Hilary Shelton – Photo: Maryland State Conference NAACP, via Wikimedia.
The Equality Act got a big boost on Friday night after the NAACP, the nation’s oldest African-American civil rights organization, publicly endorsed the LGBTQ rights bill currently making its way through Congress.
“We support what it does — and we support it now,” Hilary Shelton, the director of the NAACP’s D.C. bureau, told NBC News. “It’s important that it gets through.”
Shelton added that the group had previously endorsed the bill in meetings with its two main sponsors, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.).
The organization’s support for the bill, which would add protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of characteristics protected under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, is considered a significant victory for LGBTQ rights groups, who had been criticized for failing to obtain the support of prominent African-American organizations before introducing the act earlier this month.
The NAACP, which was founded in 1909, was one of the groups that was instrumental in the passage of the original Civil Rights Act, which banned discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin, and sought to enforce court decisions that found various forms of segregation unlawful. By endorsing the act, the NAACP effectively shuts down one of the arguments — albeit specious — used to justify opposition to the legislation.
“We believe the same protections that we have worked for so hard over the 110 years of the NAACP should be extended to all Americans, particularly members of the LGBTQ community,” Shelton told NBC.
He also noted that the NAACP previously supported other pieces of legislation granting the LGBTQ community expanded protections, including the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, insurance nondiscrimination protections contained in the Affordable Care Act, and the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.
The organization also expressed support for marriage equality in the run-up to 2012, and prior to the 2013 and 2015 Supreme Court decisions that, respectively, overturned Section 3 of DOMA and legalized same-sex marriages nationwide.
Several other civil rights groups previously threw their weight behind the Equality Act, with several dozen leaders appearing in a video shared by the Human Rights Campaign via social media. In it, representatives from organizations including the National Urban League, UnidosUS, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, the Interfaith Alliance, Lambda Legal, and the National Center for Transgender Equality, among others, explained why passing the Equality Act was important.