Members of the transgender community chalked up a victory Monday when the Nevada Assembly approved a bill to protect them from employment discrimination.
Democratic lawmakers, with limited Republican support, approved the bill to add "gender identity or expression" to a list of characteristics employers may not discriminate against.
"Voting for this bill is voting against discrimination," said Las Vegas Democratic Assemblyman Paul Aizley, who sponsored the legislation.
State law already prohibits employers from singling out job candidates based on race, religion, sexual orientation and other attributes. But transgender people told lawmakers that they are left out of those categories and suffer higher unemployment than the general population.
Some witnesses said they were fired from their jobs after their transgender identity was discovered, though they were told they were fired for other reasons.
"Far too often, well-qualified transgender individuals are denied the opportunity to secure meaningful employment and contribute to the Nevada economy," said Lauren Scott of Equality Nevada, which advocates for the transgender community.
Most Assembly Republicans opposed the bill, although no one spoke against it before the floor vote. Assembly Minority Leader Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, said after the vote it takes hiring discretion away from employers who might have concerns about accommodating the needs of a transgender employee, such as finding an appropriate restroom.
But three Republicans - Kelly Kite, R-Minden, John Hambrick, R-Las Vegas, and Ed Goedhart, R-Amargosa Valley -broke rank and voted in favor of the bill, AB211.
"To me, it was just a fair thing to do," Hambrick said. "We started listening, and I agreed with them."
Hambrick added that he wasn't judging his fellow Republicans on their vote, and said it was "a very personal decision."
Proponents said they see a shift from prior sessions, when hearings on the issue were far more contentious.
"In the past, many legislators didn't understand our issues or the problems faced by transgender Nevadans," Scott said. "The community has worked very hard to educate the members of the Nevada legislature."
The bill, approved 29-13, goes to the Senate for consideration.
The employment bill comes as state senators are preparing to decide on another measure, SB180, which adds transgender people to the list of special groups protected by hate crime laws. Senators are expected to vote later this week on that bill, which is sponsored by Sen. David Parks, D-Las Vegas.