LGBT Activists Push States To Expand Anti-Discrimination Laws | KERA News

LGBT Activists Push States To Expand Anti-Discrimination Laws

Apr 24, 2015
Originally published on April 24, 2015 7:27 pm

Same-sex marriage is legal in most states but so is discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the areas of employment, housing and public accommodation.

Gay-rights activists say this creates a contradiction because in many states someone can legally marry a person of the same gender and then get fired for being gay. They are lobbying state legislatures to add LGBT people to anti-discrimination laws that already include things like race, age, religion and disability.

Opponents say the public accommodation element would be unfair to some business owners, such as florists and bakers, who have a religious or moral objection to gay marriage. They argue even if some businesses choose not to serve same-sex couples there are still plenty of other businesses that will.

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The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments on same-sex marriage next week. It's now legal in about three dozen states, but it's also legal in most states to discriminate against LGBT people in the areas of employment, housing and public accommodation. That means there are states where a gay person can get married but can also get fired for being gay. Pennsylvania is one of those states, and that's where we get this report from NPR's Jeff Brady.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: We are in rural central Pennsylvania to meet someone who believes she was fired for being transgender.

Hi, I'm Jeff.

KATE LYNN BLATT: Nice to meet you. I'm Kate.

BRADY: Hey, nice to meet you.

Kate Lynn Blatt defies more than one convention. The first thing you see in her living room is a tall, shiny, black safe.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEEPING)

BRADY: Inside, there's no money. It's full of guns.

BLATT: Yeah, Lindsey and I are gun collectors.

BRADY: Blatt says she enjoys shooting targets.

BLATT: It's what drew me to Cabela's in the first place - a lot of hunting and fishing and sportsman stuff.

BRADY: In 2006, Blatt began working at Cabela's, the sporting goods chain. She was still making the transition from James to Kate. She says the problems started right after orientation. She was allowed to wear the women's uniform, but her name tag read James because that's what was on her license then. There was a dispute over which bathroom to use and then conflicts with co-workers.

BLATT: Oh, just horrible and personal questions. You know, do I still have a penis? Isn't it illegal to cross-dress, you know? I mean, no. You know, I'm not cross-dressing. You know what I mean? It's - I'm expressing who I am.

BRADY: Blatt says after less than six months she was fired because of a confrontation, but she thinks the real reason is because she's transgender. Cabela's declined to comment, in part because Blatt filed a federal lawsuit. Under Pennsylvania law, firing people because they're LGBT is legal, just like in most other states. But it's difficult to know how often it happens.

TED MARTIN: And those statistics are kept in Pennsylvania, so we have no idea how big of a problem it is. I mean, there's no official records of anything.

BRADY: Ted Martin heads Equality Pennsylvania. He says the combination of allowing same-sex marriage and discrimination in the areas of housing, employment and public accommodation leaves LGBT people in an absurd situation.

MARTIN: Understand that you can have this incredible, life-changing event on a Saturday. You can get married. And you can't talk about it on a Monday with your colleagues because that very piece of information can be used to get you fired from your job.

BRADY: Martin's group wants state lawmakers to include lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the state's antidiscrimination law. Those who support changing the law often focus on employment discrimination. But opponents talk more about public accommodation, doing business with LGBT people. Randall Wenger is chief counsel for the Pennsylvania Family Institute.

RANDALL WENGER: The public accommodation part is the part where you would think about the florist or the baker who are saying, hey, I can't do this in good conscience. And the question is, do you as a society force them to do that out of principle?

BRADY: Or, he says, society can determine there are plenty of other places willing to serve same-sex couples and leave those who object alone. But that's difficult if a state calls that discrimination. Alison Gill is the senior legislative counsel for the Human Rights Campaign.

ALISON GILL: We wouldn't say, you know, it's OK if certain groups want to discriminate based on disability or age or race. It's not clear why we should accept that in the context of sexual orientation and gender identity.

BRADY: Which is why when states debate adding LGBT people to antidiscrimination laws, groups like Pennsylvania Family Institute will continue to argue against that. But supporters say momentum is on their side, and each time legislation is introduced, more state lawmakers sign on. Jeff Brady, NPR News, Philadelphia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.