Editors' Note: Guest blogger Matt Patterson is a board member and Education and Advocacy committee chair of Capital City Alliance in Baton Rouge. He serves as Political Co-Coordinator for Equality Louisiana.
Despair can come easy for queer folks in Louisiana. Portions of our state are literally falling into hell at an ever-increasing rate, almost every year some of us are in danger of being wiped off the face of the Earth by a hurricane, and some of our legislators aren't content to let nature take its course and instead try to use the law to get rid of us. The latest ridiculous attempt to do away with us comes from Rep. Alan Seabaugh (R-Shreveport), whose HB 402 this legislative session is almost an anti-ENDA.
HB 402 doesn't just allow, but *requires* discrimination suits to be dismissed as frivolous (which in Louisiana means you owe damages to the party you tried to sue) if they aren't filed for one of the reasons the state has already prohibited, like discrimination on the basis of race, age, sex, pregnancy status, and more. Apparently Rep. Seabaugh is privy to some information that the rest of us aren't about a flood of discrimination suits clogging up the state courts, and he's going to put his foot down! Those activist judges, you see, just keep on ignoring the Legislature's intent and allow all sorts of nonsense to go on in their courts, and Rep. Seabaugh is trying to save us all from their judicial incompetence.
Except, isn't it an odd coincidence how Louisiana has persistently refused to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression? Isn't it an even odder coincidence that Rep. Seabaugh, in his short legislative career, has referred to LGBT-inclusive bullying laws as "[promoting] an agenda and [teaching] alternative lifestyles to our children?" To be fair, Rep. Seabaugh is an expert bully himself, having told a constituent upset with his vote that homosexuality "is a sin plain and simple and it does not need to be taught in our schools," and concluded the exchange by calling her an "idiot." To the outside observer, it's almost as if Rep. Seabaugh thinks he has found a way to use the law to punish LGBT folks who stand up against unfair treatment at work, and is just hoping we won't catch it!
The weird thing is, this kind of "discrimination by omission" bill is not a new idea here. Last year, state Sen. A. G. Crowe (R-Slidell) had a bill that would have limited nondiscrimination provisions in agreements the state makes with private contractors to a very short list of protected classes. Sounds like an innocent attempt to streamline government contracts... until you realize that "government contracts" include "charter school agreements," and Sen. Crowe's bill accidentally-on-purpose would have forbidden the state from ensuring that charter schools didn't expel all their LGBT students on the spot.
That story had a happy ending - even conservative Republican senators weren't buying what Sen. Crowe was selling, and his bill died amid concerns that Louisiana would lose out on federal contracts if we couldn't ensure that the federal government's nondiscrimination rules would be enforced. Also, when push came to shove, almost nobody wanted to be responsible for kicking kids out of school for no good reason.
I'm not sure why Rep. Seabaugh and the Louisiana Family Forum (the state-level hate group founded by Tony Perkins) think this trick can work a second time when they didn't even come close to pulling it off a year ago. All the buzz on HB 402 bill this year has been negative - from LGBT advocates in Rep. Seabaugh's own district calling him out, to Equality Louisiana and Louisiana Progress putting out the facts [pdf] about how this bill will hurt the state, to national LGBT blogs picking up the story and shining a light on our latest attempt to keep queer people down.
Make no mistake - I might make light of this bill and its author, but its passage would be serious business. People who work for cities that have adopted some form of LGBT inclusive employment protections (which include the five largest cities in the state), or people who work for private employers who have done the same, would find themselves suddenly shut out of the court system and denied an avenue for justice. Because the federal EEOC has ruled that Title VII prohibits gender identity discrimination as a form of sex discrimination, and Title VII allows people to sue in state courts in addition to the federal court system, Seabaugh's bill might actually contradict federal law, opening the state up to a well-deserved legal challenge.
If HB 402 passes, we're all going to pay a price, either in tax dollars wasted defending it in court or in seeing justice denied to our citizens.
Right now, though, the momentum is with us. We've beaten this backdoor discrimination before and we can do it again. Louisiana has a well-earned reputation for being at the bottom of every good list and the top of every bad list, but we still have the capability to do right by our people - we just have to tell our elected representatives how.
If our people can survive wind, water, and sinkholes, we can survive Rep. Alan Seabaugh just fine.