Press

NGLTF Blasts ‘English Only’ Law

Date: 
March 07, 1996

Saying it promotes divisiveness and will feed fear and hostility, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) has joined in coalition with other civil rights groups to oppose an "English only" bill now before the U.S. Senate.

S 356, the "Official English Bill" sponsored by Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Alabama), seeks to make English the "official language" of the U.S. Government. Hearings on the bill were held today in the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, chaired by Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska). NGLTF, joining with the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and other groups, has asked Sen. Stevens to reject the bill.

"As an organization that seeks to protect and promote the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgendered individuals, we know first-hand the impact of legislation that feeds the fear and hostility individuals may have against one segment of the community," said NGLTF in a letter to Senator Stevens. The Task Force asked that the letter be included in the formal record of the hearings. "When times are tough it is especially easy to blame those who are different from us -- because of their language, the color of their skin, or their sexual orientation -- for any and all of society's problems."

According to the LCCR, the negative impacts of the law are severe. If passed, the "English only" legislation would disenfranchise non-English speakers by prohibiting the availability of bilingual ballots; deprive language minority litigants of due process by denying them the right to have court interpreters; and prohibit the availability of emergency services in languages other than English, among other affects.

"Since the bill itself does nothing to further the learning of English by that small portion of the population that does not speak it well enough to conduct day-to-day business in English, its impact will instead be to promote discrimination against and isolationism by those individuals," said NGLTF in the letter to Stevens. The letter was cosigned by NGLTF Executive Director Melinda Paras and NGLTF Public Policy Director Helen Gonzales, who attended the hearings. "This legislation plays into the fear and hatred that already exists against immigrants in this country by putting an official government stamp of approval on actions of those who belittle or resent individuals just because they speak another language." NGLTF warned about the possible rash of hostile lawsuits by people who object to other languages being spoken. "Since any individual who is offended by the official use of another language has standing to sue under this Act, it is likely there will be hundreds of frivolous suits by people who may interpret vague provisions in this bill to suit their own prejudices."

"English already is overwhelmingly the dominant language in the U.S.," said NGLTF in the letter to the Senate. "According to the 1990 U.S. Census, more than 95 percent of U.S. residents speak English 'well' or 'very well.' S 356 seems to be addressing a problem that does not even exist. Rather than promoting a common bond, [the bill] will promote divisiveness."

To register opposition to this the bill, write the Chairman of the Committee, the Honorable Ted Stevens, Chairman, Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, 340 Senate Dirksen Office Building, Washington, DC 20510.

For copies of the NGLTF publication, "The Costs of Scapegoating: Anti-Immigrant Backlash," contact the NGLTF publication order line at (202)332-6483, ext. 3327, or email ngltf@ngltf.org. It is also available for downloading in our Publications Page in Adobe Acrobat Format. The document is part of the Task Force's "Linkages Series," which makes connections between gay rights and attacks on immigrants, welfare and affirmative action.

–30–

The mission of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is to build the political power of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community from the ground up. We do this by training activists, organizing broad-based campaigns to defeat anti-LGBT referenda and advance pro-LGBT legislation, and by building the organizational capacity of our movement. Our Policy Institute, the movement’s premier think tank, provides research and policy analysis to support the struggle for complete equality and to counter right-wing lies. As part of a broader social justice movement, we work to create a nation that respects the diversity of human expression and identity and creates opportunity for all. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., we also have offices in New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis and Cambridge.