Transgender laws - one remarkable success

With the whirlwind 120 days of Nevada lawmaking over, Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada lobbyist Jan Gilbert reflects on this year’s victories for disenfranchised Nevadans. Three bills backed by PLAN that safeguard transgender and gender non-conforming Nevadans from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations were signed into law.

“Getting these bills passed was almost amazing, it truly was,” Gilbert says. “I thought it was going to be much more difficult.”

The legislation rose from a survey of 6,450 transgender individuals. The results show that transgender individuals deal with high incidences of violence, poverty, homelessness and widespread harassment, even by police, medical professionals and teachers. Worse, the report concludes, the discrimination is often tolerated by too many, “Society blames transgender and gender non-conforming people for bringing the discrimination and violence on themselves.”

Gilbert credits the bills’ successes to coordinated efforts of PLAN and the backing of three legislators, Sen. Sheila Leslie (Reno), Sen. David Parks (Vegas), and Assemblymember Paul Aizley (Vegas). One bill received support that Gilbert hadn’t predicted from the Nevada Resort Association, the casino lobby group, which supported friendly public accommodations for transgender individuals.

“We always get a few groups that come on board who are surprising,” Gilbert says.

PLAN coordinates the efforts of more than 30 Nevada groups that advocate for children, women, seniors, anti-poverty initiatives, people of color, disabled individuals and environmental reform.

Other PLAN wins include a bill that clears up requirements for ex-felons to register to vote and reducing the deductions that mining companies can claim to evade taxes.

What impresses Gilbert most is the power that young people wielded this year in making a case for public education to state lawmakers.

Gov. Brian Sandoval’s original budget would have prompted devastating cuts to K-12 education. Universities and community colleges planned for the worst. The final budget still hacks education, to be sure, but it was less horrifying than it could have been. So rejoice.

PLAN activists joined others in camping on the lawn of the Nevada Legislature in May to draw attention to budget turmoil. In March, university students from Las Vegas joined Northern Nevada students in perhaps the largest rally ever in Carson City.

“This was the exciting thing that happened—the engagement of young people,” Gilbert says. “The numbers of people who came to this building over and over again. … I think we can be very proud of that kind of community involvement and empowerment. … I think [the protests] make them very uncomfortable to vote no, no, no. Here were serious cuts to education, but they were not as bad as originally proposed.”

Gilbert hopes the legislature jump-started a new generation of activists.

“Those young people that came out, those are our future leaders,” she says. “I know some are going to run for office.”

Between sessions, PLAN members may consider starting voter initiatives to create a stabilized tax base in Nevada and to remove protection for mining taxation from the Nevada Constitution.

Perhaps it’s also time for an initiative to dump Jim Gibbons’ Tax Restraint Initiative, his legacy from the 1994 legislature, which demands tax increases or new taxes be approved by a two-thirds super-majority of legislators.

“How long-lasting that was,” Gilbert says. “I wish we could get rid of that. It allows a minority, a few tyrants to shut things down here.”

This was Gilbert’s 26th year of working at the Nevada Legislature.

“I started out as an amateur and worked my way up to understanding what I have to do to get those votes,” she says.