The battle for LGBTQ rights in 2016 was a long, hard slog, with North Carolina at the center of the fight, after the passage of House Bill 2. However, 2017 looks to be even worse.
The Republican Party had a strong election, sweeping Donald Trump into office and ensuring that more states will have GOP single-party control in the House, Senate and governor’s office.
As the Human Rights Campaign notes in their recently released report “Preview 2017: Pro-Equality and Anti-LGBTQ State and Local Legislation,” Republicans gained control of the Iowa Senate, the Missouri governor’s office and the Kentucky House of Representatives.
As with last year, most anti-LGBTQ legislation is expected to crop up in the South.
In 2016, out of more than 200 bills introduced, just eight passed both legislative chambers and only five became law. With the change in power dynamics, however, it will be harder to stop these pieces of legislation from reaching that final stage and passing into law.
There are fights brewing at every level.
On the national level, all eyes are on a possible President Donald Trump executive order allowing for “religious freedom”-style discrimination against the LGBTQ community and the possibility of Congress passing the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA), which would do likewise.
Both would allow for discrimination in areas such as private business, healthcare, employment and housing, so long as the individual doing the discriminating cites a religious motivation for their refusal of goods and services.
Trump has pledged to sign FADA into law should it pass Congress, and it is expected to be introduced soon. Trump’s nomination for Attorney General, Sen. Jeff Sessions, recently defended the legislation in a back-and-forth with Sen. Al Franken.
Sources close to the situation, speaking on condition of anonymity, told LGBTQ Nation that the administration was considering a sweeping “religious freedom” executive order, of which was raised by a reporter from the Washington Blade at a White House press conference. Press Secretary Sean Spicer dodged the question.
The White House was then forced to answer the question put to it by NBC News, at which point a spokesperson said such an order was not the “plan at this time.” This was followed by an official White House press statement that pledged not to overturn Former President Barack Obama’s executive order protecting federal employees from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. However the statement did not rule out a possible “religious freedom” executive order.
Trump spoke at length about the importance of religious liberty and freedom while speaking at the National Prayer Breakfast on Feb. 2, where he also said he would work to “destroy” the Johnson Amendment, which prevents religious institutions from helping or hurting a political party or candidate.
A leaked draft of what is said to be a proposed “religious freedom” executive order, which is reported to be floating around federal offices in Washington, D.C., was published by The Nation.
Meanwhile, states are also introducing legislation to expand legalized discrimination against the LGBTQ community.
The National Conference of State Legislatures reports, as of press time, in the 2017 legislative session 12 states have introduced so-called “bathroom bills,” limiting access to public facilities by transgender and gender non-conforming individuals. Ten are pending, with bills in South Dakota and Virginia having failed.
Legislation is still pending in the following states: Alabama, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Virginia, Washington and Wyoming.
“While the Northeast and mid-Atlantic should remain fairly quiet legislatively, and a few anti-LGBTQ bills may be seen in the Dakotas and Plains states, RFRA [Religious Freedom Restoration Act], FADA, local preemption and anti-transgender legislation is expected to be widely seen across the South, with significant concerns being raised in Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia,” HRC reports. “In fact, in these and other states, more than two dozen bills are already on the docket for consideration, and there is no doubt there will be more as the sessions progress.”
The Texas legislature meets only in odd-numbered years, and they will be in session in 2017, and it is already looking dismal for LGBTQ rights in the Lone Star State.
“With bill filing well under way in the state, it is clear they expect to take up religious refusals, anti-transgender legislation and more in a big way during 2017,” HRC reports. “When last they met in 2015, Texas lawmakers introduced 23 anti-LGBTQ bills, and anti-LGBTQ politicians like Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick have been crisscrossing the state ever since promising more.”
On a more positive note, there are some pro-LGBTQ pieces of legislation which could see the light of day in some states.
“Leaders in New Hampshire and New York will continue to consider whether to add gender identity to their state non-discrimination statutes. Legislators in California, with a Democratic supermajority, are expected to remain on the cutting edge of passing laws protecting LGBTQ people,” according to HRC. “In Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota and Ohio legislators will again be presented with the opportunity to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the state nondiscrimination laws, while in Colorado, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Mexico and Rhode Island consideration could be given to laws protecting minors from harmful conversion therapy.”