At a Thursday morning press conference, Democrats called for the passage of House Bill 2625, which would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of characteristics for which Arizonans can’t be discriminated against in housing, employment, school and public accommodations like bathrooms and locker rooms.
“We are who we are, and we are asking for acceptance,” said Rep. Patty Contreras, a Phoenix Democrat and lesbian. “We should not have to fear getting fired for who we are. We should not have to fear not being able to find housing because of who we love. We should not have the fear of retaliation because of the bathroom we use because of our gender identity. We should not fear going to school because we’re afraid bullies might harm us.
“All we are asking is that we, like all Arizonans, be treated fairly and equally by the laws of our state," Contreras added.
Contreras is a co-sponsor of the legislation, along with Reps. Lorena Austin, Lupe Contreras, Nancy Gutierrez, Melody Hernandez and Analise Ortiz. Rep. Oscar De Los Santos filed the bill on Tuesday.
State law already protects Arizonans from discrimination based on race, religion, sex, age and disability. As many as 11 Arizona cities have LGBTQ inclusive non-discrimination ordinances in place, including Phoenix, Tucson, Flagstaff, Glendale and Chandler.
But attempts to make that a reality at the statewide level have failed to make it out of the legislature since at least 2016. Last year, a version was assigned to multiple legislative committees, but Republican lawmakers, who chair and make up a majority of each committee panel, decide which bills get heard and the measure was never scheduled for a vote.
In 2022, then-House Speaker Rusty Bowers, a Republican, co-sponsored a bill with Democrats that included exemptions for schools and religious buildings, but even that bill was ultimately shelved.
Republican lawmakers reigniting culture warsIt’s unclear whether this year’s iteration will gain any traction, either. The Republican majority is fresh off of a two-year streak of hostile lawmaking with goals like the criminalization of drag performers, banning gender-affirming surgery for trans minors and prohibiting trans girls from joining school sports teams consistent with their gender identity.
And while this year, Republican leaders have turned their focus to voter concerns like inflation, taxes and gas prices ahead of campaign season, party members have already begun to back culture war bills. HB 2139 eliminates the confidentiality of student medical records, potentially sharing personal discussions LGBTQ+ students may have with school counselors to their parents. HB 2391 codifies biological sex at birth and shields any policies that separate sports teams, domestic violence shelters, public accommodations or prisons by biological sex.
Sen. John Kavanagh, a Fountain Hills Republican and frequent author of anti-LGBTQ bills, told the Arizona Mirror that his reworked pronoun ban bill, which earned a swift veto from Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs last year, is urgently needed to ensure parents are kept in the loop about their children’s identities. The measure, Senate Bill 1166, would force schools to notify parents within five days if their minor child requested a teacher use a preferred pronoun or name different from their biological sex or given name. It would also allow teachers to refuse to comply with that request, effectively greenlighting the misgendering of students.
Kavanagh said this year’s bill is more permissive than the one filed in 2023, which required teachers to obtain written parental permission before they could respect a student’s identity. He dismissed the idea that requiring disclosure of a student’s gender identity would effectively amount to a ban for students with hostile families, saying that’s a matter for Child Protective Services to handle.
“We’re not stopping the school,” he said. “Even though I think it’s bad policy for schools to engage in the process of furthering gender transformation without the approval of the parents. We at least want the parents to know this is going on.”
Majority of Arizonans support protections for LGBTQ+ peopleDespite the persistence of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation at the state Capitol, Bridget Sharpe is hopeful that the anti-discrimination bill her organization helped draft will get a fair shot. Sharpe is the Arizona state director for the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ+ advocacy group. She said she’s counting on public sentiment to turn lawmakers away from discriminatory legislation and towards bills that foster equality.
“A vast majority of Americans and Arizonans support protections for LGBTQ folks,” she said. “These bills just send a message from these particular legislators that LGBTQ folks are not safe or protected in our state and it’s very disappointing. It goes against what their own constituents think and feel.”
A 2022 report from the nonpartisan organization Public Religion Research Institute found that as much as 77% of Arizonans would support nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ+ people. And that support transcends party lines at the national level: The same report found that as much as 65% of Republicans would approve of laws to protect LGBTQ+ Americans from discrimination.
The measure is necessary because the safety of LGBTQ+ people is at stake, Sharpe added, pointing out that anti-LGBTQ+ hate is still rampant. Last year, a bomb threat was made at a Tempe coffee shop after a drag story hour was announced, and an event in Tucson was postponed when it was similarly targeted by far-right extremists.
Arizona also doesn't have a stand-alone hate crime law, and the Phoenix Police Department and Maricopa County Sheriff's Office make it tough to track bias crimes.
“It’s scary out there right now,” Sharpe said. “While we know that the vast majority of the public does support our community, two-thirds of LGBTQ Americans have experienced some form of discrimination in their lives. It very much is prevalent and all it takes is one incidence of discrimination to change someone’s life for the worse.”
Whether the Republican majority legislature considers the anti discrimination bill or extends its hostility for another year, Sharpe said she can breathe easier with Hobbs in office. The Democrat has repeatedly warned lawmakers that proposals targeting LGBTQ+ people will meet her veto pen. And on Thursday, her spokesperson, Christian Slater, reiterated that promise.
“I’ll point you to what the governor said when vetoing similar legislation last session,” he said. “‘Instead of coming up with new ways to target and isolate our children, we should be working together to create an Arizona where everyone has the freedom to be who they are without fear of harassment or judgment.’”
This story was first published by Arizona Mirror, which is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Follow Arizona Mirror on Facebook and Twitter.