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Controversy surrounds Wisconsin town’s anti-discrimination ordinance

A two-hour drive north of Milwaukee brings you to De Pere. The historic town sits on the Fox River just minutes south of the picturesque shores of Green Bay. The town has recently been embroiled in a dispute over an anti-discrimination ordinance it passed last year.

At first blush, the controversy might be mystifying. After all, the ordinance offers workplace protections to transgender people, and also prohibits denying them access to housing. While all of that might seem reasonable, a group of Du Pere churches and a Christian radio station filed a lawsuit that asks the court to dismiss the ordinance as unconstitutional or to more narrowly define the measure.

The church coalition argues that the ordinance infringes on their religious freedom and is "devoid of typical safeguards such as religious employment exceptions.”

According to the director of the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Pride Center, De Pere’s ordinance is similar to ordinances enacted without problem in Madison and Appleton. She said the law simply protects transgender people from being fired or denied housing access simply because they are trans.

She doubts the lawsuit will have much effect on the ordinance.

She said the measure simply extends to transgender people the protections already in place to prevent workplace or housing discrimination based on gender, race, religion, ethnicity, age and sexual orientation.

The general manager of the radio station participating in the lawsuit said the ordinance was “rushed through” and could be used to force the station to air a gay-focused talk show or to require a local church to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies.

We do not know how this dispute will eventually be resolved. Those want to pursue a discrimination claim against an employer or a former employer should speak to an employment law attorney about their legal options.

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