Testimony on HB85 – House & Governmental Affairs Committee – 5/1/13
My name is Morris Welch. I speak today from two capacities.
First is that I was a state employee for 29 years throughout which I was afraid to reveal aspects of my personal life. I was constrained from developing any warm relations with co-workers for fear that simple questions about home, family, and activities would lead to similar questions about myself. I didn’t put any pictures on my desk. I was guarded in what I said about my private life. I never was able to mention anything about my partner, even when he became ill and eventually passed away. Hiding in that fashion is hard, and you don’t have much capability to determine what attitudes your supervisors have regarding sexual orientation. My situation was even more worrisome because I was unclassified and didn’t even have the limited protections afforded by Civil Service.
Second, I also represent 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. In our church, there is a wonderful lady who was fired from two different public colleges in Louisiana because she is a lesbian. She can’t be here herself for fear that someone at her subsequent college might see or hear about her testimony. Past opposition to proposals that would offer protection against discrimination have been primarily based on religious beliefs. I realize that argument has recently become more muted, but only because it is often concealed behind dubious prophesies of other dire problems. I ask you to note that 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.
I also want to point out that I am an active participant in civic life. I have been a member and officer of my Kiwanis club for 36 years, am a past President of the Inter-Civic Council of Baton Rouge that, along with The Advocate newspaper, presents Baton Rouge’s annual Golden Deeds Award, and have been actively involved in a number of other community organizations. Similarly, most gay or transgender people are fully contributing citizens and live a typical life of home, work, social activities, and community involvement.
In a national November 2011 poll, 87% of voters erroneously thought there is a federal law protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people from workplace discrimination. But the poll also found that 77% of voters do support such protections, including 70% of Republicans and 69% of senior citizens.
If 77% of voters support protections and 87% think they already exist, it’s strange that employment protections face such challenges in getting passed. But that picture is changing.
The current Mayor of Baton Rouge and his predecessor issued Executive Orders banning discrimination in city/parish employment. Similar Executive Orders have been issued over the past couple of years in Shreveport, Bossier City, Monroe, Lafayette, and Lake Charles. Former Governors Edwin Edwards and Kathleen Blanco also issued orders for state employees. Orleans Parish has a full and much wider ordinance that covers all employment, both public and private, in addition to other areas such as housing and credit. My past employer, LSU, adopted a non-discrimination policy including sexual orientation several years ago, and recently added gender identity and expression to that policy.
21 states and the District of Columbia prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation in both public and private employment and 16 states and the District also protect gender identity. Among Fortune 500 companies, 88% have non-discrimination policies covering sexual orientation, and 57% cover gender identity. There appear to have been few problems in any of those venues, public or private, either inside or outside of Louisiana.
It is important to realize that all of those policies include a list of characteristics. To have any teeth at all, it is vital that this bill, or any other law to combat discrimination, must include that list because those traits have been the basis of most past cases of discrimination.
This bill simply expands protections for state employees. It does not provide any special rights and does not promote homosexuality or any other traits. It does not prevent firing for poor performance or other job-related issues. It simply recognizes that sexuality has no bearing on job performance, that government should be impartial, and that all people employed by the state of Louisiana should be treated fairly without fear of discrimination based on religious or other arbitrary biases.
I urge you to support this bill both with your vote in this committee and your influence in the full House and Senate.