, and city representatives recently met to discuss nondiscrimination protections that have been proposed for the city of St. Joseph. Previously, the city has considered LGBTQ-inclusive protections in housing and employment.
A Commission on Human Rights was a possibility discussed by the committee, which would address instances of discrimination brought by citizens and advocate for LGBTQ people.
Council member Bryan Myers said, “[We are] collaborating on a nondiscrimination ordinance that will help move the city of St. Joseph forward. We shared each other’s hopes and concern and are dedicated to finding a solution to make St. Joseph a better place to live.”
An official public discussion on the proposed protections is scheduled for the end of July.
On June 7, the Novi City Council in Novi, Michigan voted to update the city’s existing nondiscrimination ordinance by a vote of 4-3, the first such update in 19 years. The change will now provide protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Novi joins 18 other cities in Michigan that have passed such ordinances, although the state itself lacks a comprehensive nondiscrimination law.
Council member Kelly Breen led the charge for the policy amendment, noting that similar policy was present in several contracts for companies doing business with the city. “We say that we’re an all-inclusive community that embraces everyone. If we’re going to walk the walk, then we need to talk the talk. This was an important measure to take,” she said.
The Tiverton School District has implemented a policy, in effect starting July 1, that will allow transgender students to use the bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond to their gender identity and will also require the district to use a student’s preferred name and gender pronouns.
The state of Rhode Island had previously mandated that all schools include such policies in their bylaws and codes of conduct; the state is one of 19 that offer statewide comprehensive nondiscrimination laws that protect LGBTQ people in housing, employment, and public accommodations. Superintendent William Rearick said that much of the policy had been taken from the state’s Department of Education and its previous response to statewide protections.
The city of Jackson passed an update to its existing city code in late June that added sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of protected classes, which will prevent discrimination against LGBTQ people in housing, employment, and public accommodations.
A previous, less inclusive version of the update passed in February of 2017 but did not go into effect until April of that year because of a petition challenge.
“I thought I’d do some quick housekeeping through the rest of our city code that is reflective of the work we did last year to pass the non-discrimination ordinance,” said Mayor Derek Dobies.
CUYAHOGA COUNTY, OH
Cuyahoga County, home to Cleveland and other large cities, has seen its county council introduce two initiatives that would prohibit discrimination against its LGBTQ residents and other county employees.
The first charter amendment would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of protected classes in community employment. The second would create a County Human Rights Commission, which would investigate charges of discrimination and fine any offenders. The legislation would also create comprehensive nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people in housing, employment, and public accommodations.
County Executive Armond Budish is a sponsor for the second proposed ordinance, and stated, “Ohio law already makes it illegal to refuse a person a job or housing based on their race, age, religion, gender, disability – but Ohio law says it’s OK to discriminate against people who are LGBTQ. That is wrong.”
JACKSON HOLE, WY
On Monday, July 16, the city council in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, unanimously passed an LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance after three years of work that began in 2015 with then-mayor Sara Filtner.
Jackson Hole is only the second city in Wyoming to offer comprehensive nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people, following Laramie in 2015. Wyoming is also one of 31 states that do not offer statewide LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections.
In 2015, the Wyoming Senate approved a bill, SF 115, that would have prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. However, upon reaching the floor of the House, oppositional lawmakers narrowly voted against the bill, by a vote of 26-33.