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Gay anti-bias bill gains ground in Senate panel

Capitol news bureau

Photo For: Gay anti-bias bill gains ground in Senate panel

Advocate staff photo
State Sen. Ken Hollis, listens to testimony on a bill that would prohibit workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation.' Hollis, who has a gay son, cast a key vote to send the anti-discrimination bill to the full Senate.

After one of its members emotionally recalled how he learned one of his sons is gay, a Senate committee approved a bill Thursday to stop discrimination against gay men and women in the workplace.

The Senate Labor and Industrial Relations panel voted 3-2 to let the full Senate debate the idea of prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Sen. Ken Hollis cast a key vote for the Senate bill shortly after emotionally recounting to a crowded committee room the lessons he learned from one of his sons.

Hollis, a Metairie Republican with aspirations to be governor, said he wouldn't play politics with such a sensitive issue.

Hollis said he remembers when his son confided 10 or 12 years ago that he is gay.

"I hugged him and I said, 'I love you.' Two other friends of his came out very soon after that," Hollis said, his voice choked with emotion. "One of them got beat up by his dad. The other one got thrown out of the house."

Hollis said he remembers when his son called from a job on a university campus a few years later.

"He said, 'I'm afraid they've found out and I'm going to be fired,' " Hollis said. "He didn't ask for it. He didn't order it from Wal-Mart. He was born that way."

Hollis said the issue needs broad public debate.

Sen. Don Cravins, D-Arnaudville, said his SB862 would prohibit employment discrimination against people on the basis of their "actual or perceived sexual orientation."

Cravins said he doesn't view his bill as politically charged. He said it's a matter of fairness.

"Every one of God's children should have an opportunity to make a living," Cravins said. "And, they ought to be able to do it with relative calm in their lives."

Cravins said he recently was criticized by a minister, who said Cravins' bill runs counter to Bible teachings against homosexuality.

"How can you carry a Bible around, swing it up in the air and talk about Christianity and yet you will condemn God's children?" Cravins said. "Something's wrong with that."

As it cleared the Senate panel, Cravins' bill would apply only to businesses with more than 25 full-time employees. It would not apply to religious organizations.

Cravins said the bill does not require employers to extend benefits to employees' gay partners or require quotas or preferential treatment.

The burden of proving discrimination would be on the employee.

The Senate panel spent more than two hours on Cravins' bill, listening to arguments from the gay community in support of the measure and from opponents who argued against it largely on religious grounds.

Martin Pfeiffer, an LSU student whose gay rights activism included pushing for a gay club at McKinley Senior High while a student there in 1999, said gay men and women are productive workers.

But, Pfeiffer said, many will be tempted to leave Louisiana for opportunities elsewhere if they don't believe the state protects their rights.

Christopher Daigle, who works with gay students at Tulane University and is governmental affairs director for the Louisiana Electorate of Gays and Lesbians, said he gets up to 20 calls a year from people around the state seeking advice after being fired or forced out of a job because they are gay.

Daigle said he is forced to tell them that Louisiana has no laws to prohibit such job discrimination.

Heath Martin, who will soon graduate from McNeese State University, said he ran squarely into anti-gay discrimination on the job several years ago.

Martin said he was working at a restaurant in Lake Charles and progressed rapidly from bartender to supervisor. But, Martin said, when word got out about his homosexuality, he started having problems at work and ultimately was forced to quit.

"It's ridiculous that in 2001 we still allow this hatefulness to exist," Martin said.

Most of the arguments against the bill focused on religious opposition to gay behavior.

Pat Harris, a New Orleans resident who said she was representing only herself, said she fears where Cravins' bill could lead.

Harris said she is concerned that such legislation could be a step toward recognition of homosexuals as a minority group.

Harris said she could see it leading to Louisiana schools teaching about the gay lifestyle to school children.

Reading from the Bible, Robert Breaud of Arabi said homosexual behavior is "an enormous sin" that should not be rewarded.

Breaud said he repented his own "unholy, unhappy" gay lifestyle at age 34 in 1994 and reconciled himself to what he called God's law.

Sens. Hollis; Lynn Dean, R-Braithwaite; and C.D. Jones, D-Monroe, voted for Cravins' bill. Sens. Noble Ellington, D-Winnsboro, and Mike Smith, D-Winnfield, voted against it.

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