Wis. celebrates 40 years of historic LGBTQ anti-discrimination law

State officials are celebrating a milestone for gay rights.
Published: Jun. 27, 2022 at 6:26 PM CDT|Updated: Jun. 27, 2022 at 7:07 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - State officials are celebrating a milestone for gay rights, when Wisconsin became the first in the nation to ban discrimination on many fronts based on sexual orientation.

The Wisconsin Pride and Equal Rights Panel was hosted Monday by the state Department of Workforce Development (DWD) and the Housing and Economic Development Authority (WHEDA).

The author of the legislation described what it took to pass then-Assembly Bill 70 with bipartisan support.

Former State Representative David Clarenbach, a Democrat, said it was crucial to get support from religious groups and Republicans.

GOP votes, he said, were key to the bill passing in both houses of state Legislature.

Clarenbach cited Gov. Lee Dreyfus, a Republican, who signed the bill into law in February 1982: “It is a fundamental tenant of the Republican Party that the government should not interfere in the private lives of individuals. There is certainly nothing more private or more intimate than who you love or how you love. And with that, Gov. Dreyfus put pen to paper and made history.”

The measure amended Wisconsin’s Fair Employment Law, thus protecting Wisconsinites from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in employment, housing, and public accommodations.

“The law that was enacted 40 years ago impacted the real lives of real people in real ways. And that’s what we’re celebrating today,” Clarenbach said Monday.

Other panelists agreed, there is more work ahead for LGBTQ rights.

In the last year, the DWD got 95 complaints of discrimination based on sexual orientation and six complaints based on gender identity, according to Equal Rights Division Administrator Jesús Villa.

He said, “We see people who are subjected to jokes, who are subjected to bullying, who are denied opportunities, who are denied jobs.”

Furthermore, those advancing LGBTQ rights fear movement in other directions.

“I am concerned based on last week’s U.S. Supreme Court decision on abortion rights,” Clarenbach said after the panel, “that there might be a move within the U.S. Supreme Court to take away our rights to same-sex marriage.”

He spoke with NBC15 on the latest opinions from Supreme Court justices, including Clarence Thomas, who challenged the legal basis that guarantees access to contraceptive and same-sex marriage.

Clarenbach continued, “Those are issues that had been decided, in my view, and I think most Americans had agreed that it was a settled debate, but to reopen that can of worms would be very hurtful and very damaging.”

After the anti-discrimination law was signed, it took nearly a decade for other states to follow suit. Now, laws in 22 states and the District of Columbia explicitly prohibit housing discrimination based on sexual orientation, according to the nonprofit think tank LGBTmap.org.

The DWD accepts complaints of discrimination online and by mail. The website explains, it is illegal for an employer to discriminate against someone based on perceived sexual orientation, even if the perception is wrong.

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