This week marked the start of the several-months-long legislative sessions in many states, including many in the South – and one overall trend is clear: Momentum for LGBTQ equality is growing.
We saw lawmakers in some states that have pushed divisive bills in recent years speak out against the need for anti-LGBTQ legislation. And in other states, decision-makers started moving forward on proactive efforts to end discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Here’s a look at some highlights from the week’s legislative sessions:
LGBTQ Virginians and their families are hopeful that 2019 is the year Republicans and Democrats come together to pass LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination protections in public employment and housing. With lawmakers back in Richmond, there is a real opportunity to make legislative gains in the state, and we’re grateful for Equality Virginia’s leadership. For the past three legislative sessions, the Republican-majority State Senate has passed both the Fair Housing Law to protect LGBTQ Virginians from discrimination in housing and legislation to curb discrimination in state and local government public employment.
Lawmakers gaveled in on January 8 in Texas, where the legislature only meets every other year. The two most recent legislative sessions in 2015 and 2017 were filled with anti-LGBTQ bills, including one similar to HB2 in North Carolina, but this year the tone is different: Many legislators have filed LGBTQ-supportive bills, including those seeking to end the debunked, torturous practice of “conversion therapy” for minors; those that would prohibit anti-LGBTQ discrimination; one that would remove homophobic language from the state’s Health Code; and others to increase attention to HIV and AIDS. Meanwhile, the new Speaker of the Texas House, Republican Dennis Bonnen, announced that passing legislation attacking transgender people and restricting their access to the restroom is not a priority.
The Georgia legislative session kicks off on January 14, this Monday. Ahead of gaveling in, the Speaker of the House in Georgia, David Ralston, denounced anti-LGBTQ legislation and warned decision-makers against advancing legislation that would grant businesses and individuals a broad license to discriminate. A similar bill passed in 2016 before being vetoed by Republican Gov. Nathan Deal. This week Ralston said, “I’m on record as being very concerned that that is a solution in search of a problem. I’m even more concerned that it’s the kind of issue that divides the state. I would just ask us to pause before we get into an issue that has the potential to tear at the fabric of the state.”
As Kentucky legislators returned to work on January 8, the Fairness Campaign in Kentucky announced that its LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination bill was introduced with a record number of sponsors in the House – 19! Fairness Campaign reports: “Led by Rep. Mary Lou Marzian (34-Louisville), the group of lawmakers is nearly double the size of last year’s sponsors, and for the first time, a state representative from outside Kentucky‘s 10 cities with LGBTQ Fairness Ordinances helped introduce the measure as a lead co-sponsor—Rep. Patti Minter (20-Bowling Green).”
As LGBTQ-supportive policies advance at the local level – including in Beckley, WV, where the community gathered for a powerful hearing on an LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance – supportive measures are also gaining steam in the state legislature: West Virginia lawmakers introduced legislation to establish protections from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Meanwhile, our friends in New York are gearing up efforts to finally pass the Gender Expression Nondiscrimination Act, which prohibits anti-transgender discrimination based on gender identity. State lawmakers returned to Albany for the year’s legislative session this week. Read more.