Here’s the Next Step Congress Can Take for LGBTQ Rights
The Equality Act would enshrine long-overdue federal protections for LGBTQ people.
As Pride Month kicks off, we’re taking a look at the Equality Act, a historic piece of legislation aimed at protecting the rights of LGBTQ people in the United States.
The Equality Act would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other statutes—like the Fair Housing Act, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, the Jury Selection and Services Act—to protect people from being discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in places of public accommodation—essentially, places that offer goods and service to the public.
The Equality Act also expands the definition of “public accommodation” so that it applies to all sorts of things. Under the Equality Act, hotels, restaurants, retail stores, banks, gas stations, transportation services (including ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft), and health care, accounting, and legal services would all be subject to federal anti-discrimination laws.
Anti-discrimination laws provide federal protection to people who belong to “suspect classes”—marginalized people who have historically been subjected to discrimination based on personal characteristics they can’t change, like race and gender.
Given the anti-trans hysteria that has swept Republican-controlled states this year, it’s particularly noteworthy that the Equality Act would ensure trans people are among those protected by federal law.
The Equality Act passed the House in February, and it’s currently in the Senate. A majority of voters support it: A poll published by the Human Rights Campaign in March found that 7 in 10 U.S. voters support the legislation.
In March, the Senate held a hearing on the Equality Act, featuring testimony from Stella Keating, a trans 16-year-old who has been outspoken about what the Equality Act would mean for trans teens. Rewire News Group legal fellow Caroline Reilly live-tweeted the hearing:
Keating, the first trans teen to testify before the Senate, told the committee:
All I can think about is this: less than half of the states in our country provide equal protection for me under the law. What happens if I want to attend college in a state that doesn’t protect me? Right now, I could be denied medical care or be evicted for simply being transgender in many states. How is that even right? How is that even American?
You can watch her testimony here:
WATCH 16-year old Stella Keating testify: “As a high-school sophomore, I’m starting to look at colleges. And all I can think about is this: less than half of the states in our country provide equal protection for me under the law… How is that even American?” pic.twitter.com/bkhCVObNlD
— Senate Judiciary Committee (@JudiciaryDems) March 17, 2021
Unsurprisingly the Equality Act is being met with opposition from conservatives. As Melissa Gira Grant explained in the New Republic:
The struggle here, inside Congress and out, is about what the right knows it is actually losing: the power to control people’s lives through institutionalized bias, stigma, and violence. When the stakes are so clearly stated, it’s obvious why it won’t give that up without a fight.
Full protection of LGBTQ rights is central to reproductive justice. While legislation like the Equality Act might seem radical in the face of so much discrimination, it is fundamental and long overdue.
This post was adapted from a Twitter thread.