This Week in LGBT Non-Discrimination: 2017 Legislative Session Kicks Off With Many LGBT Bills

By Adam Polaski • January 13, 2017 • 1:18 pm

2017 is off to a wild start already, with dozens of states launching headfirst into their 2017 legislative sessions. At the top of the agenda in many states? LGBT-related bills.

Some of the most significant work right now is steeped in defensive fights, with lawmakers in several states filing discriminatory bills that single out LGBT people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Defeating those bills will be of the utmost importance in 2017 as the LGBT movement works to hold the line in increasingly hostile state landscapes.

Every Friday of this year’s legislative session for the next few months, Freedom for All Americans will be recapping what happened in states across the country with regard to LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination. Here’s our first 2017 entry – a look at the landscape for LGBT non-discrimination in 11 key states:

Texas

Apparently unwilling to learn from the mistakes that North Carolina experienced in 2016, Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick is pushing Senate Bill 6, a terrible anti-LGBT bill that is a near replica of North Carolina’s HB2, which cost the state nearly a billion dollars, scrapped Governor McCrory’s chances at reelection, and harmed hundreds of thousands of LGBT North Carolinians. SB6 bans transgender people from using restrooms in public schools, universities, and government buildings. The legislation also overrides local nondiscrimination ordinances that protect transgender people from discrimination in public accommodations, and bans local municipalities from considering such protections when awarding contracts for government work.

We’re already seeing tremendous opposition to SB6. And The New York Times referred to the episode by saying, “Given North Carolina’s self-defeating legislative efforts to restrict where transgender people can use public bathrooms, it’s mind-boggling that politicians in other states would be tempted to go down a similar path.”

New Hampshire

On January 12, lawmakers in New Hampshire officially filed House Bill 478, legislation that would update New Hampshire’s Law Against Discrimination to include protections on the basis of “gender identity.” The much-anticipated legislation was pre-filed last month by Rep. Ed Butler, who had until the January 6th deadline to gather co-sponsors for the bill. Currently in New Hampshire, comprehensive non-discrimination protections cover sexual orientation but not gender identity.

Freedom New Hampshire is the campaign to advance comprehensive non-discrimination protections for transgender people – and Freedom for All Americans is glad and excited to be a part of this exciting on-the-ground momentum.

Georgia

Although 28 states across the country lack nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people, most have statewide laws that protect residents from discrimination based on other factors, like race and religion. Only a handful don’t have these general nondiscrimination protections—and Georgia is one of them. It’s with this situation in mind that civil rights and religious leaders from across Georgia gathered in Atlanta on Wednesday, January 11 to release a new report that outlines the growing need for updates to the state’s civil rights laws.

The report, titled Liberty & Justice in Georgia: Protecting Our Heritage & Growing Our Competitive Future, speaks in detail about this lapse in basic civil rights protections, a status that places Georgia as one of the weakest states in the nation in terms of its ability to protect citizens from discrimination, including LGBT people.

The full report is available here on the Georgia Unites’ website. Its final recommendations include enacting comprehensive non-discrimination protections in employment, housing, and public accommodations. Freedom for All Americans is proud to support Georgia Unites and other local partners in undertaking this critical advocacy.

Washington

A ballot initiative to repeal Washington State’s 10-year old non-discrimination law protecting transgender people returned this week, as backers of last year’s I-1515 (which failed to generate enough signatures to qualify for last year’s fall election ballot) again filed an effort to put these crucial protections to a vote for the 2017 election. Last year, the anti-transgender effort faced a solid wall of opposition from big names like Amazon and Microsoft, faith leaders, law enforcement and victims’ safety groups.

Indiana

A new bill filed in Indiana – HB 1361, introduced by Rep. Bruce Borders – would make it impossible for transgender Hoosiers to update birth certificates and other identity documents to match the gender they live every day.

Freedom Indiana reported this week: “Currently, Indiana allows the Division of Vital Statistics to correct gender markers on a birth certificate with a court order. This bill singles out transgender Hoosiers to make their lives harder. An accurate birth certificate that reflects a person’s gender is the first step towards obtaining a state-issued ID and other documents that all Hoosiers need to apply for jobs, find housing, enroll in school and so much more.”

Florida

Just a few days into 2017, a bipartisan group of City Council members in Jacksonville, Florida introduced a proposal to update Jacksonville’s existing human rights ordinance so that includes protections for people based on sexual orientation and gender identity. If passed, the updated human rights ordinance, or #JaxHRO, would protect members of Jacksonville’s LGBT community from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations. Jacksonville is the twelfth largest city in the United States and one of the few top cities where LGBT people are not explicitly protected from discrimination.

A first reading – with many hours of public testimony in favor of the ordinance – was held on Tuesday, January 10. The Jacksonville Coalition for Equality has been working hard to pass the update to the #JaxHRO – and in recent months Freedom for All Americans has been proud to serve as a partner organization on the campaign.

Virginia

On January 5, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe signed an expanded LGBT-inclusive executive order prohibiting employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in state contractors and subcontractors. Previously in Virginia, state employees were protected from employment discrimination, per McAuliffe’s 2014 executive order.

James Parrish, Executive Director of our friends at Equality Virginia, applauded the step forward, saying, “We are grateful for the continued leadership demonstrated by Gov. McAuliffe on gay and transgender issues. This policy is simply good business practice — taxpayers should expect that their money will not be used to support organizations that discriminate.”

The executive order marks a significant step forward – and signals growing momentum across the country for comprehensive federal non-discrimination – but despite the step forward, in Virginia (and in nearly 30 other states), LGBT people have no state-wide non-discrimination protections, and we must continue moving forward.

Tennessee

Hundreds of businesses are coming together through Tennessee Thrives, a new business coalition dedicated to standing against anti-LGBT legislation and pushing toward a more welcoming, inclusive Tennessee. In the past few days, representatives from many businesses – including Jack Daniels, the Nashville Predators, and the Nashville Zoo – have voiced their support for the coalition. Learn more about Tennessee Thrives here.

South Dakota

On Thursday, January 12 Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard of South Dakota said there is no need to revive last year’s ill-fated legislation to ban transgender individuals from using the restroom that matches their gender identity. 

“It is a solution in search of a problem,” Daugaard told Argus Leader Media on Monday.

In 2016, Daugaard vetoed a bill that would have prohibited students from using the restroom that matches the gender they live as every day. The proposed measure had been met with an onslaught of public opposition from leaders in business, tourism, and health, as well as educators, public safety officers, members of the clergy and legal experts from across South Dakota and the nation.

Arkansas

Last week Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson became the latest Republican governor – following similar statements in Kentucky and South Carolina – to express that there’s no need for a law like HB2, restricting restroom access for transgender people.  Republican officials in many states are rightfully working to keep their state away from the disaster that the similar HB2 brought to North Carolina.

Massachusetts

Leaders from Freedom Massachusetts, the successful campaign to pass transgender-inclusive public accommodations protections in Massachusetts in 2016, are gearing up and laying the groundwork for a fight at the ballot in the fall of 2018. Despite support from hundreds of businesses, an overwhelming number of lawmakers, and a diverse and broad coalition of people in Massachusetts, a small swath of opponents to transgender equality forced #TransLawMA onto the ballot for November 2018.

Advocates across the state will work their hardest in 2017 and 2018 to defend the critical protections at the ballot, and Freedom for All Americans is proud to serve as a leading partner in this effort. Over the next two years, we will help illustrate how vital these protections are for transgender people – and how no one is hurt by their existence.

Michigan

The state of Michigan has one of the highest numbers of local LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination ordinances in the country – and now, residents in Jackson, Michigan are hopeful to become the next city to embrace full protections for all people.

M Live reports: “Thirty-three people, speaking for more than 45 minutes. Supporters ranged from lifelong Jackson residents to millennials so new to town they didn’t know their address. Black and white. Gay and straight. Religious and non-religious. All came in support of adopting a non-discrimination ordinance.”

More than 200 cities and towns across the nation in places without statewide non-discrimination laws have independently adopted these protections, signaling statewide and national momentum.


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