The Equality Act: What it will do for us
With a new Democratic majority taking over the US House of Representatives, LGBTQ advocates are hopeful that a comprehensive LGBTQ non-discrimination protection bill, the Equality Act, will soon be pushed.
The status of the bill today is significant, given the efforts by the Trump administration to curb LGBTQ rights and the election of Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) as Speaker of the House.
Equality Act: In the cards for Congress in 2019
Pelosi had already signaled her intention to act on the proposed Equality Act as part of the Democratic House agenda for the upcoming session of US Congress.
Currently, twenty states as well as the District of Colombia have non-discrimination protections of everyday life for the LGBTQ community.
But Human Rights Campaign (HRC) noted that “federal law does not provide consistent non-discrimination protections based on sexual orientation or gender identity,” hence the need for the Equality Act to be set on a federal level.
National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) Executive Director Mara Keisling told Rewire.News in an interview that this bill would ensure LGBTQ protections: “While the courts still agree with us, courts can change,”
“It’s the key piece that would solidify things really well,” Keisling said.
Equality Act: What protections does it give us?
HRC said the current bill would cover LGBTQ anti-discrimination protections in seven key areas: employment, education, public accommodations, housing, credit, jury service, and federal programs.
“Decades of civil rights history show that civil rights laws are effective in decreasing discrimination because they provide strong federal remedies targeted to specific vulnerable groups,” they said.
Previously, a version of this bill had been pushed in the last thirty years but it didn’t have popular support to advance to a floor vote. It was first introduced in 1974 as the “Gay Civil Rights Bill.”
To attain some progress, some aspects of the legislation were pushed, like employment protections in 2001 that was renamed as Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).
However, in 2007, former Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) had pushed for dropping gender identity protections from the bill. This resulted in a split among LGBTQ right advocates.
Unfortunately, it never passed both chambers. ENDA was later expanded in scope and became the Equality Act in 2015.
Tying the Equality Act and the Civil Rights Act together
With each successive Congress, LGBTQ rights advocates work with lawmakers to fine-tune the Equality Act.
“One of the other important things we are working [on in the bill is] amending the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include sexual orientation [and] gender identity in some places,” said Keisling.
This, in turn, would push back on conservative misconception that LGBTQ people are seeking “special rights.” An important aspect here is updating the terms covered in the Civil Rights Act.
Keisling further highlighted the need to include trans people under sex-based protections in each area of the bill, which needs to expand in sex-based rights for all.
With the bill’s expansion of sex-based nondiscrimination protections to government programs for the first time under federal law, advocates worry about conservatives blocking the bill on the issue of reproductive rights.
“So, that has to be navigated super carefully,” said Keisling.
Pelosi’s support of the Equality Act and the community
Pelosi has said that the bill will advance in the House and said this was “personal.” However, advocates are dubious that the bill would reach the Senate.
But Pelosi’s office wasn’t as pessimistic, noting that there is “bipartisan support for this bill and there were strong bipartisan votes to repeal ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ in 2010.”
HRC also noted that the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) found that there is support for a bill like the Equality Act nationally at 70 percent, with a majority of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents.
During an appearance last Friday at the Floriana Restaurant in Washington, DC, Pelosi said that she was certain the measure would pass in the House.
“But the way that we will be successful– not only that we can pass it but we want it to become law,” she said.