SOUTHERN EXPOSURE

The South Will Rise: Kentucky, Texas Consider LGBT Legal Protections

flag_kentuckyThe cause of LGBT equality has really gripped the nation, from watershed victories in marriage equality last fall to President Obama’s historic mention of gay rights in his inaugural address.

And in two states often considered the least progressive in the nation, lawmakers and advocates are working to protect the LGBT community from discrimination.

The Kentucky Equality Federation (KEF) is petitioning to expand the state’s Civil Rights Act of 1966 to include protections for LGBT people, and has set up a Change.org petition to rally supporters.

Leaders feel working on enacting local measures piecemeal would take forever: “With 120 counties and 15 major cities in Kentucky, if we get one local equality ordinance a year, it will take over a century to achieve equality,” said KEF Chairman Brandon Combs.

The Kentucky Civil Rights Act currently prohibits discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations based on race, national origin, color, and religion. When the law passed Martin Luther King called it “the strongest and most comprehensive civil rights bill passed by a Southern state.”

Meanwhile in Texas, lawmakers have introdutexasmapced House Bill 238, which would  add sexual orientation to a law that prohibits discrimination based on gender, religion and age. Currently Texans can be fired simply for being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. “80% of people think it’s already against the law to fire someone just because they’re gay—they don’t realize it’s legal and it does happen,” said Equality Texas’ Chuck Smith.

One victim, Lisa Scheps, was part owner of a company until her partners discovered she was transitioning:  “One of them looked at me and said, ‘How are you going to manage our company when all you’re really going to be concerned about is nail polish?” recalls Scheps.

Representative Mike Villarreal (D-San Antonio), who sponsored HB 238, calls it “the right thing” to do: “To be judged not based on how productive they are or how well they do their job is really not in keeping with the values of Texas.”

We never thought we’d live to see the day.