Nancy Pelosi /Twitter
In 2019, LGBTQ Americans in 30 states can still be fired, evicted or refused service simply because of who they love or their gender identity.
In a bid to provide protection to these Americans across the country, a number of predominantly Democratic Representatives introduced the Equality Act in Congress on Wednesday.
The bill, if passed, would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to explicitly prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, public accommodations, public education, federal funding, credit, and the jury system.
This would make it the first national legislation to protect LGBTQ Americans from discrimination. The Civil Rights Act currently only outlaws discrimination on the basis of race, colour, religion, sex, or national origin, leaving LGBTQ Americans without federal protection.
They have instead been at the mercy of each state or city to enact (or not) anti-discrimination measures. An estimated 50% of LGBTQ Americans currently live in states without these protections.
“In most states in this country, a gay couple can be married on Saturday, post their wedding photos to Instagram on Sunday, and lose their jobs or get kicked out of their apartments on Monday just because of who they are,” said the bill’s main sponsor, Representative David Cicilline, reported NBC News. “This is wrong. We are reintroducing the Equality Act in order to fix this.”.
Versions of the Equality Act were introduced in 1974 and 2015, without success. But this time it appears to have more support than ever before.
“The harsh reality is that LGBTQ Americans still face real and persistent discrimination in their everyday lives,” said Human Rights Campaign (HRC) President Chad Griffin. “The new pro-equality majority in Congress has the chance to finally ensure LGBTQ people’s rights are not determined by what side of a city or state line they live on.”
The bill also appears to be backed by much of the public. A recent survey found that nearly seven in 10 Americans support laws like the Equality Act. More than 160 major corporations have also expressed their support for the bill.
When Democrats won the majority in the House of Representatives after the November elections last year, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi promised to make passing the Equality Act a “top priority”. Writing for the Advocate, she and Cicilline said: “We will never rest until full equality has been achieved for the LGBTQ community. We will be relentless in our work to defeat the president’s discriminatory, anti-LGBTQ agenda and hateful attacks on the transgender community.”
However, Republicans still control the Senate and White House, making the Equality Act’s passage difficult to achieve. Opponents argue that the legislation would infringe on ‘religious freedom’.