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Assembly passes transgender discrimination bill

CARSON CITY — In a monumental vote for one of the state’s least-known minorities, the state Assembly Monday backed a bill that would outlaw job discrimination against transgender people.

Members voted 29-13 for Assembly Bill 211, which would prevent discriminating against people based on their gender identity or expression.

All 26 Democrats backed the bill, with three of the 16 Republicans: John Hambrick of Las Vegas, Ed Goedhart of Amargosa Valley and Kelly Kite of Minden.

The bill now goes to the Senate, where supporters think they have the votes to pass the bill. Gov. Brian Sandoval hasn’t given an indication whether he will sign it.

The bill’s sponsor, Assemblyman Paul Aizley, D-Las Vegas, said transgender people testified they often are denied jobs because of how they look. There are 25,000 transgender people in Nevada.

There are three other bills on transgender rights coming up for votes in the Senate. One would abolish discrimination in public accommodations, and another would abolish discrimination in housing. The last would make crimes against transgender people hate crimes subject to longer prison sentences.

Activists were pleased with the passage.

"This is the most important of all the bills among the transgender community," said Lauren Scott, a former Air Force member who is a leader in the transgender community in Reno. Scott attributed the passage of the bill to the fact transgender people showed up at hearings and spoke with legislators, who got to see them as people, "not freaks."

"It’s easier to discriminate against people when you don’t know them," she said.

Fears of employers about hiring transgender people should be lessened because the bill still allows employers to order all workers to wear appropriate dress for the workplace, Scott added.

Gender identity or expression is defined in the bill as a "gender-related identity, appearance, expression or behavior of a person, regardless of the person’s assigned sex at birth."

Employers still may require transgender workers to "adhere to reasonable workplace appearance, grooming and dress standards" that are consistent with his or her gender identity and expression.

Two conservative Republicans spoke out for the bill.

"I was a co-sponsor of the bill," Hambrick said. "Very simply, it is the fair thing to do."

Kite said, "I just feel it is wrong to discriminate for any particular reason."

Assembly Minority Leader Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, said his caucus took no position on the transgender bill. Transgender people are "different," he said, supporting employers’ right not to hire them.

Aizley said transgender people have been waiting for a law to outlaw job discrimination against them since 1999, when lawmakers banned discrimination against gays.

"There is no reason they should be discriminated against," he said.

Assemblyman Pat Hickey, R-Reno, said he wasn’t convinced there are legal barriers preventing transgender people from being hired.

But Aizley said there have been no court cases filed by transgender people because they lack the legal standing to bring them. The Nevada Equal Rights Commission will investigate job discrimination complaints filed by transgender people if the bill becomes law.

In other action Monday, the Assembly did the following:

■ Voted 38-4 for Assembly Joint Resolution 7, which would create a court of appeals in Nevada. Voters defeated a similar plan in November.

■ Voted 42-0 for Assembly Joint Resolution 6, which calls on the U.S. transportation secretary to create an interstate highway out of U.S Highway 93.

■ Voted 32-10 for Assembly Bill 170, which requires stores that sell cigarettes to put up warning signs telling pregnant women that smoking can be hazardous for their unborn children.

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