This Week in Non-Discrimination: Historic Hearings, Bipartisan Support Grows, and Combatting More Bad Bills

By Shane Stahl • February 2, 2018 • 5:28 pm

This week in non-discrimination, historic hearings were held in Ohio and New Hampshire concerning non-discrimination legislation. If both bills advance out of committee, this would provide the opportunity for both states to codify the protections into law and fully protect all LGBTQ people from discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodations.

We also saw bipartisan support regarding equal protections, from Republicans in Florida to Joe Kennedy III in his State of the Union response. Unfortunately, this week also saw two anti-LGBTQ bills introduced in West Virginia and Iowa, respectively. Here is our roundup for January 29-February 2.

NEW HAMPSHIRE

On January 31, House Bill 1319, known across the state as #TransBillNH, was heard in committee at the New Hampshire Statehouse. Hundreds gathered before the hearing to show their support of the legislation, with many holding signs imploring the legislators to pass the legislation.

HB 1319 would update the Granite State’s existing non-discrimination law to include protections for transgender people in housing, employment, and public accommodations; sexual orientation discrimination is already prevented in these areas.

As an increasing number of people made their way to chambers for the hearing, it needed to be moved to a bigger venue. Even then, due to the number of people wishing to give testimony, the hearing was temporarily postponed and rescheduled to continue next week to allow all testifiers to be heard.

The legislation has broad bipartisan support, as well as the endorsement of important legislative groups including the Children’s Caucus and the Libertarian Caucus, who unexpectedly announced their support at the hearing. Governor Chris Sununu has also indicated he is ready to move forward with the bill, after creating a special task force in December charged with investigating how to prevent discrimination, including that against transgender people.

Freedom for All Americans is proud to be a leading and founding member of Freedom New Hampshire, the campaign to secure full protections for transgender people in the Granite State. Freedom New Hampshire staff and several members of the FFAA States Action Team were in Concord to support at the hearing. Click here for a full recap of the big day.

OHIO

For the first time in history, a comprehensive non-discrimination bill including protections for LGBTQ people received a second hearing in the Ohio legislature. HB 160, also known as the Ohio Fairness Act, was submitted by Rep. Nickie Antonio late last year and assigned to the Government Accountability and Oversight Committee.

On Wednesday, the hearing occurred at the Statehouse in Columbus, and was attended in such high numbers that overflow rooms needed to be opened to accommodate all who wished to be part of the event. In all, 17 people testified from various walks of life, including business owners, LGBTQ families, transgender Ohioans, and the head of the Ohio Civil Rights Commission.

The legislation, for the first time, has the endorsement of the highly influential Ohio Chamber of Commerce; a coalition of over 200 businesses known as Ohio Business Competes has also pledged their support. Governor John Kasich has also gone on record as being supportive of a non-discrimination bill.

The Ohio Fairness Act would update existing Ohio civil rights laws to include protections for LGBTQ people in housing, employment, and public accommodations. Freedom for All Americans attended the hearing and provided live updates, alongside our partners at Equality Ohio. Click here for a full recap of the hearing.  

FLORIDA

The Florida Competitive Workforce Act (FCWA), which would update Florida’s existing 1992 Civil Rights Law to include protections for LGBTQ people in housing, employment, and public accommodations, saw a strong showing of bipartisan support as the number of Republican endorsers grew to 18 this week. Overall, 40% of the entire Florida legislature is supportive of the FCWA, including 56% of the freshman class of lawmakers.

Florida Competes, the coalition of over 300 businesses in support of LGBTQ non-discrimination protections, has worked consistently to make the business case for amending the existing law — the lack of comprehensive protections, the coalition argues, makes the state less competitive for business, as well as recruiting and retaining top workforce talent. 2018 marks the second year that the FCWA has been introduced in the legislature.

MASSACHUSETTS

On Tuesday evening, January 27, Rep. Joe Kennedy III of Massachusetts delivered the Democratic response to President Trump’s State of the Union address after being chosen by his party.

Days before the speech, Kennedy announced that he would be bringing transgender Army veteran Sgt. Patricia King as his special guest to the State of the Union, as a symbol of transgender soldiers’ dedication to the military. “I want her to be there as a real person, and the face of an inhumane policy,” Kennedy said.

In July 2017, Trump declared that transgender people should be banned from serving in the armed forces, and shortly thereafter signed an executive order putting the policy in place. Currently, a stay has been issued on the ban by a federal court after several appeals were filed by leading LGBTQ groups around the country.

In his speech, Rep. Kennedy expressed strong support for LGBTQ Americans, and explained that fair-minded Americans can support many things at once, including dignity and equal treatment for LGBTQ people.

“As if the parent who lies awake terrified that their transgender son will be beaten and bullied at school is any more or less legitimate than the parent whose heart is shattered by a daughter in the grips of opioid addiction. Here is the answer Democrats offer tonight: we choose both. We fight for both. Because the greatest, strongest, richest nation in the world shouldn’t leave anyone behind.”

IOWA

On January 31, Iowa House Republicans introduced a bill that would protect businesses and schools who choose to limit transgender people’s access to the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity.  

House Bill 2164 would rewrite Iowa’s existing statewide non-discrimination protections, which have been in effect since 2006. Proponents of the bill are using widely discredited, anti-transgender arguments in their public support of the legislation, and fair-minded Iowans should see through this blatant attempt to discriminate.

The legislation is supported by a dozen House Republicans as well as the conservative organization The Family Leader, which has pushed discriminatory anti-LGBTQ policies often in the past. But a key committee chairman said the issue is unlikely to survive a looming legislative deadline.

“We’ve got several hundred bills assigned to Judiciary, and we’re going to be looking at all of them,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Zach Nunn, a Republican. He noted that he has limited time to advance legislation out of his committee. “At this point, I don’t see that (bill) being in the top tier.”

“This is an answer in search of a problem,” said Aime Wichtendahl, the state’s first openly transgender elected official and a member of the Hiawatha City Council.

“The gender identity protection in the Civil Rights Act has been included for more than a decade,” she said. “Has there been a problem of people harassing women in the bathrooms since then? No. This is simply a tactic for people who will use any excuse they can to harass and intimidate us out of public life.”

WEST VIRGINIA

On Tuesday, January 27, a bill passed the House of Delegates by a vote of 90-5 that would give legal protections to religious clergymen who decline to affirm marriages that conflict with their religious beliefs. The bill shields clergymen like priests, rabbis or imams from legal liability if they refuse to solemnize a marriage that contradicts their “sincerely held religious beliefs.”

Delegate Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, accused the legislation’s supporters of pandering to voters as an election season draws near, citing a lack of evidence of a problem for the bill to solve, and that the bill repeats protections that already exist and is a waste of time.

Delegate John Kelly, R-Wood, said the bill affirms a simple constitutional principle of the free exercise of religion, and there’s no reason to oppose it.

“A no vote would be a vote against the constitution,” he said.

The legislation now moves to the Senate for a floor vote.


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