State Legislative Update: A Mix of Successes and Setbacks for LGBTQ Equality

By Megan Clayton • March 8, 2019 • 3:27 pm

Since kicking off in January, the 2019 legislative session has seen dozens of bills introduced across the country concerning LGBTQ nondiscrimination. While positive momentum has been generated in certain statehouses, unfortunately discriminatory legislation continues to rear its head — largely in states where we’ve seen such battles before.

First, the good news: In January, New York passed the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA), which made it the 20th state to offer full nondiscrimination protections to all LGBTQ people. Additionally, due in large part to collaborative efforts between Freedom for All Americans and our friends at the ACLU of South Dakota and Athlete Ally, four anti-transgender bills were defeated in South Dakota for the fourth year in a row — a clear message that people there will not tolerate discrimination against the transgender community.

In Florida, Ohio, Missouri, Arizona, and Montana, legislation has been introduced that would implement explicit statewide nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people in housing, employment, and public accommodations. While it remains to be seen how far these bills will go, it is unmistakable that there is forward momentum to enshrine full, lived equality for all.

Now, the not-so-good news: In Tennessee, Georgia, and Texas, efforts to codify anti-LGBTQ discrimination into law have continued into the 2019 legislative session.

Tennessee

Tennessee is currently considering six pieces of harmful legislation:

  • HB 563 would allow businesses and other organizations to implement taxpayer-funded discrimination against LGBTQ people.
  • HB 836 and HB 1152 would allow taxpayer-funded child welfare agencies to discriminate against LGBTQ youth and qualified adoptive families, among others.
  • HB 1151 seeks to accomplish a goal of anti-transgender legislation in years past by putting transgender people at risk of being arrested – with up to a year of jail time – simply for using a restroom or locker room consistent with who they are.
  • HB 1369, “Tennessee Natural Marriage Defense Act;” would defy the Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges and seek to undermine the freedom to marry for same-sex couples.
  • HB 1274 would require the Tennessee Attorney General to either pay for legal costs or itself defend discriminatory anti-transgender school policies.

Three bills were originally scheduled to be heard in committee this week. However, two were temporarily put on hold because of the massive mobilization from concerned advocates. In fact, members of Freedom for All Americans alone have logged more than 1,500 calls and emails to Tennessee lawmakers. Unfortunately HB 563 will be heard on the house floor next week.

We, FFAA, and the Tennessee Equality Project are continuing to work together to activate advocates on the ground as HB 563 heads for a floor vote on Thursday, March 14, and HB 836 and 1151 head for committee hearings on Tuesday, March 12 and Wednesday, March 13.

Georgia

In Georgia, a Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) was introduced on February 27 but was swiftly blocked for consideration after a massive public outcry, including from major business voices like the Georgia and Metro Atlanta chambers of commerce.

Like previous iterations of similar bills, SB 221 would grant religious exemptions allowing businesses, including taxpayer-funded organizations, to deny services and employment to LGBTQ people and many others. In 2016, then-Governor Nathan Deal vetoed a similar RFRA, after it was projected that the state’s economy could suffer an economic loss of $2 billion — similar to what happened in both North Carolina and Indiana when those states passed discriminatory anti-LGBTQ legislation.

Georgia Unites Against Discrimination, a coalition that FFAA helped co-found, is continuing to speak out against the legislation, as it will remain active through the 2020 session. Anti-LGBTQ lawmakers are also eyeing attaching discriminatory amendments to other legislation.

Texas

In Texas, where anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced year after year, the disturbing trend continues. Several pieces of discriminatory legislation have been brought for consideration this session. Among them is HB 1035, a broad religious exemptions bill.

Our partners at Equality Texas are working hard to fight these bills, and they have a previous history of success. In 2017, they lobbied successfully to defeat an anti-transgender bill that would have allowed for discrimination in public accommodations. FFAA continues to monitor the situation.

If you want to stand alongside us and add your voice to a chorus of thousands, including business owners, faith leaders, advocates, and allies, sign our pledge stating that the only way to fully protect LGBTQ Americans is with a comprehensive federal nondiscrimination law.


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