(The Center Square) – The Louisiana House Committee on Labor and Industrial Relations voted down legislation on Thursday to ban employment discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.
Representatives voted 7-2 to defer House Bill 439, sponsored by Rep. Delisha Boyd, D-Algiers, “to include sexual orientation and gender identity as a protected class” for employment decisions.
Boyed framed the bill as a means to address employment shortages in the state.
“We should want to have as many of our Louisianans employed so that they can pay into our economy, be homeowners, (pay) property taxes, sales taxes,” she said.
Rep. Dodie Horton, R-Haughton, pointed to existing law that prohibits discrimination based on “race, color, religion, sex or national orientation,” and argued HB439 is unnecessary.
“I don’t see the need for your bill since we already have it codified in law,” Horton said.
Boyd countered discrimination based on sex is different than “basically discriminating based on who they love.”
“I would love to include sexual orientation and gender identity into this,” she said.
“I believe the term sex is all-encompassing, and it’s again unlawful to discriminate,” Horton said.
Horton motioned to involuntarily defer the bill, while Rep. Ed Larvadain III, D-Alexandria, motioned to report HB439 favorable.
“We just want everybody to have a fair opportunity to be employed to provide for their families and take care of themselves,” Larvadain said.
Rep. Tammy Phelps, D-Shreveport, signaled support for the bill by appealing to her colleagues’ spirituality.
“I think all of us agree there’s only one judge that sits high and looks low,” she said. “And I know we all know that around this committee because we pray every time before the House convenes.”
HB439 was also supported by Louisiana Progress Action, Louisiana Trans Advocates, the Workplace Justice Project, Louisiana AFL-CIO, Southern Strategies Group, the Louisiana Budget Project, and the ACLU of Louisiana.
“I think this bill really just asks employers to be more broadminded,” said Melissa Flournoy, board chairwoman for Louisiana Progress Action. “For me, I think this bill really is about respect.”
Multiple trans women also testified about various forms of alleged discrimination, from hiring discrimination to employers preventing them from using the bathroom that corresponded with the sex listed on their state driver’s license.
HB439 was opposed by Louisiana Family Forum.
Boyd likened the bill to efforts in history to eliminate discrimination based on race, or gender in her closing remarks.
“There was a time where women were discriminated against, women didn’t have equal rights to men to vote, African Americans didn’t have equal rights to vote, equal rights in the world. We are evolving, so we would evolve as a people, as well, and not judge people based on someone’s sexual orientation and move with the world,” she said. “This is an opportunity for us to stretch the minds of the citizens of Louisiana and give an opportunity to everyone to work.”
The committee voted 7-2 against reporting the bill favorable ahead of the vote to involuntarily defer HB439.