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State Anti-LGBT Laws Remind Us of Need for Equality Act

State Anti-LGBT Laws Remind Us of Need for Equality Act

The recent rise in state-level legislation targeting the LGBT community – often couched in language of religious freedom – reminds us that the journey for full equality for the LGBT community is ongoing.

Many states and their governors have come under fire for adopting such laws, most notably, North Carolina. Governor Pat McCrory signed HB 2 into law, a bill that puts into place broad anti-LGBT provisions, nullifying existing LGBT protections in cities across the state and requiring transgender and gender non-conforming people to use restrooms inconsistent with their gender identity. Other states that have considered and/or passed such problematic legislation include Mississippi, Georgia and Tennessee.  The Reform Movement has been responding to these types of bills through our local congregations, regional camps and NFTY regions. Just last weekend, NFTY Mid-Atlantic Region (MAR) and NFTY southern Area Region (SAR) ran educational programming around state LGBT issues and passed resolutions condemning this type of legislation. And, you can read URJ Jacobs Camp (located in Utica, MS) Director, Anna Blumenfeld Herman’s Op-Ed on HB 1523 in the Clarion-Ledger.

At the same time that attention to these bills has increased, the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled in one Virginia case to protect the rights of transgender students to use restrooms according to their gender identity. Because the Fourth Circuit also includes North Carolina, this appeals ruling is a sign that if challenged in court, provisions of HB 2 might not hold up. North Carolina is not the only state where anti-LGBT laws are being passed or considered. Here are two articles explaining these bills:

Most states already do not have laws protecting people from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, and these new pieces of state legislation further affirm the right to discriminate against the LGBT community. State anti-LGBT legislation has highlighted the urgency to protect LGBT individuals from discrimination at a national level.

The Equality Act (H.R. 3185/S. 1858), was introduced last summer by Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Representative Cicilline (D-RI-1), and contains explicit protections against discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations, federal funding, education, credit and jury selection based on sexual orientation and gender identity. By amending and strengthening existing civil rights laws, LGBT people will be granted the same protections that are already provided to other groups of people (such as race and gender), and would ensure that receiving these protections is not dependent on where one lives.

Over the next week, the Jewish community will gather to celebrate Passover, where we will tell the story of our slavery and oppression in the land of Egypt, and our journey to freedom and redemption. Our tradition commands us, “you shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 23:9). Regardless of context, oppression and discrimination against any person arising from apathy, insensitivity, ignorance, fear or hatred is inconsistent with this important message of Passover. It also informs our deep opposition to legislation that affirms discrimination.

With all of these state bills putting LGBT people at a higher risk for discrimination, there has never been a more important time to urge your Members of Congress to cosponsor the Equality Act.

To learn more about our work around LGBT rights, visit our issue page.

Tracy Wolf was a 2015-2016 Eisendrath Legislative Assistant at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (the RAC), and currently serves as the RAC's Leadership Development Associate. Originally from Syosset, N.Y., she is a member of North Shore Synagogue and a graduate of Dickinson College.

Tracy Wolf

Published: 4/25/2016