State lawmakers are working on a civil rights law that protects people from discrimination. Georgia is one of a handful of states without such a law.
When it was first filed, the bipartisan “Georgia Civil Rights in Public Accommodations Act ” included protections based on race, color, religion and national origin.
Then in the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee, Rep. Taylor Bennett, D-Brookhaven, wanted to add “disability, gender identity, sexual orientation and veteran’s status,” but his efforts failed. Instead the committee agreed to only add protections for the class “sex.”
Now the issue is, what does “sex” mean?
“You know, what is sex? The noun, not the verb,” said Rep. Earl Ehrhart, R–Powder Springs.
Last week, Ehrhart raised his issue with the legislation during a House Rules Committee meeting, where bills are chosen to move on to the House for a vote.
Ehrhart said he’s concerned the bill could be interpreted more broadly to protect people who are transgender.
“I don’t know that I’m ready to make transgender a protected class because I’m not sure what that means. Is there ‘transpecies?’ I mean, I’m not being facetious. We’re continuing to add conceptual definitions to that. Things that I don’t even understand,” said Ehrhart.
He called himself a “rabid equalist,” who wants everyone treated the same under the law.
Rep. Rich Golick, the bill’s sponsor, responded to Ehrhart during a committee hearing.
“It’s already defined, it’s not the type of thing at this point where – it’s one or the other, I mean, it’s male or female,” said Golick. “Sex doesn’t really necessitate a definition, although I don’t think it would be harmful.”
Ehrhart then interrupted, “Ask Bruce Jenner.”
That’s a reference to celebrity Caitlyn Jenner, a transgender woman, who recently went through a high-profile gender transition. She was previously known as Bruce Jenner.
GLAAD, formerly known as the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, as well as other transgender advocacy groups say Jenner should be referred to as Caitlyn.
“I don’t think they can define sex. Because it’s clear that both men and women are covered,” Wendy Hensel, who teaches employment discrimination law at Georgia State University, said.
Hensel said, in situations where “sex” is a protected class, transgender individuals are more likely to win cases than people who are homosexual because it’s easier to prove discrimination based on sex or “sexual stereotypes.”
“It’s a man wearing a dress or a woman wearing her hair short, with no makeup and looking like a man,” she said. “Courts are comfortable concluding that, that is a sex stereotyping case.”
She said this determination played out in the 2011 Glenn V. Bramby case in Georgia, where a person who is transgender won a discrimination case against the state.
Hensel said if lawmakers were to define the noun “sex” and explicitly exclude people who are transgender in the bill, it could be unconstitutional.