Earlier today, Senate Bill 100, which would have prevented discrimination against LGBT state government workers, died in the Senate Labor & Industrial Relations Committee on a 4 to 1 vote.   The sole committee vote to pass the bill in its original form was the bill’s sponsor, Louisiana State Senator Ed Murray of New Orleans.

“We thank Sen. Murray for his leadership in advocating for passage,” said Mary Griggs, Forum For Equality’s Deputy Political Director, who added, “but we are disappointed that partisan politics and ignorance defeated an effort to protect Louisiana’s public employees from workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.”

During today’s hearing, members of the Forum For Equality and Metropolitan Community Church testified on the importance of passing the Public Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

“Protecting the rights of a minority may seem like a dead-end political game,” said Forum For Equality Board member Ted Baldwin. “But there is right and wrong. And the majority of people know that they cannot vote minorities out of existence. They cannot use their power to abridge the God-given rights and protections of the Constitution against those who may differ in whom they love, how they dress, or express themselves.”

“This bill simply expands protections for state employees,” testified Morris Welch, a retired state employee and a Board member, Treasurer, and choir member for the Baton Rouge Metropolitan Community Church. “It does not promote homosexuality or any other traits.  It does not prevent firing for poor performance or failure to do the job. It simply recognizes that sexuality has no bearing on job performance, and that government should be impartial.”

Senator Peacock offered an amendment which gutted the protections for gender identity and expression from the bill.  Mary Griggs spoke for the Forum For Equality when she said we could not support such changes and that protections for transgender individuals against discrimination were essential.  National studies show that a staggering 90% of transgender people report having experienced workplace mistreatment, and are twice as likely to be unemployed and four times as likely to be living in poverty.

Colin Miller, Forum For Equality’s Southern Field Director, summed it up nicely, by adding, “All hard-working people in our state should have the chance to earn a living and provide for themselves and their families. Nobody should have to live in fear that they can be legally fired for reasons that have nothing to do with their job performance.”

We are grateful for the efforts of Senator Ed Murray who pushed for the unamended bill to be approved.  Forum For Equality believes that all citizens are entitled to equal rights and that all employees should be treated fairly and equally by the laws of our state. We will continue fighting for those rights at the State Capitol  and in local city and parish governments across Louisiana.

Testimony of Mary Griggs:

My name is Mary Griggs and I am the Deputy Political Director for Forum For Equality. I am also a 20 plus year Human Resources professional and own my own business.

Forum For Equality is a statewide LGBT human rights organization dedicated to the establishment of a society free from discrimination. We work to achieve full equality for the LGBT community through education, outreach, and constructive participation in the political process.

The Forum For Equality asks for your support of Senate Bill 100. We believe that qualified, hard-working employees should be judged based on their work performance and not on arbitrary or irrelevant qualities like sexual orientation and gender identity.

SB 100 is necessary because Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people face serious discrimination in employment, including being fired from their job, being denied a promotion, and experiencing harassment.

We believe that all state employees should be treated fairly and equally by the laws of our state. There is precedent in Louisiana for these protections. In 1992, Gov. Edwin Edwards issued an executive order prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and in 2004 Gov. Kathleen Blanco issued a similar executive order. It is time to codify these protections into law.

Protecting workers from discrimination in employment is good business. In 2011, it was reported that 87% of Fortune 500 companies have employment non-discrimination policies that include sexual orientation, and 41% have policies that include gender identity. Here in Louisiana, Fortune 500 companies with LGBT inclusive protections include Entergy, Shaw Group, and Superior Energy Services.

All hard-working people in our state should have the chance to earn a living and provide for themselves and their families. Nobody should have to live in fear that they can be legally fired for reasons that have nothing to do with their job performance.

Thank you.

Testimony of Morris Welch:

My name is Morris Welch.  I am a retired state employee with 29 years of service.  I have been a member of my Kiwanis club for 36 years, am a past President of the Inter-Civic Council of Baton Rouge, and have been actively involved in a number of other community organizations.  But today, I am representing the Louisiana congregations of the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches including the one in Baton Rouge where I am a Board member, Treasurer, choir member, and worship leader.

Several years ago, former Baton Rouge Mayor Bobby Simpson issued an Executive Order banning discrimination in the employment practices of this city and parish, and current Mayor Kip Holden reissued that order.  Both the bill before you and the policies in Baton Rouge, Shreveport, Lafayette, New Orleans, and some other Louisiana cities list a range of characteristics.  It is vital to include those traits because they have been the basis of most cases of discrimination.

In our church, there is a wonderful lady who was fired from two different public colleges in Louisiana because she is a lesbian.  She would be here herself, but can’t for fear that someone at her current college might see or hear about her testimony.  During most of my state employment, I was also afraid to reveal aspects of my personal life, including the death of a partner, for similar reasons.

If they remain true to their past actions, the opposition will try to turn this bill into a religious referendum on homosexuality.  That is what they do to every provision that would extend any measure of security or equality for lesbian and gay citizens.  Many times that is made blatantly clear, and sometimes it is concealed behind other cloudy arguments.

Discrimination against sexual minorities has its sole basis in the religious beliefs of one subset of people.  Even in this conservative state, however, those folks are a minority, but are extremely vocal and still exert a disproportional influence on government policy.  Our country’s founding fathers saw the folly in discriminating based on religious faith, in favoring one set of religious beliefs over another, and in allowing religion to play too large a role in the halls of government.

In a national poll, 9 out of 10 voters thought erroneously that there is a federal law protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people from workplace discrimination.  But the poll also found that 3/4 of voters do support such protections.  That includes 74% of Catholics, 61% of senior citizens, and even 50% of people that have unfavorable attitudes about gay people.

Meanwhile, up to 43% of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people and a staggering 90% of transgender people report having experienced workplace mistreatment.  Other studies have shown that gay men earn 10-32% less than their heterosexual peers, while transgender individuals are twice as likely to be unemployed and four times as likely to be living in poverty.

If 75% of voters support for protections and 90% think they already exist, it’s strange that employment protection bills face such challenges in getting passed.  This polling indicates that the people objecting to such protections are just a limited minority but are determined to dictate public policy.

Opponents justify their position by alleging that homosexuality is a choice, when current scientific research suggests that genetics plays at least some role.  But then there isn’t anything that is more obviously a matter of choice than one’s religious beliefs, and we have numerous laws and policies to protect that choice.  Unfortunately, it appears that some folks only want you to protect their belief that God’s love is for a chosen few while trampling on others who believe God’s love is for everyone.  And they ask you to do this in the area of state employment, which has nothing to do with religion one way or another.

Unfortunately, we have seen many conflicts around the world, both past and present, because of intolerance between faiths and ethnicities.  That occurs when one group of citizens, not only ignores, but actively promotes, discrimination against other citizens without regard for the religious beliefs, their basic civil rights, the quality of their citizenship, their contributions to the community, or the abilities of people who don’t fit their mold.

This bill simply expands protections for state employees.  It largely tracks Executive Orders issued by previous governors Edwin Edwards and Kathleen Blanco.  It does not promote homosexuality or any other traits.  It does not prevent firing for poor performance or failure to do the job.  It simply recognizes that sexuality has no bearing on job performance, that government should be impartial, and that all people employed by the state government of Louisiana should be treated fairly without fear of religious discrimination or bias.

Our country’s highest founding principle is equal opportunity for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  This country and this state have been advancing in that direction in stutter steps for many years.  Someday we may reach that goal for all citizens rather than picking out selected minorities for discrimination.  In that pursuit, this bill would be but a tiny step.  I strongly urge you to support this bill both with your vote in this committee and your influence in the full Senate and House.

Testimony of Ted Baldwin:

My name is Ted Baldwin, I am on the board of the Forum For Equality, a statewide organization dedicated to equality for all, and to good government.

I’m a Christian, and a film director. I am a former elected republican official and one of the founders of the Baton Rouge Tea Party.

Boston Tea Party activist Sam Adams said, “It does not take a majority to prevail. But rather an irate, tireless minority, keen on setting brushfires of freedom in the minds of men.”

Employment non discrimination in Louisiana State Government is an issue of freedom.

A national ideal and a core value, and even more so in a RIGHT TO WORK state, is to judge people by the quality of their work.

Here’s an interesting quote. “We believe that all of life, from fertilization to natural death is sacred. Given this sacredness, every person should be treated with dignity.” This is from the website of the Louisiana Family Forum.

One way of affirming a person’s dignity is to respect their adult decisions in the deeply personal matter of love. We have a natural right to establish personal relationships. The nature and kind of those relationships are purely the matter of business between consenting adults.

As you know, the principles of the constitution of the United States were drawn from Natural law. There is a big difference between religious law, interpreted by men, and self-evident natural law.

Natural Law is far older. Our forefathers understood that there were absolute rights, inalienable rights, God given rights, to have privacy, bear arms, choose a mate, speak freely, a right to work. These are understood from natural law.

True Law derives from these rights, not from some overarching state power, not from the power of men, or their grace.

The constitution specifically names certain rights as needing particular protection.

Now we have people using the power of the state to enforce not natural law, not true law, but religious law. In their churches, synagogues and mosques, they are free to make covenants, enforce morals, let anyone they want in – or kick anyone they want out.

But they are wrong to bring their religion to the state to force their religion on others.

They intend to use their religious law and beliefs to deprive others of their rights. They claim it is for the common good. But they among themselves do not agree on the teachings of religious law – so much so in fact that Baptists for example, felt the need to break away from the Catholic church at one point.
It’s interesting that the regular opposition to equality legislation here has been composed of a representative of catholic bishops, and a council of Baptists.

From a letter on Employment non discrimination by the United states conference of catholic bishops – “Persons with a homosexual inclination must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. We recognize that no one should be an object of scorn hatred or violence for any reason, including sexual orientation.”

The Baptists have in the past spoken about gay people differently, condemning us in these chambers in words that I do not care to repeat here.

Let it be known that the two groups are not in agreement on gays.

There are hundreds of official bibles in print, and online. All offering a different interpretation of religious law.

If the Catholic church, and all the Baptist churches, and all of the other denominations cannot agree on one religious law, then how do I know which one to use? Which one does the state use? None. There is no official religious law of Louisiana.

The state can’t legislate religious happiness for people.

The state of Louisiana exists to make sure individuals can pursue their happiness, their own religion or none, according to the constitution ? without fear of what others think. Including those that think they know best for everyone else.

Gay people are not a threat to the family. We are part of the family. Gay people are not a threat to state government.

We hold many important offices statewide, contribute, and care deeply about the state. But some people with religious bearing want to make gay people into a threat.

Because the hand is not like the foot, does that mean it is not part of the body?

Today the state of Louisiana should be only in the business of protecting natural rights, not letting religious groups use government to discriminate against and punish those they don’t like.

If there is truly a right to work, there is a right for every competent person to work.

People may believe as they wish. What is done unto others is a matter of law. And the law says that there is no state religion. The law says we may believe in any particular religion or none. Nor do we give more weight to a coalition of religions each settling for a slice of a different loaf.

The state of Louisiana above all else, should be fair and impartial – so the beliefs of all religions are not infringed upon, so that individuals may be free.

Respecting the natural rights of all people is not ‘special rights or special protection’.

It is taking the tyrannical religious boot off of the neck of people who want to be free to live their lives as they see fit. As good and valued citizens. Ending the possibility of unfair discriminatory practices at the state level is true to our beliefs as a nation, to our constitution, true to the notion that the constitution protects our individuality, free from the interference of others.

People do not have a moral right to infringe on the rights of others no matter how earnest their opinion, or well founded their religious beliefs.

Governor Jindal, spoke on MSNBC recently, and was asked if he had any problem with having openly gay staffers. The governor said and I quote, “That’s obviously not something we ask folks. We want the most qualified people to work with us on our team and to move our state forward.”

I am willing to take Governor Jindal at his word. But I am not so willing to trust all of the various appointees and lower level managers of the state to do the right thing, judge people by the merit of their work, in this administration or any other.

Gay people want equality. To simply be treated the same as everyone else. Allowed the same opportunity to show our abilities, loyalty, and productivity.

Every one of you, democrat and republican, knows gay people. You know they are decent people and good citizens. I don’t presume to speak for every gay person. But I speak for some. We are not looking for special treatment, but we will no longer sit silently by when injustices, violations of our natural rights, protected by the constitution, are carelessly and wantonly visited upon us. That is special treatment we don’t want or deserve.
Protecting the rights of a minority may seem like a dead end political game, because they can never get enough votes. But there is right and wrong. And the majority of people know that they cannot vote minorities out of existence. They cannot use their power to abridge the God given rights and protections of the constitution against blacks, or blind people, or those who are left handed. Nor against people who by genetics or by choice are different in whom they love, how they dress, or express themselves. The day when it was accepted and common to discriminate against people who are different is over.

I respectfully ask that the State of Louisiana reinforce the governor?s commitment to keeping the best people on the team, and signify equality for all.

Ted Baldwin, C.E.O.
Cinema Rektor Studios

About Forum For Equality

The Forum For Equality is a statewide human rights organization dedicated to the establishment of a society free from discrimination and to the support of good government. We believe that the fastest and most efficient way to achieve these goals is to educate our communities and to constructively participate in the political process.
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