The political and legal landscape for LGBTQ equality can often feel like a paradox. Strong, inclusive protections for transgender people and LGBTQ youth were recently signed into law in New York after receiving bipartisan support, yet the Trump administration continues to attack our rights in the workplace, health care, education, and the military. Governors in Ohio and Kansas are showing a commitment to the equality of transgender people in their state, yet the Department of Health and Human Services seems to believe transgender people should be subjected to genetic testing before they can enjoy their rights.
The progress at the state and local level shows the continued necessity of and public support for LGBTQ equality, yet too many still live in states with no explicit legal protections from discrimination. The new pro-equality majority in Congress can solve this problem.
The Equality Act — strong, common sense and critically important federal legislation protecting the right of all people to live, labor, and learn without prejudice or fear — would fill the patchwork of protections that leave far too many LGBTQ people behind.
Today, 50 percent of LGBTQ Americans live in the 30 states without explicit, uniform legal protections, meaning that they’re at risk of being fired, denied housing, and refused service simply because of who they are or who they love. And the discrimination against our community across these aspects of daily life is still tragically common place.
Nearly two-thirds of LGBTQ Americans reported experiencing discrimination as they went about their daily lives. In West Virginia, a school administrator cornered a transgender student in the bathroom and demanded he use the urinal to “prove” he’s a boy. A retirement community in Missouri turned away a married same-sex couple simply because of their sexual orientation. In Oklahoma, the family of a transgender seventh grader was forced to move to another town after adults in their community threatened their daughter with physical violence online.
The consequences of these injustices cannot be overstated. Discrimination not only demeans the dignity of LGBTQ people, it puts many, particularly those living at the intersection of multiple marginalized identities, at risk of violence. People’s careers, housing, health care and, most of all, lives are on the line — and we must do something about it.
The Equality Act — which was first introduced three years ago by Senators Jeff Merkley, Tammy Baldwin, Cory Booker, and Representative David Cicilline — is critical, bipartisan legislation that would finally add gender identity and sexual orientation to our nation’s non-discrimination laws in employment, housing, credit, education, public spaces and services, federally funded programs, and jury service. It would also enact much needed updates to our federal civil rights laws by adding protections against discrimination on the basis of sex where they are currently excluded, as well as modernize the public spaces currently covered to include retail stores, emergency shelters, and banks, and services such as transportation, pharmacies and legal services.
Making the Equality Act the law of the land will not be easy, but momentum is clearly on our side. The bill has the broadest and deepest support ever, including a growing majority of Americans and more than one hundred leading businesses around the country.
Speaker Pelosi has made clear that the Equality Act is among her top priorities. As the need for a pro-equality president becomes ever more apparent, this new Congress has the opportunity to advance key legislative priorities that reflect the diverse needs of their constituents, from voting rights and protection for dreamers to common sense gun reform and passage of the Equality Act.
Our community has waited far too long for these protections. Without them, countless LGBTQ people and families remain vulnerable to discrimination in the workplace, in the ER, in a leasing office, and at the restaurant around the corner. And without them, the Trump-Pence administration’s dangerous plan to erase LGBTQ people from federal protections could succeed.
This past November, LGBTQ people and pro-equality voters across America joined forces at the ballot box, and together, we delivered a resounding victory that lays the foundation to move equality forward. Now, we must seize the moment and work together with our pro-equality lawmakers to secure the next critical win for our community by passing the Equality Act.