Metro Weekly

Kentucky Democrat pushes 2 bathroom bills and “religious freedom” bill

State Rep. Rick Nelson dives into dictating bathroom use and allowing businesses to discriminate

State Rep. Rick Nelson – Photo: Rick Nelson for Kentucky.

Apparently Southern lawmakers have learned nothing from North Carolina’s failed experiment with anti-LGBT legislation. In yet another state, a lawmaker has introduced a bill that would mimic the controversial HB 2 bill credited with ensuring the defeat of Gov. Pat McCrory in his bid for re-election. But in a surprise twist, the most recent bill, in Kentucky, is sponsored by a Democrat.

State Rep. Rick Nelson (D-Middlesboro), fresh off his failed run for state treasurer, has introduced a trio of bills targeting the LGBT community, including two bathroom bills, the first of which is nearly identical to the HB 2 law that passed in North Carolina. That bill would prohibit transgender people from using sex-specific restrooms that don’t comport with their assigned sex at birth. A second bathroom bill deals specifically with schools, requiring students to use those facilities designated for their biological sex, although alternative accommodations can be made for transgender students, reports the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Kentucky’s Republican governor, Matt Bevin, last year expressed outrage when the Obama Department of Education and Department of Justice issued guidance directing schools to permit transgender students to use restrooms and locker facilities that match their gender identity. But, in December, Bevin also rejected the idea that Kentucky needs a law dictating which restroom transgender individuals should use.

Like Bevin, Nelson says he is not aware of any instance involving transgender bathroom use that needs to be addressed with legislation. But he also said he wanted to remain “vigilant about what could happen.”

Last year, when Democrats controlled the Kentucky House of Representatives and Republicans controlled the state Senate, the Senate passed a bill governing transgender students’ restroom usage in schools that is quite similar to Nelson’s bill. Political observers have worried that, with Republicans now in control of the House, such a bill may see renewed signs of life. But Bevin’s resistance to the idea may keep legislative leaders at bay.

Nelson’s third bill is a “religious freedom” bill that mirrors yet another Senate-approved bill from last session The bill would prohibit the government from enforcing laws or ordinances that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity by allowing those opposed to providing services to LGBT people — such as a baker who does not want to make a cake for a gay wedding — to cite their “sincerely held religious beliefs.” This would essentially render toothless eight different local ordinances that prohibit anti-LGBT discrimination in he cities of Covington, Danville, Frankfort, Lexington, Louisville, Midway, Morehead and Vicco.

Chris Hartman, the director of the Kentucky Fairness Campaign, told the Herald-Leader that the proposed bills are direct attacks on LGBT Kentuckians, also noting that such bills have the potential to cost Kentucky business or tourism opportunities.

“The effect of passing this type of discriminatory legislation is clear. It will cost the state millions of dollars,” Hartman said, citing the loss of several sporting events, conferences, and planned corporate expansions that occurred in North Carolina after HB 2 was passed. “If Kentucky lawmakers want to remain focused on improving our commonwealth’s economy, this is exactly the legislation they should avoid. Furthermore, if Kentucky fans hope to host NCAA college basketball championship games in the future, they must speak out against HB 105 and HB 106 [and HB 141].”

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com