Senate committee backs discrimination protection for gays |

Senate committee backs discrimination protection for gays

DENVER – State lawmakers Tuesday gave initial approval to extending discrimination protection to gay, lesbian and transgender people, a measure that has failed to pass eight years in a row.The issue has been a contentious one in Colorado since 1992 when voters approved Amendment 2, which prevented laws that discriminate against gays. That law never took effect because it was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court.Sponsor Jennifer Veiga, D-Denver, and other supporters stressed the move was one of providing equal rights rather than special treatment. Four witnesses, including a teacher at a metro area school, told lawmakers that they had either faced discrimination on the job or lost their jobs because of their sexual orientation.Karen Fox said current state law gave her no recourse after being fired as an assistant professor at the University of Colorado’s Health Sciences Center in July. She appealed the chancellor’s decision upholding her termination but said the three-member review committee included two people with ties to those who allegedly wanted to get rid of her. She said she was not able to sue because it’s not illegal in Colorado to fire someone for being gay and said other people will find themselves in her position without a change to the law.”The very people who discriminate against them are going to decided whether they’ve been discriminated against or not,” she said.Health Sciences Center spokeswoman Tonya Ewers said officials would not comment on a personnel matter.Susan Romeo, a Denver-area elementary teacher for gifted and talented children, said she was put on leave in October after getting a bad review from a new principal, her first in seven years as a teacher. She declined to say which school district she worked for because her suspension is being appealed.Romeo said she never told her students she was a lesbian but disclosed it to a parent who asked. She said parents who opposed her have been meeting as a group for several years, sometimes with administrators.The law, approved in committee with Democrats supporting it and Republicans opposing it, would exempt religious organizations from the law unless they accept public funds. Veiga said religious groups are also exempt from the current civil rights law, which bar discrimination on the basis of criteria such as race and gender.”If they want to take taxpayer money and they want to discriminate, that’s a problem,” Veiga said.Sen. Tom Wiens, R-Castle Rock, tried unsuccessfully to change the bill to say that an expression of religious beliefs couldn’t be construed as discrimination. He said he wanted to protect people who might tell others at work they believe homosexuality is wrong. Veiga said such an expression could protect much more than that, including firing someone because they’re gay.Staffers estimate the new law would cost the state about $79,000 the first year to hire someone to review the expected discrimination claims. The bill’s next stop is the appropriations committee.

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