Bringing Policy Priorities to Capitol Hill: LGBT Latinos

Posted on 05/13/2016 @ 12:45 AM

Tags: blog, policy

By: Mark Salay, LULAC National Communications Intern

In light of recent anti-LGBT laws sweeping the South, representatives from leading civil rights and public policy organizations convened on Capitol Hill last week to discuss the legislative priorities for LGBT Latinos, a population estimated to be around 1.4 million people.

The panel hosted by LULAC spotlighted the new public policy priorities of the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda (NHLA), a coalition of 40 Latino advocacy organizations that investigates some of the most pressing concerns of the Latino community and recommends policy solutions that will have a lasting impact on Latinos, including LGBT Latinos. The panel featured policy discussions on the anti-LGBT laws in Mississippi and North Carolina and reproductive rights with representatives from the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, True Colors Fund, National Center for Transgender Equality, and the National LGBTQ Taskforce.

Just as African Americans and Latinos were once forced to use segregated bathrooms, a new war on the right to use public facilities is now being waged against transgender people. Joanna Cifredo of the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) spoke on laws passed within the last two months in the South known as “bathroom bills”, which deny people the right to use bathrooms that correspond to their gender identity.

In Mississippi, an anti-LGBT law set to take effect in July allows organizations and businesses to deny services based on religious grounds. The law passed right after the North Carolina state legislature passed their own “bathroom bill”, HB 2. More than 50 people were arrested at the North Carolina state house in protest of the anti-transgender law. The Department of Justice has also sued the state for violating Title VII and Title IX of the Civil Rights Act — which prohibits discrimination in the workplace and in federally funded programs such as public schools — and for violating the Violence Against Women Act.

Supporters of the “bathroom bills” reason that women will be at risk of “sexual predators” posing as women; however, Cifredo said this conversation is not about bathrooms, but about a greater movement of policing bodies and limiting trans people from participating in public life.

“It is a fear tactic we’ve seen time and time again of certain politicians preying upon the ignorance of their constituency and feeding them fear of a marginalized population that they know little about,” Cifredo said.

The NCTE, the Human Rights Campaign, and the American Civil Liberties Union say no evidence supports the claim that women have experienced violence at the hands of transgender people in bathrooms. On the contrary, studies show transgender people are the ones most vulnerable to discrimination and violence when forced to use bathrooms that do not match their gender.

A reported seventy percent of transgender people in Washington D.C. say that they have been denied access and have experienced verbal harassment, or physical assault in public restrooms, according to the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law. Another study by the Journal of Homosexuality found nearly half of trans college students attempted suicide when denied bathroom access, a number that increases when students were of color or of lower income.

As panelist Sergio Lopez, Field Manager of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, pointed out, the Constitution has been a double-edged sword for advancing and limiting religious freedom because of how the First Amendment and Equal Protection Clause can conflict with one another.

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) passed by Congress in 1993 also protects people’s practice of religion and has been used to preserve the rights of religious minorities, such as Muslims and Native Americans. However, a recent report by the Leadership Conference Education Fund, the research and education branch of the Leadership Conference, says the policy is being used by people and businesses to justify discrimination against the LGBT community and violates the Constitution.

“We feel that folks who are fighting for these liberties sometimes pervert that use in order to discriminate against other people,” Lopez said. “They’ve used that argument to discriminate against immigration, women, and people with disabilities.”

Zsea Beaumonis, a fellow at the National LGBTQ Taskforce, advocated for passing three policies to ensure LGBT and reproductive justice including the EACH Woman Act, Equality Act, and the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act.

The EACH Woman Act is based on protecting women’s reproductive rights, an issue that has been intensely contested in light of efforts to defund Planned Parenthood and the Supreme Court’s pending trial regarding the constitutionality of Texas’s HB 2 law, which has closed more than half of abortion clinics in the second largest state in the country; only 10 remain open to treat women seeking abortion.

Although the Equality Act and the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act address eliminating discrimination against the LGBT community and are distinct from the EACH Woman Act, Beaumonis said these issues need to be looked at from a communal lense, “We do see these as intersectional, interconnected issues for the LGBT community and the Latino community within our family.”

Mark Salay is the Communications Intern at the LULAC National Office in Washington, D.C. He is a senior at the University of California, Santa Barbara, majoring in communication with minors in history and professional writing, and will be graduating in the Spring of 2016.

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