Bill would ban transgender job discrimination

CARSON CITY — A Clark County district judge told legislators Friday that if they don’t pass a bill outlawing job discrimination against transgender people, then “that is tantamount to allowing discrimination to continue.”

Judge Kathleen Delaney made the comments during an Assembly Commerce and Labor Committee hearing in which she testified for Assembly Bill 211.

The bill would outlaw job discrimination against people based on their gender identity and expression.

Her comments visibly angered committee Chairman Kelvin Atkinson, D-North La Vegas, who pointed out she had identified herself as a judge and did not say she was testifying as a private citizen.

Generally judges testify before the Legislature only on bills affecting the courts.

“I find your comments inappropriate and unfair,” Atkinson said. “We don’t discriminate.”

But Delaney said she “knows for a fact” that transgender people regularly face job discrimination in Nevada.

She later apologized to Atkinson and added she meant to say she was testifying as a private citizen.

No one spoke against AB211 unlike a raucous hearing on a similar bill two years ago. That bill failed.

But Atkinson did not conduct a vote Friday.

The bill must pass by April 15, or it is dead for the legislative session.

Before conducting a vote, Atkinson said he wanted to talk with the bill’s sponsor, Assemblyman Paul Aizley, D-Las Vegas. Aizley left before the hearing was finished.

Earlier Aizley had told the committee that 13 states outlaw job discrimination based on gender expression or identity.

Under the bill, transgender people could file complaints with the Nevada Equal Rights Commission if they suspect job discrimination.

Employers still could require transgender workers to “adhere to reasonable workplace, grooming and dress standards” as long as they are allowed to dress consistent with their gender identity.

Sobbing transgender Denise Jay pleaded for members to pass the bill.

“All I desire is a chance to earn a decent living,” said the Southern Nevada resident, saying she has experienced repeated job discrimination based on her gender expression. “I am not different than other people. I breathe and bleed like all of you.”

In all, a dozen transgender witnesses testified for the bill, including prominent Las Vegas architect Danielle Walliser who told of the hard times she suffered in coming to terms with her “true gender identity.”

About 25,000 to 50,000 Nevadans are transgender, other witnesses said.

Another supporter was Karen Grayson, who discovered at age 4 that she was not comfortable with her birth gender and lived more than 50 years as a man with a wife and children.

“I knew I was the wrong gender. I hid out of fear of loving my jobs,” added Grayson, who said she ultimately lost her job even though she had an exemplary record as a construction superintendent.

But Atkinson and Assemblywoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, were disappointed supporters did not have specific statistics on the number of transgender people in Nevada who have suffered job discrimination.

In Washington state, there have been about 50 transgender job discrimination cases a year filed since its legislators passed a similar law.

“In my opinion we in Nevada don’t set out to discriminate against people on purpose,” Kirkpatrick said. “We rely on tourists. We rely on all different kinds of people who come into our state.”

Michael Ginsburg, the Southern Nevada leader of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, said his organization’s survey in eight Nevada counties found more than 60 percent of transgender people said they experienced job discrimination.

The alliance is an umbrella advocacy organization that represents more than 40 liberal-leaning groups in the state.

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3901.

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