This Week in LGBTQ Nondiscrimination: Legislative Sessions and Campaigns Wind Down, But Bad Bills Still Alive

By Shane Stahl • April 1, 2018 • 12:27 pm

This week in nondiscrimination, as state legislative sessions begin to wind down, we’ve seen anti-LGBTQ legislation die, but also several other bills are still on the move that could negatively affect LGBTQ people in their respective states. In addition, the campaign to defend nondiscrimination protections in Anchorage, AK will come to a head on Tuesday night, the deadline for ballots to be submitted, and national media picks up Massachusetts as the next battleground for transgender rights. Here’s Freedom for All Americans’ roundup for the final week of March:

OKLAHOMA

A bill that would allow both private and publicly funded adoption agencies to discriminate against LGBTQ couples and individuals has passed through the state Senate.

By a vote of 35-9, the Oklahoma Senate advanced SB 1140 to the House Judiciary Committee. The legislation would allow agencies to claim a moral or religious exemption when placing a child, opening the door to discrimination against LGBTQ people.

Freedom Oklahoma is working to mobilize people to contact their legislators and voice their opposition to the bill. Visit their website here for more details.

ALASKA

Fair Anchorage, the campaign to defend existing municipal nondiscrimination protections for transgender people in Alaska’s largest city, will wind down as that city’s special election day approaches on April 3.

The existing nondiscrimination protections have been in effect since 2015, with no uptick in safety incidents or other negative impacts. A ballot initiative known as Proposition 1 was introduced in 2017, seeking to repeal these protections.

Throughout 2017 to the present, Fair Anchorage has mobilized strong coalitions representing a variety of demographics, from business owners and faith leaders to safety and children’s advocates, to speak out against Proposition 1 and its discriminatory nature.

Just this past week, over 110 people and organizations, including several prominent Republicans, announced their formal opposition to the ballot initiative. They join previous entities who have stood against Prop 1, the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce and the Anchorage Education Association among them.

The campaign has a series of events planned in the final days leading up to Election Day. Visit their website here for more details.

COLORADO

Colorado lawmakers voted down a bill on March 27 that would have allowed businesses to claim religious and moral exemptions, paving the way for them to discriminate against LGBTQ people.

House Bill 1206 was killed after several hours of emotional testimony from both sides of the aisle that debated religious freedom versus civil rights for the LGBTQ community.

The argument mirrors that of the Masterpiece Supreme Court case which originated in the Centennial State, involving a baker who refused service to a same sex couple because of his religious beliefs. The Court heard oral arguments in December and a decision is expected before summer. 

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Stephen Humphrey, said he wanted to protect people who act on their sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions.

David Mullins, who offered testimony in opposition to the bill, said:

“This bill claims to protect religious freedom but it does no such thing. This bill seeks to create a world that frees anybody from having to interact with or tolerate LGBT people in any meaningful way.”

The state’s legislative session will wrap up at the end of May this year.

MASSACHUSETTS

This week, nationally acclaimed online publication Politico spotlighted the Bay State as the next national battleground for transgender rights in advance of the state’s 2018 election, where voters will decide if existing nondiscrimination protections will remain law.

The article highlights that even though the state has voted traditionally liberal, there are strong conservative pockets that have helped elect GOP governors and other state officials.

“We are confident in Massachusetts voters, but we take nothing for granted,” said Kasey Suffredini, co-chair of Freedom for All Massachusetts (and Freedom For All Americans President of Strategy), which supported the law’s passage in 2016 and is now at work defending it this November. “The high-profile defeat in a similar fight in Houston in 2015 showed us that our opponents will lie to voters to make them uncomfortable with transgender people, and that tactic can win.”

Freedom For All Massachusetts is establishing strong coalitions and mobilizing voters ahead of the November 2018 vote, with supporters varying from small business owners to major sports teams such as the Boston Red Sox and Boston Celtics. Visit their website to learn more details.

TENNESSEE

A controversial piece of legislation that would require the state’s attorney general to defend school districts accused of transgender discrimination passed through the House Civil Justice  Committee on Tuesday by a vote of 7-4.

The bill would also allow the AG to approve funds for private attorneys to defend districts named in discrimination lawsuits or complaints. Governor Bill Haslam has stated he is opposed to the legislation.

The Tennessee Equality Project and ACLU-Tennessee later condemned the measure with state ACLU Executive Director Hedy Weinberg saying the bill “encourages school districts to discriminate against transgender students and then allows the State Attorney General to use taxpayer dollars to defend these discriminatory practices.”

Previous legislative efforts to prevent transgender students from using the bathrooms that correspond to their gender identity were defeated in 2016 and 2017. The bill will now move to the House Finance Committee for consideration.

GEORGIA

The Georgia legislature adjourned on Thursday, March 29, without advancing a dangerous anti-LGBTQ adoption bill that would have allowed publicly-funded and private adoption agencies to refuse to place children with LGBTQ people by claiming a religious or moral exemption.

HB 375 passed out of a Senate committee on February 20, and advanced out of the full Senate three days later, but since then languished in the House. House Judiciary Committee chairman Wendell Willard had stated he would not bring the bill up for consideration, but the possibility of the language being added to another bill remained.

Georgia Unites Against Discrimination led efforts to oppose the bill, starting in 2017. Several high profile legislators and entertainment figures spoke out in opposition to the legislation, and the group also highlighted the possibility of the Peach State losing its bid for Amazon’s second world headquarters, which would be an initial $5 billion investment.


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