This Week in Nondiscrimination: Momentum Continues in AK & NH and Bad Bills Surge in OK & TN

By Shane Stahl • March 16, 2018 • 3:58 pm

This week in nondiscrimination, we saw a ruling in favor of a transgender student in Maryland regarding his access to the boys’ bathroom, in addition to continued momentum in Alaska and New Hampshire, where nondiscrimination protections for transgender people are at the forefront of the statewide conversation. Louisiana saw legislation expanding employment protections, while Oklahoma’s state senate passed a discriminatory adoption bill, and anti-transgender bills look to be brought in the Tennessee legislature in the coming weeks. Here’s our roundup of news regarding LGBTQ non-discrimination for the week of March 11:

LOUISIANA

Louisiana’s Senate Labor Committee voted on Wednesday, March 14, to advance SB 219 to the full Senate, which would extend the state’s nondiscrimination employment laws to protect people based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and age.

Enacting the law would make it illegal for most employers to fire someone or refuse to hire someone because they are gay or transgender, with limited exceptions based on religion and other special circumstances.

The bill was previously submitted in the 2017 legislative session, where it was voted down 11-24. If it were to pass the Senate, it would move on to the House.

OKLAHOMA

On Tuesday, March 13, the Oklahoma state senate passed SB 1140, which would allow both private and taxpayer-funded adoption agencies to discriminate against LGBTQ couples and indviduals by claiming religious or moral exemptions when considering child placement.

Marty Rouse, national field director for Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement:

“If lawmakers in Oklahoma truly wanted to help find permanent homes for the children in the child welfare system, they wouldn’t be focusing on narrowing the pool of potential parents, which only hurts those kids.”

The legislation is virtually identical to Georgia’s HB 375, which would also allow religious and moral exemptions when it comes to foster and adoptive parents.

“We will continue to fight SB 1140 in the House, we will fight it in the court of public opinion, and we will fight it all the way to the Supreme Court, if we have to,” said Troy Stevenson, executive director of Freedom Oklahoma. “Discrimination is not the Oklahoma Standard, and we will not let it become so.”

MARYLAND

A federal judge on Tuesday ruled in favor of a transgender student whose school denied him access to the locker room that corresponds to his gender identity. The case was filed by FreeState Justice, with co-counsel from the ACLU and ACLU of Maryland.

Max Brennan, who attends St. Michael’s Middle-High School, was barred from the boys locker and forced to use a gender neutral changing room, which often caused him to choose between being late to his gym class or penalized for not changing.

U.S. District Judge George L. Russell III wrote that Maryland’s constitution prohibits public schools from excluding transgender students from using the same facilities as their non-transgender classmates:

“[The policy] does not apply to anyone else at the high school, and marks him as different for being transgender,” the judge wrote in a 40-page opinion.

Brennan said in a statement:

“I am hopeful that this case will not only help change policy for the better but help the students who are bound to come after me. It is a step in the right direction.”

NEW HAMPSHIRE

The momentum to pass nondiscrimination legislation that would protect transgender people in housing, employment, and public accommodations continued this week with a powerful letter from a police chief in the Granite State.

HB 1319 has been passed through the House, and is now up for consideration in the Senate. The legislation would add transgender people to the state’s already existing civil rights la.

Police chief Thomas Wyman’s letter, featured in The Laconia Daily Sun, spoke to his experience as the father of a transgender child, and how protections for transgender people are not a public safety concern.

“As Sandwich police chief, my job is to protect my community and to make all of my residents and visitors to my community feel safe. HB-1319 is about respect, fairness and equity and in our community — I say equity because we need to invest in all of our citizens. Everyone deserves to feel safe and protected in their communities, including transgender people.”

“All parents want their kids to be safe, happy, and successful. HB-1319 will ensure that my son can live his life free from the fear of discrimination.”

The bill awaits a Senate vote, after passing the House by a vote of 194-129.

TENNESSEE

An anti-transgender bathroom is poised to make a return to legislative committee after being killed in the 2017 session.

A discussion about legislation that would prevent transgender people from using the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity was held this week in the House Civil Justice Subcommittee, but the number of votes required to pass legislation onto the full governing body were not secured; the hearing was rescheduled for March 21.

Additionally, a bill that would give businesses the right to discriminate against LGBTQ based on religious beliefs (a Religious Freedom Restoration Act, or RFRA) has been calendared for discussion in the State Government Subcommittee on March 21 as well.

LGBTQ advocates are planning on attending both hearings, scheduled in the Cordell Hall building in downtown Nashville. For more information, click here to visit our partners at the Tennessee Equality Project.

ALASKA

Fair Anchorage, the campaign to defend nondiscrimination protections already in place for transgender people, this week released an ad from a prominent safety advocate, making the case that affording transgender people dignity is not a public safety risk.

Keeley Olson, executive director of Standing Together Against Rape (STAR), the city’s largest group serving victims of sexual violence, states in the ad that transgender people using the bathrooms that correspond to their gender identity is not an issue of public safety, but an issue of respect.

While sexual violence is indeed an issue in Anchorage, Olson debunks the fear-mongering behind Proposition 1 to state clearly: “Ensuring dignity for transgender people is not a threat to public safety.” In the two years since Anchorage has ensured basic protections for transgender people, there has been zero uptick in public safety incidents.

Olson’s ad is the latest in a series of spots put forward by the campaign; other have featured faith leaders, women of Anchorage, and a family with a transgender son. Voters in Anchorage have already received their ballots for the vote-by-mail municipal election, which will conclude on April 3


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