The U.S. Supreme Court's ruling Monday that federal civil rights law also protects gay, lesbians and transgender employees, has energized a Baton Rouge nonprofit to try again to get the East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council to adopt widespread protections for LGBTQ individuals.
Leaders with the Progressive Social Network say the Supreme Court decision opens the door for their proposed Fairness Ordinance, and they are calling upon the city-parish to seize the historic moment and take action immediately by adopting it.
Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome supports their efforts, as do two of the councilmen seeking to challenge her in this fall’s municipal elections.
But Broome and others acknowledge they would first need to review a current draft of the proposed Fairness Ordinance before lobbying for its adoption.
Progressive Social Network and other local civil rights groups claim city-parish leaders already have a viable draft of the ordinance in their hands and should put it on Metro Council’s agenda as soon as possible, given the shift in sentiment Monday’s ruling from the Supreme Court is expected to create.
“Through the years the LGBTQ+ community has sought after nothing more than equality and this is a step in that direction,” Christopher Bradford, chairman of the board for Baton Rouge Pride, said in a prepared statement Monday. “For cities like Baton Rouge, a capital city and economic center of a state, to hold back from making a decision on equality shows that until there’s a change in leadership we cannot continue to progress further.”
Bradford’s statement went on to say, “The change needs to come from city council members who refuse to show their true colors.”
PSN was joined in its call for action by the Louisiana Trans Advocates and the local chapter of the NAACP.
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The landmark ruling from the Supreme Court prohibits an employer from firing a person for being gay or transgender. In the 6-3 opinion written by Justice Neil Gorsuch, the first appointee from President Donald Trump to the high court, and Chief Justice John Roberts, the court stated, “An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits and actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex.”
“Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII (of the Civil Rights Act) forbids,” the court’s decision reads.
PSN has spent the past few years lobbying the Metro Council to adopt its proposed Fairness Ordinance, which would not only grant LGBTQ individuals protection in the workplace, but within the city-parish’s housing and public accommodations arenas as well.
The city-parish already has anti-discriminatory protections for city employees, which Broome reinstated in 2017 after taking office.
But the proposed Fairness Ordinance would go a step further by creating a special commission to review, investigate and mediate claims of discrimination in the parish, something that's been done in both Shreveport and New Orleans.
But the nonprofit group’s proposal faced pushback from religious groups and could never gain enough support among council members who were skittish about supporting the measure.
Last year, Councilman Matt Watson yanked a resolution addressing LGBTQ discrimination in the workplace after receiving criticism from those on the left who felt it wasn’t strong enough and from those on the right who insisted such laws infringe upon religious freedoms.
Watson’s resolution specifically aimed at having the Metro Council revisit the topic after the Supreme Court issued its rulings regarding discriminatory practices against LGBTQ individuals.
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The Republican councilman, who’s also running for mayor this fall, said Monday he’s open to talking about potential local legislation again.
He previously said he couldn’t support PSN’s measure because it was “constantly changing” but never ruled out supporting its goal.
“Throughout my public service, I’ve looked to law, to the courts, to the courts’ interpretation of law to affect how I do my job,” Watson said. “This is a substantial ruling that affects a lot of people, whether you’re in the class of people or not, it’s going to affect your life."
He added: "There is no question in my mind that because this (ruling) has handled employment discrimination, this will expand to housing discrimination.”
Metro Councilwoman Tara Wicker was the lone Democrat on the council who opposed local legislation protecting gay and transgender individuals. Wicker, who has also announced a mayoral campaign, said after Monday’s ruling that discrimination on every front is wrong but still wouldn’t single out the LGBT community as a group uniquely in need of protections.
“Do we start picking and choosing what those categories are, or do we just make sure that everybody has equal access?” she said. “As Mayor-President, I want a city-parish that makes sure that everybody’s covered and not pick out who is favored over someone else.”
Wicker added she doesn’t want the current debates over systemic racism and racial inequities to get overshadowed by discussions of LGBTQ rights.
Broome, like Watson, acknowledged the evolving nature of PSN’s proposed ordinance but welcomed the opportunity to work with the group on finalizing something that could be beneficial for the entire parish.
“My basic premise around discrimination is that it’s wrong overall,” Broome said Monday. “There’s no doubt in my mind that today’s ruling is going to have a variety of entities outside of city-parish government looking at their policies.”