By Robert Mann
In 2015, a transgender man from Lake Charles filed a federal sex discrimination suit, alleging the financial services company he worked for fired him after he refused his boss’ order to dress as a female. While the court has not decided his case, this man is only one of more than 80,000 LGBT individuals in Louisiana exposed to potential workplace discrimination for their sexual orientation or gender identity.
That’s because it’s legal in most of Louisiana to fire a worker for being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. That’s a disgrace, compounded by Congress’ refusal to pass national workplace protections for LGBT individuals.
Many states are better — almost half have such protections — but Louisiana is not among them. Seven Louisiana locales, including New Orleans and Shreveport, have antidiscrimination laws (as do some companies), but 87 percent of Louisiana’s LGBT individuals enjoy no workplace protections, according to the Williams Institute at UCLA’s School of Law.
Congress will eventually outlaw employment discrimination against LGBT individuals because Americans are decent people and will demand fairness in this arena. And Louisiana will one day enter the 21st Century, too. The only question is how we will do it — on our terms or after we have further damaged the state’s reputation?
Louisiana’s new Republican attorney general, Jeff Landry, is doing everything he can to postpone this new century. Landry is trashing the state’s already frayed reputation with an ugly crusade against Gov. John Bel Edwards’ April executive order granting protections for LGBT individuals who are state employees or who work for companies with state contracts.
Landry is blocking several dozen state contracts that contained the non-discrimination language, charging that Edwards exceeded his authority when he included the language on contracts. Edwards sued, arguing that Landry’s actions are an abuse of power and an effort to usurp the governor’s authority in setting state policy. On Monday (Oct. 17), a state court judge sided with Landry on narrow procedural grounds.
Edwards is expected to appeal or file a new suit. Before he could do so, however, Landry took the fight to a new level on Thursday, suing Edwards to negate his executive order.
Whatever the outcome of the legal fight, Landry appears eager to stoke fear of LGBT individuals to get ahead (presumably to the governor’s office in 2019). Some might say Landry is defending the state’s Constitution. In fact, he is disregarding the animating spirit of the Constitution. The document’s Declaration of Rights under the section, “Right to Individual Dignity,” says, “No person shall be denied the equal protection of the laws.”
Tragically, LGBT people are missing from a long list of those our state Constitution dignifies. They are unequal and unprotected in Louisiana employment law. To his credit, Edwards wants to eliminate discrimination where he can, starting with companies that have state contracts.
Landry’s attack on Edwards’ executive order strikes me as cynical pandering to the religious right. It’s unseemly, an abuse of his power and unworthy of a man who proclaims his Christianity. There is nothing Christ-like in making it easier for people to lose their jobs because of their God-given sexual orientation or gender.
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