The Oregon House of Representatives moved on Wednesday to scrub language offensive to LGBTQ residents in a bill that also specifies that sexual orientation is not a physical or mental impairment.
The bill passed the House 58-2 and goes to the Senate.
Rep. Rob Nosse, who is gay, said on the House floor that the state's anti-LGBTQ laws date back to the 1850s when Oregon was a territory, and helped put some people into mental hospitals and the state penitentiary for expressing their love or true gender. The laws were enforced until the 1970s, Nosse said.
"It was taken for granted that being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender meant that you had a mental disorder and unfortunately ... remnants of those sentiments still remain in our legal code, and that's why we have this bill," the Portland Democrat said.
The measure modernizes language referring to transgender people, deleting "transsexualism" and "transvestism" from Oregon's employment anti-discrimination law. The bill clarifies that sexual orientation isn't considered a physical or mental impairment and that a person doesn't have a disability solely due to sexual orientation.
"By removing offensive, outdated terms such as 'transsexualism' and 'transvestism,' and striking the association between transgender people and those with 'sexual behavior disorders,' this bill affirms the dignity of transgender Oregonians," said Nancy Haque, executive director of Basic Rights Oregon, in earlier testimony. The group works to ensure equality for LGBTQ residents.
Two Republicans, Rep. Mike Nearman of Independence, and Rep. Werner Reschke of Klamath Falls, were the only two House lawmakers who voted against the bill. They did not speak about the bill on the House floor. They were in meetings after the vote and did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Cierra Brown, the chair of OGALLA, the LGBT bar association of Oregon, said earlier that while individual transgender people may receive various diagnoses or health care, those conditions or limitations are distinct from an individual's gender identity.
"This bill draws a line between tangible conditions — which the disability law should protect on equal terms for all Oregonians — and inherent identity," Brown said.
The Oregon Trial Lawyers Association said the bill would not erode existing protections for any individuals.
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