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Equality Act, the Sweeping LGBTQ+ Rights Bill, Reintroduced in Congress

Equality Act, the Sweeping LGBTQ+ Rights Bill, Reintroduced in Congress

Reps. Mark Takano, Sharice Davids, and Mark Pocan

The act, which would outlaw anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination nationally, comes at a time of unprecedented state-level attacks on the community.

The Equality Act, a wide-ranging LGBTQ+ rights bill, was reintroduced in the U.S. House and Senate Wednesday.

It would amend existing civil rights laws to explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, public accommodations, education, federally funded programs, credit, and jury service. It would also prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex in public accommodations and federally funded programs, and expand the definition of public accommodations in the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

It passed the House in 2019 and 2021 but stalled in the Senate. It’s a successor to the more limited Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which was never passed by both houses of Congress in the same session and thus never became law.

The Equality Act’s fate remains uncertain in this session, as Republicans have a slight majority in the House, although Democrats control and Senate and President Joe Biden has endorsed the bill. But supporters are hopeful.

In the House, it was introduced by members of the Equality Caucus: Chair Mark Pocan and cochairs Mark Takano, Angie Craig, Sharice Davids, Chris Pappas, Ritchie Torres, Becca Balint, Robert Garcia, and Eric Sorensen. Sens. Tammy Baldwin, Cory Booker, and Jeff Merkley introduced the companion bill in their chamber. All are Democrats.

“As our community continues to face attacks from all directions, every Democrat in the House came together today to send a clear message: LGBTQI+ people deserve the same protections from discrimination as every other marginalized group,” Pocan said in a press release. “In this moment of heightened attacks against the LGBTQI+ community, we are reminded of the importance of enshrining our equality into law. No matter an individual’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or sex characteristics, they should be able to enjoy life free from discrimination.”

“The LGBTQI+ community is one of the only marginalized groups remaining without explicit federal civil rights protections, and we have seen our community face increased instances of discrimination and violence in recent years,” Takano said. “Equality shouldn’t depend on your zip code, but not all states offer the same protections against discrimination, and vulnerable members of our community such as trans people and queer people of color are especially impacted by these disparities. As cochair of the Equality Caucus and the first openly gay person of color to serve in Congress, I am proud to carry on the work started by Congressman David Cicilline and reintroduce the Equality Act in this Congress.”

“Every American should have equal protection under the law, but in the majority of states across the country, including Kansas, LGBTQI+ Americans lack explicit nondiscrimination protections in housing, education, public accommodations, and other core areas of daily life,” added Davids, who represents that state. “This kind of legislation saves lives and tells all LGBTQI+ folks, including our youth, that their experiences are valid and that they’re seen and heard by their elected officials. There is no time to waste in getting the Equality Act across the finish line.”

Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson testified in support of the bill before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“More than 525 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been introduced this year in the states,” she said. “More than 220 of those bills target the transgender community — many targeting our children specifically. And more than 75 of those anti-LGBTQ+ bills have now become law. This includes laws that ban books and censor curriculum in the classroom; forbid children from being able to safely use the bathroom at school; and criminalize doctors for providing lifesaving, gender-affirming health care. The purpose of these laws is to facilitate a rise in political extremism by alienating and isolating LGBTQ+ Americans, and the impact of these laws is alarming.

“Today, Sens. Merkley, Baldwin, and Booker and Rep. Takano will introduce the Equality Act — which would make protections for LGBTQ+ Americans consistent and explicit across our nation. It has been nearly a decade since this bill was first introduced. In that time, LGBTQ+ members of the military have served openly, marriage equality has been codified in federal law, and more LGBTQ+ members of Congress have been elected than ever before. Furthermore, today more than eight in 10 Americans support comprehensive nondiscrimination laws for LBGTQ+ people. It is time for Congress to catch up with our country and pass the Equality Act.”

Other LGBTQ+ groups hailed the act’s reintroduction. “Lambda Legal applauds the reintroduction of the Equality Act, long past-due federal legislation which provides clear, comprehensive, and explicit protections for LGBTQ+ people in federal law,” CEO Kevin Jennings said in a press release. “In a year when we have seen unprecedented, coordinated attacks by states on LGBTQ+ people, especially on transgender and nonbinary youth, the need for the Equality Act could not be clearer. And it can’t happen soon enough: the LGBTQ+ community has been asking Congress for explicit protections since Reps. Bella Abzug (D-NY) and Ed Koch (D-NY) first introduced the Equality Act of 1974 49 years ago, and nearly 50 years of waiting for federal action is long enough.

“As has been made abundantly clear this year, LGBTQ+ people across the country remain vulnerable to discrimination on a daily basis and too often have little recourse. Without comprehensive federal protections, the basic rights of LGBTQ+ people vary state to state. This year, we have read countless stories of LGBTQ+ individuals and families trying to flee states that are intent on harming them, and our Help Desk has been fielding calls nonstop as state-led attacks on trans and nonbinary youth ramped up at a frenzied pace. While some families can afford to relocate, many cannot. The current patchwork of protections for LGBTQ+ people is inadequate and unjust, which is why we need the absolute clarity of the Equality Act, and we need it now.”

“Today, as lawmakers reintroduce the Equality Act into Congress, LGBTQ community centers across the country are working to bring awareness to the importance of federal nondiscrimination protections,” said a statement from CenterLink CEO Denise Spivak. “America is supposed to be the land of opportunity, but around half of LGBTQ Americans live in places where they can be denied housing, employment, or services simply because of who they are. The Equality Act would help ensure that LGBTQ Americans could live their lives without the fear of discrimination or harassment, and we implore all members of Congress to work tirelessly to get this passed once and for all.”

Pictured, from left: U.S. Reps. Mark Takano, Sharice Davids, and Mark Pocan

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