Your City Enacted LGBTQ Protections! Oop, Your State Just Killed Them

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This op-ed was originally published by the Advocate.

The LGBTQ community is no stranger to state overreach – when legislatures swoop in to eradicate local nondiscrimination measures or take other sweeping actions that, ultimately, hurt our ability to live, work, and raise our families free from discrimination. In fact, the first time most Americans even became aware of the concept of preemption legislation was when North Carolina enacted HB 2 – the discriminatory law that attacked the very humanity of transgender people, and eviscerated local nondiscrimination measures across the Tar Heel state.



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But preemption’s impact extends far beyond the LGBTQ community – increasingly, preemption laws harm low-income workers, people of color, women, and immigrants as well. A new report from Local Solutions Support Center and the State Innovation Exchange looks at how preemption bills that take power away from local governments – and in the process, hurt often marginalized communities – have been on the rise since 2011. Coincidentally, that’s the same year that Nashville enacted an ordinance protecting LGBTQ employees of city contractors from discrimination – a move that Tennessee state quickly voided by passing a preemption law.

But every area of life is fair game for the special interest groups driving this preemption agenda – the report finds that 25 states now ban local communities from setting their own minimum wages, 23 ban local paid sick days, and an astounding 43 states limit the ability of communities to regulate guns and ammunition.

These preemption measures represent a fundamental attempt to deprive entire populations of their voices in the democratic process; and to take away the ability of local lawmakers to promote policies that protect the health, well-being, and safety of their communities. And while the LGBTQ community didn’t see the ferocious attacks this year that we did in recent years, lawmakers in states across the country continue to wield preemption as a tool against us. One of the tactics of preemption is to try to include protections for nondiscrimination ordinances to pass anti-labor laws, essentially using their ‘support’ of LGBTQ people as a wedge/carrot.

Some of the examples include:

  • In Florida, HB 3 – Preemption of Local Occupational Licensing
  • In Tennessee, SB364 – Business Protection Act (deferred until next year)
  • In Texas, SB 15 – Consistent Employment Regulations Act (CERA), and four separate offshoot bills (SB 2485, SB 2486, SB 2487, and SB 2488)
  • In West Virginia, HB 2708 – Local Government Labor and Consumer Marketing Regulatory Limitation Act

We can’t be complacent just because we made progress in 2019. Instead, we must ensure we’re spreading the best practices and lessons learned from our victories this year to communities across the country. And we did learn some important lessons this year. One of the most important lessons is how the opposition represents different interests but is working together to drive their agenda.

We must be fierce advocates for our allies, and remember that LGBTQ people are impacted by all forms of preemption – not just those that seek to undermine nondiscrimination laws. When a state seeks to prevent local municipalities from setting a reasonable minimum wage, low-income LGBTQ employees suffer. When a state seeks to prohibit local municipalities from controlling their own elections, LGBTQ people lose their voice in their local communities. When a state seeks to eradicate local policies that respect the basic human dignity of immigrants and their families, LGBTQ immigrants and their families suffer.

We’re all in this together – and none of us are beyond the reach of this sprawling trend of discriminatory state interference. In the legislative sessions ahead – as we get better at calling out and defeating preemption – our opponents will no doubt get better at disguising it. We’ve seen that before, with anti-LGBTQ forces turning to increasingly specific issues such as child welfare as they seek to continue their attacks on equality. It’s our responsibility, as a movement and as Americans who understand the importance of good governance, to continue defending our rights, and to continue advocating for local democracy.

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Rebecca Isaacs

Since 2011, Rebecca Isaacs has been the Executive Director of the Equality Federation, the strategic partner to state-based organizations winning equality in the communities we call home.

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