The Equality Act & What It Means For The LGBTQ+ Community

By Olivia Schmid || Layout Assistant

Photo Courtesy of The Wall Street Journal

On February 25, 2021, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Equality Act with the support of all Democrats and three Republicans and a bipartisan vote of 224 to 206.  It’s a bill that would provide consistent anti-discrimination protections that prohibit discrimination and segregation based on an individual’s sexual orientation and gender identity.

It’s not the first time this bill has passed the House of Representatives — it passed in 2019, but it seems as though times are different than they used to be, especially with President Joe Biden in office now.  Most supporters of the Equality Act would argue that the Equality Act simply extends basic human rights to those that weren’t fully protected by the Civil Rights Act (although this is not the only act put in place in an effort to protect civil rights — note the Fair Housing Act, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, the Jury Selection and Services Act, etc).  With each passing year the trend tends to display further acceptance of the marginalized community, as is displayed below.

Courtesy of Pew Research Center.

This bill strives to amend federal civil rights law to prohibit discrimination, and not just discrimination based on gender at birth (like in the Civil Rights Act of 1964), but including the discrimination that the LGBTQ+ community faces as well.  The hope is that by explicitly including sexual orientation and gender identity in laws more often and thus expanding their legal security, members of the LGBTQ+ community will be treated as equals and feel ultimately protected by the law.

While the Civil Rights Act covered discrimination in certain areas including employment and 

housing , the Equality Act actually takes this a step further to cover federally funded programs.  The Equality Act prohibits discrimination in public accomodations and facilities, the education system, federal funding, employment, health care, housing, credit, and the jury system.  Public accommodations would encompass establishments that provide exhibitions, recreation, exercise, amusement, gatherings, or displays, as well as goods/services/programs and transportation services.  It also prohibits an individual from being denied access to any shared facility, including restrooms, locker rooms, and dressing rooms that are in accordance with the individual’s gender identity.

This is huge, as 27 states currently do not have any LGBTQ anti-discrimination laws, according to the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ advocacy organization.  With a new act in place, supporters believe that the bill will help cement protection that could otherwise be subject to interpretation.

The Equality Act has been a top legislative priority of Bidens, who has made it very clear from the very beginning that he is in support of the Equality Act.  He stated that the bill is a “critical step toward ensuring that America lives up to our foundational values of equality and freedom for all.”

It will be a bit more of a challenge to pass in the Senate, and people have expressed some concern with the bill being passed, fearing that it would infringe on religious objections, but Biden has repeatedly expressed that “Every person should be treated with dignity and respect” — which would include members of the LGBTQ+ community and beyond.

First-year Olivia Schmid is a layout assistant. Her email is oschmid@fandm.edu.

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