The cavalcade of crazy ginned up by folks fearful of equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Americans was predictable. That far-right conservatives have been wigged out ever since the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage last June is not surprising. Nor is the move by states to pass so-called religious freedom laws. Nor is the push to deny transgender people the dignity of using the bathroom that matches their gender identity. LGBT-rights activist and radio host Michelangelo Signorile predicted as much a year ago in his book “It’s Not Over: Getting beyond Tolerance, Defeating Homophobia, and Winning True Equality.”
But two separate reports from Victory Fund and Institute, an organization that recruits, trains and supports openly LGBT people for elected office, show that it’s no surprise in which states all this is happening. As you will see from the data points below from the report released Friday, it boils down to numbers.
Also, “Nearly all of the states facing anti-transgender bills have only 1 or no openly LGBT people serving in their state legislatures,” the report notes.
“One of the reasons the LGBT movement has seen such rapid progress is because our allies have really stepped up. But allies aren’t enough. When LGBT people are serving in public office, and especially in state legislatures, they directly change the conversation,” Aisha Moodie-Mills, president and CEO of Victory Fund and Institute. told me. “Their visibility and their relationships with their colleagues mean the discussion quickly becomes about a real person with a real family. It’s not just political grandstanding on one side and allies pleading their case on the other. Representation matters. Our voices make a huge difference when we’re in those rooms.”
Knowing this then, the opposite actions recently by Gov. Pat McCrory (R-N.C.) and Gov. Nathan Deal (R-Ga.) have a bit more context.
With lightning speed, the North Carolina legislature passed and McCrory signed into law legislation that not only strips the state of antidiscrimination protections for LGBT folks but also requires transmen and transwomen to use bathrooms based on the sex on their birth certificate and not on their gender identity. The Tar Heel State has no openly LGBT members of its legislature.
Meanwhile, down in the Peach State, Deal vetoed a so-called religious freedom bill. “I do not think we have to discriminate against anyone to protect the faith-based community in Georgia,” he said announcing his decision on March 28. Georgia has three openly LGBT legislators.
Of course, one major factor that cannot be ignored is the reaction of corporations. Before Deal wielded his veto pen, Hollywood studios threatened to pull production from Georgia. Others threatened to pull conventions and business from the state. The backlash he avoided now engulfs McCrory.
PayPal pulled back from North Carolina, costing Charlotte 400 jobs. And that city could also see the National Basketball Association’s 2017 all-star game go elsewhere if the law isn’t changed. But NBA Commissioner Adam Silver told ESPN last week that more might be at stake. “We have a much bigger issue in North Carolina than the All-Star Game: It’s the ongoing operation of our team,” he said. “That’s why what’s most important to this league that there be a change in law. It would be easy to make a statement but I can’t cut-and-run here? I’m leaving my team there.”
The business pushback is important and powerful. But as Moodie-Mills said, LGBT elected officials appear to be having an equally powerful impact. Here are two more data points to consider:
Eighty-three percent of the states not facing a religious refusal bill have at least 2 openly LGBT state legislators.
In the 20 states not facing anti-LGBT legislation, 85% have 2 or more openly LGBT state lawmakers.
As I was writing this piece, Gov. Bill Haslam (R-Tenn.) signed into law legislation that lets therapists and counselors refuse service to a patient based on the provider’s “sincerely held principles” by shielding them from litigation. This noxious statute is a cousin to the blanket immunity law in Indiana that was passed and quickly “fixed” in the face of withering national criticism.
What else do they have in common? Zero openly LGBT state legislators.
Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @Capehartj