From 2009 to 2013, the Nevada Legislature made significant strides in advancing LGBTQ equality. Comprehensive domestic partnerships became law in 2009. Transgender inclusive nondiscrimination bills became law in 2011 and 2013, including a trans* inclusive workplace equality law in 2011. But in the 2015 session, LGBTQ civil rights activists were instead on the defense.
So what can civil rights activists expect this session?
Even though LGBTQ civil rights advanced considerably in previous legislative sessions, activists are still pushing forward for more progress. On Monday, the Assembly Health and Human Services Committee heard testimony on AB 99 to protect LGBTQ foster youth. On Tuesday, the Assembly Legislative Operations and Elections Committee heard AJR 2 to remove the ban on marriage equality from the Nevada Constitution. In the coming days, we can expect action on bills like SB 188 to complete Nevada’s anti-discrimination laws and SB 110 to ease the burden on trans* Nevadans who need to legally change their names.
After the emotionally charged AJR 2 hearing, I caught up with a key legislator who’s moving a couple of these bills.
Assembly Member Nelson Araujo (D-Las Vegas) is not just openly gay himself, but he’s also shown a keen interest in advancing civil rights across the board.
“There is a greater purpose. We should be doing everything in our power to ensure full access for everyone.”
Araujo sat in the committee room as families poured their hearts out. He also sat there as opponents tried to muddy the waters in a last-ditch effort to derail his marriage bill. He even sat there as some opponents questioned the necessity of it. (Araujo and a few pro-AJR 2 commenters framed it as insurance against an unpredictable Trump Administration.)
Yet at Monday’s AB 99 hearing, no one testified against the bill. Araujo noted that the broad support for protecting foster kids didn’t end in the committee room. “This bill has bipartisan support. [Several Republicans] want to do what’s right for foster youth.”
I asked Araujo whether other bills will attract Republican support. It’s too early to tell, but he’s encouraged by AB 99’s reception thus far… And by the events of the last legislative session.
Even though LGBTQ civil rights activists faced a less friendly Legislature in 2015, they nonetheless succeeded in defeating all anti-equality bills. This included AB 375, the infamous anti-trans* “bathroom bill” that failed 22-20 in the Assembly that year. Araujo helped lead the charge against AB 375, and he’s still grateful how that bill died. “Trans* youth were fearful of coming out. I’m grateful we were able to kill it in a bipartisan manner.”
“In the Nevada Legislature, we try to do what’s best for our youth.”
Araujo sensed AB 375’s sponsors didn’t even realize the damage they risked to transgender Nevadans, and to the state overall. He now hopes his colleagues have since learned from that epic experience. I may have witnessed some of that learning curve on Monday, as Assembly Health and Human Services members were generally respectful across the board to the LGBTQ Nevadans who opened up during the AB 99 hearing.
Araujo voiced more confidence about pro-equality legislation passing this session. Due to the LGBTQ civil rights movement’s recent success in “making the human case and the financial case” for equality, we’ve seen Nevada’s LGBTQ community build alliances with the business community, the labor movement, and other progressive civil rights activists. From gaming and tourism to the burgeoning technology sector, equality makes sense for the state’s bottom line.
“We have a lot of allies behind us every step of the way.”
With a more hostile environment taking hold at the federal level, Araujo and other pro-equality legislators want to solidify protections for vulnerable Nevadans at the state and local level. They don’t want anyone to fear potential changes to the U.S. Supreme Court, ongoing White House volatility, and/or another threatening Donald Trump tweet.
“Nevada is ready to fight for diversity.”
Can Nevada do it? Can Araujo and his allies make more change? It’s never a great idea to predict everything the Legislature will do so early in the session. But so far, they have a good shot at making #NVLeg an agent of change again.