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On Wednesday, as the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the Equality Act, several civil rights, women’s rights and LGBTQ organizations urged lawmakers to support the landmark legislation that seeks to prohibit discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation and gender identity.
Speaking on a media briefing call earlier in the day, advocates from several organizations advocated for the bill and the protections it would provide for LGBTQ people in various areas of life, including but not limited to employment, housing, credit, the ability to serve on a jury, and access to public accommodations and government services.
Wade Henderson, the interim president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, called the Equality Act “long overdue” and “transformative” legislation that would add robust protections for LGBTQ people to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
“Right now, LGBTQ people living in too many states are not equal citizens under the law. They are not fully protected from discrimination. But civil rights should be measured by a single yardstick and should not be determined by zip code,” Henderson said. “Our work is not complete until every person in America is able to earn a living, further their education, put a roof over their heads, and engage in public life without the fear of harassment or discrimination based on who they are or who they love.”
In their briefing, the advocates noted that opponents of the Equality Act often argue that the landmark legislation’s protections for gender identity would unfairly disadvantage cisgender women, and pushed back against those claims.
Fatima Goss Graves, the president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center, called the Equality Act an important piece of legislation in protecting against sex-based discrimination.
“The lives of women in this country are marked by discrimination throughout their lives, from classrooms to boardrooms and in a wide range of public spaces and restaurants, stores and public transportation. And this bill strengthens the rights of all women to live free of fear from discrimination no matter where they are,” Goss Graves said. “And it makes clear that sex discrimination should not follow federal dollars. When we think about the particular stakes for transgender women and LGBTQ women of color, we know that the risk of violence and abuse is worsened when we deny them full rights under the law.
“Our commitment to the safety, dignity and justice for all women is inseparable from our inclusion of queer women, including transgender women,” she added. “And so I want to be clear here: We reject any arguments that suggest that the full equality of cisgender women must come at the expense of transgender women. … Discrimination against transgender people is not the pathway for safer or more just schools and workplaces.”
Joi Chaney, the executive director of the National Urban League’s Washington Bureau, noted that the Equality Act not only provides protections for LGBTQ people, but updates the definition of what constitutes “public accommodations” to include additional protections against discrimination based on race and ethnicity in retail stores, service providers, transportation like taxis and ride shares, bars and nightclubs, and gyms.
“We call for the passage of the Equality Act, for the liberation of all people, because nobody’s free until LGBTQ people are free, until women are free, until black people, Latinx people and Asian-American people, at all of our intersections of identity, are free. And this includes women of color and LGBTQ people of color,” Chaney said.
“If we can pass the Equality Act this year and send it to President Biden’s desk, we can ensure all people are protected from this type of discrimination nationwide, no matter where they live, in urban centers to rural outposts,” she added. “Ensuring the Equality Act becomes law would put us one step closer to that toward our more perfect union.”
Janet Murguía, president of UnidosUS, the country’s largest Latino civil rights advocacy organization, noted that her organization has long supported the Equality Act and spoke about the importance of the act in extending protections for LGBTQ people of color, who often face discrimination on many fronts, due to their race or ethnicity as well as their sexual orientation. This can be particularly acute for younger Latinos, nearly 20% of whom identify as LGBTQ.
Our community, we believe that ‘familia es familia,’ family is family.’ These young people are our family,” Murguía said. “It is truly unfortunate and infuriating that opponents are standing in the way of long-overdue protections for LGBTQ Americans by resorting to outdated stereotypes and and demonizing of a vulnerable members of the LGBTQ community. This is no time to weaken or gut what should have been law decades ago. The time for the Equality Act is now, and we urge the Senate to pass the House version of the Equality Act as quickly as possible…. We stand in solidarity, in support of our LGBT community, but in support, especially now, of the Equality Act.”
In addition to several civil and women’s rights groups, the Equality Act is currently being supported by more than 60 business associations, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Business Roundtable, and the National Association of Manufacturers. The legislation has been endorsed by more than 350 major U.S. corporations, major medical organizations, and more than 120 faith-based organizations, including the Episcopal Church, Presbyterian Church (USA), Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, Interfaith Alliance, and the organization Faith in Public Life.
Citing a recent Public Religion Research Institute poll finding that 83% Americans support laws to protect LGBTQ people from various types of discrimination, Sarah Kate Ellis, the president and CEO of GLAAD, noted that “overwhelming majorities of Americans, from all faiths, already support protections against discrimination for their LGBTQ family, neighbors, co-workers and friends,” adding: “The Equality Act ensures those values are secured into law.”
“At its core, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing centers around one fundamental question — do LGBTQ people deserve to be treated fairly under the law?” Winnie Stachelberg, the executive vice president for external affairs at the Center for American Progress, said in a statement. “Over 80% of the country recognizes the time for these protections has come, and I urge the Senate to stand in unity with their constituents and pass the Equality Act.”
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