Alabama cancels vote on LGBT-inclusive anti-discrimination bill

Earlier this year, Alabama made headlines when it became the 37th state to legalize marriage equality in the United States. Despite this ruling, Alabama has not made as much progress in other areas of LGBT equality. Recently, Alabama's House of Representatives cancelled the vote on a bill that would have banned discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in areas such as employment, housing, voting, public accommodations, and financial transactions.

Republican Rep. David Faulkner spoke about the issue in an article in the Montgomery Advertiser, claiming that the bill "created a new protected class that our nation does not recognize, much less Alabama." Yet, as the map below shows, creating this type of legislation is not a new invention, as there are quite a few states that do see LGBT people as a protected class, though the South is definitely lagging behind.

Still, Democrat Rep. Christopher England, who proposed the bill, believes that Alabama will eventually pass similar legislation, especially since Alabama is further ahead on issues of LGBT equality than many other states in the South. In fact, other politicians have already championed a separate bill, which is similar to the original, but much broader. This legislation would prohibit state employees from being fired for particular characteristics or traits, but doesn’t mention sexual orientation or gender identity explicitly.

The rejection of the original anti-discrimination bill speaks to a larger issue of discomfort towards the LGBT community. While support for marriage equality has increased both in the South and nationally, a layer of uneasiness towards LGBT people still remains, as evidenced by GLAAD's Accelerating Acceptance report, which found that many people still remain uncomfortable around the LGBT community.

This discomfort is especially present in the South. Policy changes like marriage equality don't always translate into a reality of LGBT acceptance, leaving a disproportionately high gap between legal advances and a cultural understanding of the LGBT community. Often, this discomfort leaves the LGBT community feeling the effects of prejudice, and makes it much harder for LGBT-inclusive anti-discrimination laws like the one in Alabama to be passed.

In the South, there are currently no state laws protecting employees on the basis of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. A few local nondiscrimination ordinances have been passed in places like Houston, Texas; Oxford, Mississippi; and Broward County, Florida, but the stark reality is that most LGBT employees, even outside of the South, don't have the law acting in their favor.

Marriage equality is an important step towards recognizing the rights of LGBT individuals, but it is not the only one. GLAAD will be visiting Alabama and other Southern states as part of their Southern Stories program in June, which aims to tell the stories of LGBT people and their allies in order to accelerate acceptance and understanding across the South.

GLAAD hopes that with this cultural shift, LGBT-inclusive anti-discrimination laws will not become something out of the ordinary or controversial, but an important way to improve the daily reality of the LGBT community.