In an effort to draw attention to LGBTQ protections, Democrats are looking to re-introduce the Equality Act in Congress. They’re facing a very conservative majority, but that’s sort of the point. Democrats think that by introducing the bill, they can show Americans exactly which representatives and senators are anti-LGBTQ equality. But it’s more than mere political theater because the Equality Act will directly protect transgender kids, which is something that everyone should theoretically get behind.
The Equality Act was introduced in 2015 by Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley in the Senate and Rhode Island Rep. David Cicilline in the House, but Republicans never gave it a hearing. Now, Merkley is reintroducing it in the Senate, where it has 40 co-sponsors, and Cicilline is doing the same in the House, where it has 157 co-sponsors. No Republicans have backed the bill in either the House or Senate yet this time around, though last time two Republicans backed it in the House and one in the Senate. Merkley told BuzzFeed News that anyone opposed to the bill “should have to stand up and explain why” this time.
The Equality Act basically amends the Civil Rights Act by protecting gender identity and sexual orientation. This would make it illegal to deny housing, employment, or education to someone based on their sexual orientation or gender identity — just like it’s already illegal to discriminate against someone based on race or religion.
The passing of the Equality Act would mean that schools and companies would also have to allow people to use whatever restroom they identity with, rendering court cases like Gavin Grimm’s unnecessary. For transgender children, the Equality Act would change everything.
During the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton ran on a platform promising Americans that she would pass the Equality Act, calling it her “highest priority.” Since the Trump administration has taken office, the LGBTQ community has had some setbacks since the inauguration and the Equality Act, or what Clinton called America’s “great unfinished business,” seems more unattainable than in recent history.
Late last month, the Justice Department rolled back protections for transgender students that the Obama administration put in place — essentially using Title IX to do exactly what the Equality Act would do in making discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation illegal.
If Democrats are able to at least get Republicans to hold a hearing on the Equality Act this time around, it would be a big step politically, in addition to providing protections for an entire American community. The Democrats hope is that that bill, which has hope is that conservative legislators reveal their true feelings about the LGBTQ community. The 2018 mid-term elections seem very far away, but publicly battling over human and civil rights might not be a good look on some lawmakers, depending on their constituents.
Cicilline said, “If Republicans in Washington want to keep standing in the doorway of opportunity, they’ll have to answer to their constituents in just two short years.” Although there are currently no co-sponsors for the bill in the House or Senate, Cicilline also added that he thinks it’s possible to get Republicans to get on the right side of history. There are still 30 states that don’t have LGBTQ specific protections against discrimination and those that do often don’t include gender identity and the passing of the act could impact how millions of Americans go about their day. In some districts and states, not acknowledging that LGBTQ rights are human rights could be politically dangerous.
This might be the perfect time for Americans and legislators to push the GOP into protecting the LGBTQ community — and especially transgender children — once and for all.