House Republicans block proposal to protect LGBTQ workers

Bill would prohibit discrimination on basis of sexual orientation, gender identity

By: - May 12, 2022 8:33 pm

Students protest a “Don’t Say Gay” proposal at the Florida Capitol on March 3, 2022. (Photo by Danielle J. Brown/Florida Phoenix)

Louisiana House Republicans blocked a proposal Thursday that would protect LGBTQ workers by making it illegal under state law for employers to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

House Bill 439, sponsored by Rep. Delisha Boyd, D-Algiers, failed on a party-line vote of 2-7 in the House Committee on Labor and Industrial Relations. Democrats voted in favor of the measure, while Republicans voted against it. 

As Boyd put it, the legislation would have prevented discrimination based on “who you love.”

“We should want to have as many of our Louisianians employed so they can pay into our economy, be homeowners, pay property taxes, sales taxes, etcetera,” Boyd said.

Rep. Dodie Horton, R-Haughton, spoke against Boyd’s bill. She has in the past referred to sexual orientation as a choice while sponsoring a “Don’t Say Gay” bill and has questioned the need to expand disability accommodations.

Horton said the bill was unnecessary because the state already prohibits discrimination based on sex. 

“I believe ‘sex,’ the term ‘sex’ is all encompassing,” Horton said, adding that “God created male and female.” 

Speaking in support of the bill, Natalie Elethorp, a coordinator with Louisiana Trans Advocates, told the committee she is currently in an employment discrimination dispute with Louisiana Tech University over her gender identity. Elethorp, whose Louisiana state-issued identification lists her as a female, said the university barred her from using a women’s bathroom on campus and had campus police threaten her with a fine for trespassing.

Elethorp said the university turned it into a bigger issue with the backing of a local prosecutor and the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office, and when she tried to settle the matter through informal talks, campus officials told her she could use the women’s bathroom only if she provided proof of her gender from a physician, she said.

Horton and Rep. Michael Echols, R-Monroe, left the committee room when Elethorp and other supporters of the trans community began to testify. The two lawmakers returned only after the trans advocates left the table.

Melissa Fluornoy with Louisiana Progress Action criticized the Legislature for trying to turn back the clock to some imagined era depicted by 1950s sitcoms. 

“We are in a community that’s rapidly changing and in a world that’s rapidly changing,” Fluornoy said, “and I fear that many people in our Legislature wish that we could go back to an imagined kinder gentler time of ‘Mayberry’ or the 1950s where everyone lived with a mother and a father in a nuclear family and a house with a two-car garage, that we didn’t have to deal with this messiness or uneasiness or change.”

Fluornoy said she has hired many LGBTQ people over the years and has found them to be talented, competent, effective and well-educated employees.

“The idea that we have to push people back into the closet or conform to some norm from a bygone era frustrates me,” she said. “Because I think we’re not acknowledging the skills, interests and abilities of so many terrific people in our community.”

No one spoke against the bill, and only one organization filed a card in opposition to it: Louisiana Family Forum, a conservative Christian group that opposes abortion and same-sex marriage.

Louisiana law, similar to the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, includes race, color, religion, sex and national origin as classes protected from employment discrimination, but it does not explicitly protect sexual orientation or gender identity.  

In a landmark 2020 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court expanded those federal protections to include sexual orientation and gender identity, reasoning that it is impossible to discriminate against a person for being homosexual without also discriminating against that individual based on sex.

The justices explained: “Consider, for example, an employer with two employees, both of whom are attracted to men…If the employer fires the male employee for no reason other than the fact he is attracted to men, the employer discriminates against him for traits or actions it tolerates in his female colleague. Put differently, the employer intentionally singles out an employee to fire based in part on the employee’s sex, and the affected employee’s sex is a but-for cause of his discharge.”

However, many progressives worry LGBTQ rights will become the next target for the Supreme Court’s new conservative majority.

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Wesley Muller
Wesley Muller

Wes Muller traces his journalism roots back to 1997 when, at age 13, he built and launched a hyper-local news website for his New Orleans neighborhood. In the years since then, he has freelanced for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans and worked on staff at the Sun Herald in Biloxi, WAFB-9News CBS in Baton Rouge, and the Enterprise-Journal in McComb, Mississippi. He also taught English as an adjunct instructor at Baton Rouge Community College. Much of his journalism has involved reporting on First Amendment issues and coverage of municipal and state government. He has received recognitions including McClatchy's National President's Award, the Associated Press Freedom of Information Award, and the Daniel M. Phillips Freedom of Information Award from the Mississippi Press Association, among others. Muller is a New Orleans native, a Jesuit High School alumnus, a University of New Orleans alumnus and a veteran U.S. Army paratrooper. He lives in Ponchatoula, Louisiana, with his two sons and his wife, who is also a journalist.

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