April 13, 2012
By Scottie Thomaston
Activists who have been pushing for a federal ban on anti-LGBT discrimination by contractors were informed this week that the order isn’t going to be signed by the president, despite reports that it has already been approved by the Labor and Justice departments, and despite the enormous coalition working to stress the need for it in the midst of the president’s so-called “We Can’t Wait” campaign targeting legislative inaction with administrative fixes. No one is happy, the anger is growing more intense, and White House press secretary Jay Carney faced a barrage of intense questions at the briefing yesterday. More pressure is expected in the coming months.
Meanwhile, some states and cities are progressing on the antidiscrimination front, even in strongly conservative areas in the South.
In Tennessee this week, Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero announced that she is introducing a non-discrimination ordinance in the city to protect city government employees from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The ordinance is up for its first reading on April 17 and a second one later before its passage.
This is a huge win for equality in any conservative state, but it’s even more thrilling in Tennessee. People in the state who are LGBT have been dealing with a huge amount of terribly offensive legislation specifically designed to attack members of the community in a mean-spirited, nasty way. Tennessee’s General Assembly has proposed everything from a bill to restrict teaching about gays and lesbians (Don’t Say Gay) which is still on the calendar, while other bills like the anti-transgender “bathroom bill” was withdrawn quickly due to immediate national outrage. Just in the past few days, the state senate has approved a bill suggesting that hand holding is a gateway sexual activity.
And of course, while the ordinance appears to be fairly limited – it only affects city government employees – it’s only so limited because of the law passed last year stripping antidiscrimination protections from cities and localities – which applies to everyone except city government employees. That law, called HB600, got national attention when, after state LGBT organizations had fought hard to keep the bill from being passed, national LGBT bloggers noticed and launched campaigns to stop it and later to punish its supporters. It earned a recent repeal attempt by state senator Jim Kyle, but unfortunately that bill failed to make it out of committee. Still, the fact that cities in Tennessee are still making efforts to fight anti-LGBT discrimination and state legislators are fighting so hard to repeal HB600 is a testament to how hard organizations promoting LGBT equality in southern states are willing to work to protect our LGBT brothers and sisters.
In Maryland, a non-discrimination ordinance was approved in Baltimore earlier this year, to add protections for people who are transgender. An attempt was made to get the law repealed by the voters, but it’s being reported that the attempt failed. Signatures of three per cent of voters in the county were unable to be obtained, paving the way for the ordinance to become law, and it did on April 9.
The struggles in southern or red states can be much different and much more limited than the ones in other states. Typically we’re playing defense, fighting a marriage amendment or another odious law that is supported by many state legislators even when its only purpose is to target and hurt people and families and children who are LGBT. Victories like this don’t come often and we mostly lose more than we gain in the reddest areas. But even though we have to fight much harder and over a long period of time we’re in this to win equality and so we keep on.