This Week in Non-Discrimination: A Settlement, a Launch, and Victories in Legislatures

By Shane Stahl • January 12, 2018 • 5:46 pm

This week in LGBTQ non-discrimination, advances in state legislatures continue to provide momentum for non-discrimination laws across the country. In addition, Washington state moves to protect transgender students, New Hampshire’s campaign to enact non-discrimination protections for transgender Granite Staters kicks off, and a settlement is reached in the case of a transgender male student in Wisconsin denied access to the men’s restroom.

See all of the updates from the latest edition of This Week in LGBTQ Non-Discrimination below:

FLORIDA:

The 2018 legislative session kicked off in Florida, where legislators have introduced the Competitive Workforce Act – bipartisan legislation that would update the state’s Civil Rights Act to include nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people in employment, housing and public accommodations. The bill has already garnered the cosponsorship of 44% of Florida lawmakers in a Republican-controlled legislature, marking significant support among conservative legislators. The bill also has the support of more than 450 small and large businesses working together through the Florida Competes coalition, including 11 Fortune 500 companies.

GEORGIA:

On the afternoon of Wednesday, January 10, the Georgia Senate Judiciary Committee passed a critical adoption bill by a vote of 8-2 that will update the state’s adoption and foster care systems; most importantly, the bill does not contain any discriminatory language. Last year, anti-LGBTQ legislators had attached so called “poison pill” amendments to the bill, which would have allowed state agencies to discriminate against LGBTQ people when it came to placing a child in the home. In response, thousands of Georgians spoke out, and a group of several national child welfare agencies penned a letter to the legislature opposing the discriminatory amendments. Ultimately, that bill failed to get to the floor for a vote. In 2018, Georgia has the chance to pass this much-needed legislation without discriminating against the LGBTQ community.

MASSACHUSETTS:

In November, the people of Massachusetts will go to the ballot to defend the Bay State’s existing non-discrimination protections for transgender people. Freedom For All Massachusetts, the statewide campaign coordinating the effort, this week welcomed campaign manager Phil Sherwood onboard. Sherwood brings more than 17 years’ experience in public and legislative affairs and campaign management. With his hire, the campaign stands at eight full-time staff working on communications, coalition-building, and field efforts in key regions of the state, and has opened a campaign office in Boston.

NEW HAMPSHIRE:

HB 1319, a bill that would add non-discrimination protections in housing, employment, and public accommodations for transgender people, was scheduled for a hearing before the Judiciary Committee on January 31. Support for the bill is strongly bipartisan, and when it was first introduced last year, over 179 lawmakers stood in favor; ultimately, the bill did not make it through the House. This latest version of the bill has already received influential endorsements from the legislative Children’s Caucus and the Portsmouth Herald. Additionally, Governor Chris Sununu has formed a task force to specifically investigate discrimination, including anti-transgender discrimination.

Freedom New Hampshire, the effort to pass comprehensive non-discrimination protections for transgender people in the Granite State, will officially kick off its campaign on Wednesday, January 17 with a press conference at the Legislative Office Building in Concord. Featured speakers include transgender elected official Gerri Cannon and HB 1319 lead sponsor, Ed Butler (D-Hart’s Location).

WASHINGTON:

The influential Greater Seattle Business Association this week endorsed Senate Bill 5766, which would update the state’s existing laws preventing bullying, harassment, and intimidation against students to specifically include transgender students. This is a further effort by the state to show support for non-discrimination against transgender people; in 2006, statewide protections were enacted to prevent anti-transgender discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodations. Passage of SB 5766 would direct all Washington school to enact transgender protection policies, following guidance published by the state’s School Directors Association.

TENNESSEE:

As the legislative session began this week, Rep. Gerald McCormick introduced HB 1488, which would direct either the state’s Attorney General to defend schools accused of anti-transgender discrimination, or offer state financial help to school districts facing legal action over such discrimination. McCormick says his bill would protect rural districts who may not have the funding to engage in such legal actions. However, opponents including the Tennessee Equality Project have debated the bill’s constitutionality, as well as noted that it would be extremely costly for that state. House Minority Leader Mike Stewart said in a statement: “I’ve just not met a single educator or real person who cares about this bathroom issue.”

WISCONSIN:

This week the parties involved in Whitaker v. Kenosha Unified School District – Kenosha Unified School District in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and Ash Whitaker, a transgender student who graduated in 2017, reached a settlement agreement. The settlement brings an end to the case, which the school district had appealed to the United States Supreme Court. Ash is represented by the Transgender Law Center.

In May 2017 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit issued a first-of-its-kind decision in the Whitaker case, finding that anti-transgender discrimination amounted to sex discrimination, which is prohibited by Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. The appellate court also found that the school district’s policy barring Ash, a transgender man, from using the men’s restroom at school, violated the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.


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