Local Steps Forward: Momentum for LGBTQ Equal Treatment Nationwide Builds in Cities & Towns This Spring

By Shane Stahl • April 12, 2018 • 2:04 pm

In recent weeks we’ve seen a flurry of positive movement in cities and towns across the country regarding LGBTQ equal treatment, with comprehensive nondiscrimination ordinances being both updated and debated before local governments. Additionally, a move to ensure equality for transgender student athletes in a Massachusetts school district was met with favor, but a discrimination lawsuit in Wyoming highlights the struggles that still exist in the ironically named Equality State. Here’s what you may have missed in towns, cities, and municipalities in the past month!

ANCHORAGE, AK

The city of Anchorage had much to celebrate this week, as Proposition 1, a dangerous ballot initiative that would have repealed existing protections for transgender people, was defeated by a vote of 52.7%, in the process making Anchorage the first city in history to defend transgender dignity at the ballot.

Fair Anchorage, the campaign to defend nondiscrimination protections and Vote No on Prop 1, had worked tirelessly since mid-2017 to build up a strong operation, mobilizing many volunteers to talk to thousands of Anchorage voters about the need to protect Anchorage’s transgender population. In the process, they brought a variety of voices together to form a strong, bipartisan coalition — from business owners and faith leaders to elected officials and safety advocates.

Freedom For All Americans, a leading member of the Fair Anchorage campaign and the campaign’s top contributor, congratulates the campaign on their history-making success, proving that nondiscrimination protections for transgender people can be defended at the ballot box.

FRAMINGHAM, MA

A policy adopted by the Framingham School District in Massachusetts seeks to make sure all student athletes are able to participate in school sports, regardless of their gender identity.

Possibly the first of its kind in the Bay State, the new policy allows students to play on the team that corresponds to their gender identity. Additionally, it sets guidelines for coaches to ensure students receive the appropriate uniforms and access to the correct bathrooms and changing facilities, and can compete in both home and away matches. While the option will be offered for students to use private, enclosed facilities, it is not a requirement they do so. Coaches have also been asked to request the use of affirmed names and pronouns by coaches, opponents, officials, announcers, fans and the media.

District 1 School Committee member Beverly Hugo said it will promote inclusion in the district, which is believed to be the first in the state to have adopted written guidelines supporting transgender athletes. Hugo said the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association, which oversees high school sports, has already requested a copy of the new policy to distribute as a blueprint for other districts.

“We say that we want all students to thrive; all means all, and this will help us walk the walk.”

The policy was approved unanimously by a 9-0 vote.

JACKSON HOLE, WY

Town government in Jackson Hole, Wyoming made some headway in late March regarding a resolution enacting nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people.

Officials met to discuss the issue at the March 22 town council meeting. Although the matter was postponed to a later meeting to investigate the fiscal impact of such protections being made law, substantive discussions occurred for the first time on the resolution.

Mayor Pete Muldoon, a member of our Mayors Against LGBT Discrimination coalition, worked in crafting the resolution several months ago, using the city of Laramie’s nondiscrimination ordinance as a template. The resolution would prevent discrimination against LGBTQ people in housing, employment, and public accommodations.

During the meeting, several councilors voiced concern over the costs of implementing and enforcing the resolution; town attorney Audrey Cohen-Davis also cautioned against heading into “murky waters,” as the issue of LGBTQ discrimination is being legislated in federal courts across the country, including the Supreme Court case of Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.

Mayor Muldoon offered at the meeting:

“This hasn’t broken Laramie’s budget yet, and I doubt it will destroy ours. But even if it does, we are talking about a budget that has lots of things in it that are less important to me than people’s civil rights. The argument that we can’t afford it—I can’t accept that. If we think people’s civil rights are being violated in the town of Jackson, that’s the number one budget priority for me. It really is.”

Council ultimately voted 3-1 to vet the ordinance more before taking further action.

THAYNE, WY

Following a federal lawsuit filed by a same-sex couple in January claiming discrimination by the town of Thayne, the town government responded to the suit on March 18.

In their suit, Marc and Rusty Andruss state that the town inconsistently and illegally applied rules regarding liquor licenses, restaurants, law enforcement, and other issues about their restaurant, Rustlers, LLC, compared to other establishments whose owners are not LGBTQ. The couple claims that the town has violated their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

The Andrusses also claim that the local government is unduly influenced by the local Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, after the Mayor declared he had spoken to a church leader as to whether or not he should approve the restaurant’s liquor license.

The town and its council, according to the response said, “Plaintiffs have not been treated in a discriminatory manner and no Constitutional violations have been perpetrated by the Defendants.”

SOUTH EUCLID, OH

In a unanimous vote, the city council of South Euclid passed a comprehensive nondiscrimination ordinance on April 10, making the city the twentieth in the Buckeye State to enact such protections for LGBTQ people in housing, employment, and public accommodations.

“We have been telling people that we are an inclusive community and we’ve been doing it for years, and we didn’t have the laws to back it up,” said council member Ruth Gray.

Several opponents of the measure spoke at Tuesday’s meeting, asking for religious exemptions to be put in place that would allow businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ people. The Council denied this request.

Marilyn Murray, who described herself as a Catholic woman who’s proud of her Catholic education, said: “I was raised with the value of ‘love one another as I have loved you.’ I am grateful for that education. I’m asking you to act in a way that reflects that we’re one world and one family,” she said.

Momentum for nondiscrimination protections in Ohio has increased steadily over the past two years; in 2016, the city of Cleveland updated its nondiscrimination law to more expansively protect transgender people, and in 2017, the cities of Akron, Kent, and North Olmsted passed their own LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinances. However, Ohio still lacks a statewide nondiscrimination law, though HB 160, The Ohio Fairness Act, has had two committee hearings for the first time in history, and several LGBTQ groups are working with elected officials to move the bill to the floor for a vote.

Congratulations to Equality Oho for their continuing work to pass nondiscrimination ordinances throughout the state.

STARKVILLE, MS

After an initial denial, on March 6 the Starkville Pride organization had their application for a parade approved by the Board of Aldermen by a 3-3 vote, with Mayor Lynn Spruill breaking the tie.

“Proud to be in Starkville,” Starkville Pride Director and Founder Bailey McDaniel told The Clarion Ledger. “I’m just glad to be a 22-year-old again. I think this is a really good learning experience, and this sets a precedent for activists in younger generations. I’ve been fighting for four years, and the culmination of that was in that vote.”

Alderwoman Sandra Sistrunk said the application for the parade should be treated no differently than an application by any other organization.

“I think we’re in a position where we can make a more measured and reasoned vote tonight,” Sistrunk said. “This has been a bit of a growing pain for the city of Starkville.”

Starkville Pride, supported by the Campaign for Southern Equality and attorney Roberta Kaplan, who argued Windsor v. United States at the Supreme Court, had filed a lawsuit in February against the city, stating their denial was “a textbook violation of the First Amendment and its discriminatory treatment, based solely on LGBT-related animus.”

The parade was held on March 24.

COLUMBUS, IN

The hometown of Vice President Mike Pence will be hosting its first ever LGBTQ pride parade this year, organized by a high school senior as a class project.

“Most people would think that all of us here are also anti-LGBT,” said Erin Bailey, the high school senior organizing the April 14 event. “But there are plenty of us who very much support the LGBT community and are members of the community.”

Although the city has never had a pride festival, it is one of a handful of Indiana cities to have a comprehensive nondiscrimination ordinance on the books, enacted after Pence signed a “religious freedom restoration act” (RFRA) in 2015, which received major blowback nationwide. Only 10 days after signing, the act was repealed, no longer allowing businesses or organizations to claim religious exemptions and discriminate against LGBTQ people.

Cummins, Inc., the city’s largest employer, spoke out against the RFRA, and was one of the first Indiana companies to offer health insurance and other benefits to same sex couples, beginning in 2000.

Max Emerson, a social media artist from California, is among the people from outside Indiana who have been in touch with Erin about coming to the festival.

“There’s a huge divide in our country and the only way to bridge it is with compassionate communication,” he says.

The festival is scheduled for April 14.


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