This Week in Nondiscrimination: History Made in VT and Steps Forward in PA & MS

By Shane Stahl • August 18, 2018 • 12:34 am

This week, we saw Christine Hallquist become the first-ever openly transgender person to win a major party’s gubernatorial nomination, allowing her to join three other openly LGBTQ candidates in governor’s races this fall. Additionally, the city of Clarksville, MS passed a comprehensive nondiscrimination ordinance, the third in the state to do so, and PA’s Human Rights Commission interpreted the state’s existing protections from discrimination based on “sex” to include sexual orientation and gender identity, meaning that LGBTQ people can seek recourse against discrimination for the first time. However, continued moves by the Trump administration continue to undermine LGBTQ rights nationwide, and an opportunity to extend employment discrimination protections in IL was vetoed. Here are stories you may have missed for the third week of August!

PENNSYLVANIA

LGBTQ Pennsylvanians at last have the ability to seek recourse in cases of discrimination, following the most recent actions of the state’s Human Rights Commission.

Last week, the commission issued new guidance and an expanded definition of “sex discrimination,” which will now include sexual orientation and gender identity. This is in line with a growing legal consensus nationwide that laws prohibiting discrimination based on “sex” – including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and Title IX of the Education Amendments – also prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Equality Pennsylvania Executive Director Chad Dion Lassiter said the move was a “long time coming.” He emphasized that while he respects opposing viewpoints and knows there’s been pushback, “it was the right thing for us to do as a commission.”

Although these cases may now be litigated on an individual basis, there are still currently no comprehensive statewide nondiscrimination protections in place to prevent LGBTQ people from being discrimination in housing, employment, or public accommodations. More than 50 cities in Pennsylvania have passed their own nondiscrimination ordinances, and though several attempts have been made in the state legislature, none have been successful thus far.

VERMONT

On Tuesday, August 14, Christine Hallquist made history, becoming the first ever transgender person to win a major party’s gubernatorial nomination when she proved victorious in her primary race, handily winning by a margin of over 20%. Hallquist, formerly the CEO of a Vermont electric cooperative, has run largely on a platform of improving the state’s energy infrastructure, climate change, and addressing the state’s burgeoning opioid crisis.

With her victory, Hallquist joins three other LGBTQ candidates in governor’s races this fall — openly gay man Jared Polis in Colorado, openly bisexual woman Kate Brown in Oregon, and openly lesbian woman Lupe Valdez in Texas. Each candidate would make history in their states if elected as the first full term LGBTQ governors in their respective states (Brown won a special election in 2016 to finish out the term of John Kitzhaber upon his resignation).

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

The U.S. Department of Labor issued a directive earlier this week that reversed existing rules prohibiting faith based companies who discriminated against LGBTQ people from earning government contracts. That 2014 Obama-era executive order  barred federal contractors — including faith based entities — from discriminating against workers on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The new DOL directive removed those rules, stating in part: “[the directive] supersedes any previous guidance…regarding religious employers and religious exemption.” Shortly after being issued, rules preventing faith-based companies from making religious exemptions disappeared from the department’s website. Acting Director Craig E. Leen of the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, the directive’s author, cited the recent Masterpiece Cakeshop Supreme Court decision, concerning a bakery that refused service to a same-sex couple, as basis for the new policy,. However, the Masterpiece decision was based on narrow procedural grounds that the state of Colorado’s Civil Rights Commission improperly had shown bias in their initial rulings against the bakery. This decision is only the latest in a series meant to undermine the freedoms of LGBTQ people nationwide.

MARYLAND

On Tuesday, a federal judge in Maryland continued a series of decisions against the Trump administration’s proposed transgender military ban, ruling that the administration cannot shield documents it used when deciding to implement the ban.

In the case of Stone, et al v. Trump, Judge A. David Copperthite’s decision stated in part that the documents would inevitably show whether the ban was for reasons germane to military operations or “purely for political and discriminatory purposes.”

The intended ban on transgender military service has been stayed by multiple courts due to the question of its constitutionality and discriminatory nature, and suits have been filed across the country challenging its legality. Due to these multiple stays, transgender troops were able to begin enlistment on January 1 of this year — a start-date decided by the previous Obama administration when they took action to lift an existing prohibition on transgender military service.

MISSISSIPPI

Clarksdale, MS this week became the third city in the state to pass a comprehensive nondiscrimination ordinance, after the city Board of Commissioners approved it at their August 14 meeting. Clarksville follows the cities of Jackson and Magnolia, who passed their own ordinances in 2016 and 2017, respectively.

“Clarksdale is a city that is welcoming and inclusive for all its residents, including our LGBTQ friends and neighbors,” said Mayor Chuck Espy. “We are glad to affirm this spirit of diversity and openness with this fully-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance. Thank you to the Board for standing up for fairness, equality and for our community.”

ILLINOIS

In a missed opportunity to advocate for LGBTQ residents of Illinois, Governor Bruce Rauner vetoed a bill, HB 4572, on Monday, August 13 that would have extended employment protections to LGBTQ workers in small businesses with 15 employees or less. The bill easily cleared the House and Senate earlier this year during legislative session.

“It’s frustrating to me to be honest with you,”  state Rep. Will Guzzardi said. “I thought that it was important to carry this legislation and show the people of this state that we’re fighting for them.” Last week, several advocacy groups signed an open letter to the Governor asking him to sign the legislation. Equality Illinois, the state’s leading LGBTQ advocacy group, said in a statement:

“ [The Governor] could have sent a powerful and unmistakable message that Illinois is best and strongest when state law protects all workers from discrimination. Instead, Gov. Rauner effectively said it is okay to discriminate in the workforce at thousands of Illinois businesses.”

The state’s current Human Rights Act does include employment protections for LGBTQ people in businesses over 15 employees.


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