Equality Making Waves in States Across the Nation

by HRC Staff

People standing in front of Maryland government building

As legislative sessions continue in state capitols across the country, HRC is tracking more than 110 anti-LGBTQ bills and more than 166 pro-equality bills introduced in state legislatures.

As legislative sessions continue in state capitols across the country, HRC is tracking more than 110 anti-LGBTQ bills and more than 166 pro-equality bills introduced in state legislatures.

Despite broad support for LGBTQ equality and the historic national win on marriage equality in 2015, some state lawmakers have continued to advance an anti-LGBTQ agenda. HRC’s 2017 State Equality Index tracked last year’s continued attacks on the LGBTQ community, monitoring 129 bills introduced in 30 states designed to restrict the rights of LGBTQ individuals and their families. And the attacks are continuing in 2018.

But we aren’t just on the defense, we’re also working to pass pro-equality bills across the country. With more than 166 pro-LGBTQ bills filed, we are working hard with our local partners to make sure we are gaining ground in our fight for LGBTQ equality.

Here are major updates from this week:

Iowa

Many public colleges and universities have long had “all-comers” policies that prohibit student organizations from discriminating against students based on race, sex, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity if they are receiving any support — financial or otherwise — from the institution. These policies are important because they allow all members of the student body to participate in student organizations and prevent such organizations from discriminating against students with the use of state funding. In 2010, the Supreme Court upheld these “all-comers” policies as constitutional in its Christian Legal Society v. Martinez decision. Iowa SF 2344 in part, undermines inclusive “all-comers” policies at Iowa public colleges and universities by allowing student organizations to discriminate against students under the guise of religion. In practice, this could involve a student organization turning away a range of potential members and leaders — from LGBTQ students to students of a particular gender, race or religious belief — yet still receive public funding. On March 7, the Iowa Senate Subcommittee on Education recommended passage of the bill.

Maryland

HRC is proud to have joined advocates from FreeState Justice this week to advocate for two important pieces of proposed legislation that seek to protect LGBTQ youth across Maryland. FreeState Justice brought together LGBTQ advocates to lobby in Annapolis in support of the Youth Mental Health Protection Act (HB 902 / SB 1028) and the Ending Youth Homelessness Act of 2018 (HB 1224 / SB 1218). The lobby day continued HRC’s session-long push to pass the Youth Mental Health Protection Act, which would protect LGBTQ youth from the dangerous and discredited practice of so-called “conversion therapy”. Both chambers of the Maryland legislature continue to consider this critical legislation. The Ending Youth Homelessness Act of 2018 seeks to establish a grant program to support homeless youth, addressing the overrepresentation of LGBTQ youth and youth of color experiencing homelessness.

New Hampshire

Last week was a momentous week for LGBTQ people and allies in New Hampshire. Not only were two dangerous anti-LGBTQ bills defeated, but an important bipartisan bill — HB 1319 — was passed in the House that would would add protections for gender identity into state law. The defeat of HB 1560 and HB 1532 signals important momentum for transgender equality in New Hampshire. HB 1560 sought to deny Medicaid funding for gender-affirming care and was voted down. HB 1532 would have prohibited gender affirmation surgery for minors, and was also defeated on March 6. On March 7, New Hampshire’s House of Representatives passed HB 1319. While New Hampshire law has explicitly prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in employment, housing and public accommodations since 1998, this bill would extend these critical safeguards from discrimination to include gender identity. The bill now moves to the New Hampshire Senate.

Oklahoma

On Tuesday, the Oklahoma Senate passed SB 1140 by a vote of 35-9. The bill would allow child welfare organizations -- including adoption and foster care agencies -- to turn away qualified Oklahomans seeking to care for a child in need, including LGBTQ couples, interfaith couples, single parents, married couples in which one prospective parent has previously been divorced, or other parents to whom the agency has a religious objection. The bill now goes to the House. HRC is also monitoring SB 197 which is scheduled for full Senate consideration. SB 197, as introduced, seeks to grant a sweeping license to discriminate under the guise of religion. If passed, almost any individual or taxpayer-funded organization could justify discrimination against LGBTQ people, single mothers, unwed couples and others.  On March 15, HRC staff will be on the ground with Freedom Oklahoma for an annual LGBTQ Lobby Day to lobby against SB 1140, SB 197 and other anti-LGBTQ bills targeting Oklahomans.

Tennessee

HRC and Tennessee Equality Project are watching several bills concerning LGBTQ people in Tennessee including SB 1943, HB 2620 and HB 54. Yesterday, SB 1943 failed in the Senate Judiciary by a 7-2 vote. SB 1943 would have added gender identity to the list of victim characteristics in hate crime as an enhancement factor in sentencing. Next week, HB 2620 and HB 54 will have subcommittee hearings in the the House Civil Justice and State Government, respectively. HB 2620 is an anti-transgender bill that would force the State Attorney General to defend anti-transgender policies in schools. HB 54 is a business license to discriminate bill that HRC strongly opposes and continues to monitor closely.

Texas

Last fall, Texas House Speaker Joe Straus appointed a House Select Committee on Economic Competitiveness, chaired by outgoing State Representative Byron Cook, and charged with outlining the principles that the Texas House believes should guide the state's pursuit of long-term economic growth. The committee concentrated on potential threats to the state's economy including: a labor shortage for middle-skilled jobs, inadequate funding for public education, outdated infrastructure and “manufactured social issues” considered by elected officials -- including anti-LGBTQ legislation such as the anti-transgender bill that dominated much of Texas’ legislative sessions in 2017.

The Committee’s final recommendations released on March 13 include a cautionary warning related directly to the consideration of discriminatory legislation -- including anti-LGBTQ bills -- last year. The recommendations state, “Future legislatures should… [avoid] legislation that distracts from critical priorities and is viewed by many as enabling discrimination against certain groups or classes of Texans. Texas policymakers must acknowledge warnings from leaders in the business community, academicians and law enforcement officials about the consequences of such discriminatory legislation to avoid endangering the state's successful economy.”