In the past two years, the Trump administration has attacked the rights and dignity of transgender people in schools, in the military, and in prison. Trump’s Justice Department has argued to the Supreme Court that businesses have a constitutional right to refuse to serve LGBTQ people and that federal civil rights laws don’t protect LGBTQ people from discrimination. Last month, The New York Times revealed the administration is actively engaged in an effort to redefine the term “sex” in civil rights laws specifically to exclude transgender people from critical legal protections.
But on November 6, the American people voted for a Congress that will hold Trump accountable for his administration’s repeated attacks on the LGBTQ community. The new Congress should start by advancing comprehensive, nationwide civil rights protections for LGBTQ people by passing the Equality Act.
If the Equality Act were law, no longer would LGBTQ people have to live in fear of losing a job, like our client Aimee Stephens, who was fired from her job at a funeral home after she came out as a woman, just because she’s transgender. No longer could we be denied housing, like Mary Walsh and Beverly Nance, who were refused an apartment at a retirement community because they’re lesbians. No longer would LGBTQ people have to fear being turned away from a business open to the public simply because of who we are, like Jack Zawadski, who was told by a funeral home that they don’t “deal with [your] kind” when it refused to transport his husband’s body out of a nursing home after he died.
The Equality Act also fills significant gaps in our federal civil rights laws for women, people of color, and for everyone who is protected under the law. It makes sure all businesses, including retail establishments and transportation providers, are covered under laws that bar discrimination by businesses open to the public. It ensures that government contractors can’t discriminate when working with tax-payer dollars. And with the Trump administration and anti-LGBTQ activists doing everything they can to turn religious liberty into a license to discriminate, it’s important that the Equality Act also clarifies that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) can’t undercut civil rights protections for anyone.
Federal courts across the country have rightly recognized that anti-LGBTQ discrimination is a form of sex discrimination that violates the nation’s existing civil rights laws. But that isn’t stopping the Trump administration from trying to take those protections away from us.
That’s exactly what they are trying to do with the leaked memo about narrowly redefining sex: making the argument that the Supreme Court should revoke the protections transgender, non-binary, and intersex people already have under our sex discrimination laws in employment, housing, healthcare, and more. And with the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh, there’s no guarantee our rights would be upheld in a Supreme Court decision.
Next year, we will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising, which gave rise to the modern LGBTQ rights movement. There is no better way to honor the legacy of those activists and our community’s long struggle for dignity and equality than for our elected officials to pass this legislation.
A law passed by Congress would keep Trump or the courts from being able to write us out of federal law. Our existence isn’t up for debate, and our right to equal treatment under the law shouldn’t be either.
JAMES ESSEKS is the director of the ACLU's LGBT & HIV Project and Ian Thompson is the ACLU's senior legislative representative.