Monday, May 15, 2017

Rolling back LGBT rights

  Less than 48 hours after election day, Kyle Chester and Corey Hurley found a note taped to their front door. Scrawled on a piece of notebook paper, someone had written: “TRUMP is our president now! Get out of our neighborhood now faggots!”

  There were at least 95 separate incidents in which LGBT people experienced hate like this in just the first 10 days after the election. In West Virginia, LGBT people were the targets in one of every six bias-related incidents reported to us during the period.

  But LGBT advocates in that state suffered a setback this week when the West Virginia Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that the state’s hate crime law doesn’t cover assaults or crimes based on sexual orientation. The statute applies only to incidents committed on the basis of “sex,” whose “common and ordinary meaning,” Chief Justice Allen H. Loughry II wrote for the majority, “imparts being male or female, and does not include ‘sexual orientation.’”

  Though the ruling simply keeps the status quo in West Virginia, it comes at a time when states across the country are actively rolling back LGBT rights.

  Legislators in Virginia, Michigan, South Dakota, North Dakota and Alabama, for instance, all passed laws earlier this year giving foster and adoption agencies the ability to refuse to place children with qualified LGBT parents.

  “That amounts to taxpayer-funded discrimination,” wrote Alabama foster mom Angela Sherbine for the Montgomery Advertiser. As she explains:

    In other words, a family could undergo the incredibly difficult and lengthy process of being vetted and deemed qualified by the state to care for children, only to be rejected by a state-licensed agency for no other reason than that agency’s supposed religious beliefs.

    In a state [like Alabama] where there are simply not enough foster parents to give every child a home, the last thing Alabama’s state legislature should do is empower private agencies needlessly to turn away qualified foster parents.

  Yet, Alabama legislators were happy to do exactly that (voting 23-9 in the Senate and 60-14 in the House to pass the bill). Texas lawmakers proposed a similar, but even harsher bill. It passed the Texas House last week.

  Of course, in some states, LGBT rights can’t be rolled back because they never existed in the first place. In Mississippi, for example, there are no laws protecting LGBT people against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

  That absence enabled Picayune Funeral Home to refuse to transport Jack Zawadaski’s husband, as promised, once it found out the couple was gay. The funeral home just doesn't "deal with their kind," its administrators told Jack. Without anti-discrimination laws, it doesn’t have to.

  Yet Mississippi state lawmakers went out of their way last year to pass an entirely redundant law explicitly protecting those who discriminate against LGBT people.

  As West Virginia Chief Justice Loughry wrote, in declining to extend hate crime protection to the LGBT community, “courts must presume that a legislature says in a statute what it means and means in a statute what it says.”

  In states around the country, legislatures are certainly making their “meaning” very clear.

  This article was published by the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based civil rights organization.

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