This Week in LGBT Non-Discrimination: Big Steps Forward in Missouri, Louisiana and South Carolina

By Adam Polaski • April 30, 2016 • 8:04 am

We’re nearing the end of legislative sessions in many states this month, and as they draw to a close, we’re seeing continued momentum in favor of LGBT non-discrimination protections – and against anti-LGBT proposals.

Just this week, we celebrated the hopeful death knell of anti-LGBT measures in Missouri and South Carolina. And in Massachusetts, we got a clearer sense of timeline for a bill extending full non-discrimination protections for transgender people. Unfortunately, the governor of Tennessee also signed a discriminatory anti-LGBT bill into law, even as thousands continue to stoke an unprecedented backlash to anti-LGBT laws in North Carolina and Mississippi.

Take a look at what happened with LGBT non-discrimination this week in states across the country:

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Missouri

On April 27, the House Emerging Issues Committee in Missouri did NOT advance the anti-LGBT SJR-39, which would place a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot allowing small businesses and individuals to refuse services to LGBT Missourians. This marks a huge step forward for the state – and we thank the members of this committee for standing up, searching their hearts, and doing the right thing.

Just before the vote, Republican Rep. Jim Hansen delivered moving comments about why he must vote against SJR-39. “I don’t need a law that tells me I can be a Christian,” he said, through tears. “This law is asking me to play God. I have family in this situation, but I love them as a Christian.”

Cheers to everyone who worked so hard to fight against SJR-39, including our partners atPROMO Missouri and the ACLU of Missouri. Their hard work has paid off in this great step forward – and we’ll be keeping our eye on the bill throughout this legislative session.

South Carolina

This week lawmakers in South Carolina demonstrated that they are clearly learning from the mistakes of their neighbors in North Carolina. House Bill 1203, a bill that sought to deny access to restrooms and other sex-segregated facilities to transgender people, will not advance this year. Lawmakers in South Carolina headed home for the weekend on Thursday, spelling the end of the anti-transgender bill. The move comes after hundreds, including advocates at South Carolina Equality, the Campaign for Southern Equality, and Gender Benders, rallied in front of the SC Capitol last month.

By doing the right thing and not advancing the anti-transgender HB 1203, South Carolina lawmakers are smartly rejecting the path of North Carolina leaders and instead following in the footsteps of lawmakers in Wisconsin, South Dakota, and Tennessee, in which bills banning restroom use have all failed or been rejected this year.

Tennessee

On Wednesday, Tennessee Governor Haslam signed into law a religious refusal bill that will allow counselors to refuse helping patients due to a “sincerely held religious belief.” When the bill advanced out of committee, Freedom for All Americans Executive Director Matt McTighe explained, “No one should be denied important mental health care services or the right to use the restroom just because of who they are.”

A separate anti-LGBT bill, one that would have prohibited transgender Tennesseeans from using public restrooms in schools, did not advance this year.

Massachusetts

On Friday, news broke that the Joint Committee on the Judiciary in Massachusetts will vote to advance #TransBillMA (HB 1577/SB 735), which would extend full non-discrimination protections to transgender Bay Staters in public spaces.

This is the first definitive action state lawmakers have taken to extend these protections since a hearing last October and bodes well for the prospect of the bill, which the Senate president has already said will tentatively vote on the legislation on May 12. With forward motion like never before, Freedom Massachusetts – the statewide coalition working toward passage of the bill, which Freedom for All Americans is proud to lead and support – is firing on all cylinders to demonstrate huge, unanimous support for the measure statewide.

North Carolina

On Monday, April 25, legislators from the North Carolina General Assembly returned to work for the short legislative session – with all eyes on lawmakers and the national and statewide pressure to repeal House Bill 2, the law passed in March to knock down local LGBT non-discrimination protections and codify prohibitions for transgender people from using public restrooms.

State organizations and activists rallied in full force on Monday, with several activists being arrested, including Mara Keisling of the National Center for Transgender Equality. Meanwhile, public awareness of HB2 became more prominent and high-profile than ever. Last Friday President Obama weighed in on the disastrous HB2 while visiting the United Kingdom, saying the law and others like it should be overturned. NASCAR released a statement condemning anti-LGBT discrimination. And the Board of Governors of the NCAA voted on a new rule requiring cities wishing to host or bid on NCAA events to demonstrate how they will “provide an environment that is safe, healthy, and free of discrimination.”

There’s only one way to fix the mess that HB2 has brought on for North Carolina: Full, unequivocal repeal of the shameful law.

Mississippi

Backlash also continued to grow in Mississippi to HB1523, a broad religious refusal bill that allows any business or individual to legally cite their religious beliefs as an excuse to discriminate against same-sex couples who marry, transgender people, and anyone who has sex outside of marriage.

Two former governors of Mississippi condemned the law last weekend, saying that it is a disaster for economic growth in the state. The NCAA decision from this week also jeopardizes big revenue and prestige for Mississippi – the state could be in the running to host three baseball regionals, including Mississippi State, Southern Miss and Ole Miss. But with the anti-LGBT law on the books, all of those bids to host are now endangered.

Louisiana

Louisiana lawmakers took an important step forward this week, taking a stand for LGBT-inclusive employment non-discrimination protections. On Thursday, April 28, the Senate Labor Committee voted 4-2 in favor of SB436, a bill to ensure that no one faces employment discrimination in Louisiana based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

This is the first time ever that a positive bill calling for LGBT non-discrimination protections has advanced in Louisiana. The bill now heads to the Senate floor.

Washington

This week in Washington state, a broad coalition of law enforcement officers, clergy members, businesses leaders, transgender Washingtonians and their families came together to form Washington Won’t Discriminate, which will work over the next few months to urge voters to oppose I-1515.

The I-1515 ballot initiative seeks to repeal Washington’s non-discrimination protections that, for 10 years, have helped to ensure that transgender Washingtonians are protected from discrimination at work, at home, and in public spaces. Check out photos and more from the launch of Washington Won’t Discriminate here.


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