There are many good arguments to be made for legislative protection of groups that traditionally are ostracized – however discretely or insidiously – in settings such as hiring, housing or business decisions. Those arguments are ensconced in anti-discrimination laws that protect people’s identity and religious affiliations from being factors in their life pursuits, and that is as it should be. Expanding those protections are perhaps appropriate for other minority groups, but affiliation with what amounts to a clique is hardly such a case.
That is why a measure that was introduced – and killed – Wednesday in the Colorado Legislature to restrict businesses and institutions from discriminating against motorcyclists dressed in leather was an unmitigated waste of time. The only saving grace to the measure is that it didn’t to go very far through the legislative process. Beyond that, it amounts to political pandering that makes a mockery of the real concerns raised by those who face discrimination for far more compelling and troubling reasons.
House Bill 1128, sponsored by Rep. Joe Miklosi, D-Denver, would have prohibited discrimination based on “unconventional attire,” though that term is defined as attire that connotes participation in motorcycling or status as a veteran. The notion of unconventional attire surely has far broader reach than these two often-overlapping demographics, and if Miklosi was truly committed to ending discrimination on the basis of appearance, he could have chosen a lesser definition. Instead, he opted to perpetuate a stereotype about bikers, veterans and outlaws that is nearly as outdated as the notion of belonging to a “motorcycle gang.”
Linking veterans and motorcycle enthusiasts in a special protected class suggests that Miklosi, who is running for Congress against incumbent Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Aurora, was looking to garner favor among a slightly broader demographic that tends to encompass the groups HB 1128 would have protected: namely, late middle-aged white males of relatively comfortable means. By cynically claiming the bill aims to protect veterans from discrimination, Miklosi could have been accused of wrapping himself in the flag for political, election-related purposes. He certainly is not alone in making such attempts, but in aiming to establish protected status for what might at its core be among the least discriminated-against demographic in the United States, Miklosi’s measure was actually somewhat offensive – however short-lived it was.
Federal law prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, disability, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin or ancestry, and there are frequent legitimate claims of entities’ failures to adhere to this standard. Indeed, there are active attempts to circumvent the provisions of this anti-discrimination requirement via state legislation addressing any number of issues ranging from same-sex unions to measures that address illegal immigration. Until the discriminatory undertones in these legislative attempts are fully acknowledged, measures such as Miklosi’s will serve to undermine the seriousness with which discriminatory behavior should be addressed.
By refusing to truly protect those groups whose lots in life are compromised as a result of their race, sex, religion or physical abilities while at the same time extending protections to those who choose two-wheeled transportation and leather clothing suggests that any and all groups deserve special protections. That would be the most generous reading of HB 1128’s intent: by extending protections to everyone, no one will face discrimination. While that is a vision we can all support, it is far from reality, and Miklosi’s measure did little, if anything, to move Colorado toward such a place.
HB 1128 lived a short life in committee, and that is for the better.