Utah Rabbi Submits Testimony for Fairness and Equality
Human and civil rights often begin in small and unexpected places. This pattern is further exemplified by the latest developments in the struggle for equal protection in the workplace in Utah.
Despite popular perception there is currently no federal law that prohibits discrimination in the workplace (i.e. firing, failing to hire, demoting or refusing to promote) based on sexual orientation and gender identity. And while a number of states have enacted their own protections, still 29 states have no protection for lesbian, gay and bisexual people and 34 states have no protection for the transgender community.
Late last week Senate Bill 262, the Housing and Employment Antidiscrimination Amendments, was introduced into the Utah State Senate. S.B. 262 is modeled off of similar legislation enacted in other states: it would make it illegal to discriminate against someone based on their sexual orientation or gender identity in the workplace or the housing market. If enacted this bill would have profound effect on the LGBT community in Utah, 47% of lesbian and gay Utahns and 67% of transgender Utahns experience discrimination in the workplace. The transgender community is four times more likely to live in extreme poverty and lack access to housing as the cisgender community (people who identify as the gender they were assigned at birth).
Yesterday the Senate Workforce and Economic Development Committee held a hearing on the issue and Rabbi Ilana Schwartzman of Congregation Kol Ami in Salt Lake submitted testimony. Rabbi Schwartzman underscored the Jewish experience of discrimination before the committee, “We know how it is to feel that you have to hide that true identity in public life in order to seek the same opportunities that others have.” She continued, “As such, we empathize with those who can still be denied equal participation in the workplace because of who they are.” A full text of Rabbi Schwartzman’s testimony can be found here.
The Religious Action Center has worked closely with Rabbi Schwartzman and Equality Utah in order to help build support and pass the Housing and Employment Antidiscrimination Amendments. At the same time we have been tracking developments in West Virginia where the Employment and Housing Nondiscrimination Act was just introduced in both houses of the state legislature, with an impressive advocacy campaign coordinate in part out of Charleston’s Temple Israel (thanks to Rabbi Josh Cohn there). Additionally a bill has been introduced in Maryland to add gender identity protections to the state discrimination policy that already covers sexual orientation.
The RAC and the Union for Reform Judaism have long supported the rights of LGBT people, and indeed of all people, to be free from discrimination. Check back on here on RACblog for the latest updates on the struggle for equal rights in both the states and the federal government.