Obama following Minnesota and other states in barring GLBT discrimination in workplace


President Obama announced Monday that he plans to draft new rules barring federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity -- a standard of employment that has been on the Minnesota books for 21 years.

Back in 1993, our state legislature added sexual orientation to its list of protections in the Human Rights Act, a move that has been interpreted broadly to include gender identity.

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"We are pleased that the federal government is catching up to Minnesota," says Teresa Nelson, legal director for the state chapter of the ACLU. "It's about time."

Of course, the feds have had nondiscrimination provisions in place for half a century, but Title 7 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 only applies to businesses with more than 15 employees and says nothing of same-sex couples. In 29 states, including both of the Dakotas, it's still legal to fire or bar GLBT folks from employment, according to the Human Rights Campaign. Minnesota was one of the first to put its foot down.

"Our law is more broad; it applies to pretty much anybody," says Phil Duran, legal director of OutFront Minnesota, an organization that worked hard to get the 1993 amendment passed when it was known as the Gay and Lesbian Community Action Council. "But (the president's) move is really important because there are so few protections at the federal level in the first place."

OutFront has its sights on, among other things, the removal of language from a statute that prohibits transitional surgery. On May 30, a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services review board lifted the Medicare ban on sexual reassignment claims, saying it was medically necessary for some people who don't identify with their biological sex.

"It's a conversation we've been having here for 10 years," Duran says. Still, as far as equal rights go, that is one instance in which Minnesota may end up following the feds.

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