A little over two months ago, newly elected Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi made a promise in her gavel acceptance speech to pass the Equality Act "to end discrimination against LGBTQ Americans." I discussed in more detail what the Equality Act is and how important it is in my Jan. 17 column, but essentially, it would extend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to LGBTQ Americans. Last week, Pelosi made good on her statement when it was officially introduced in the House.
While the Equality Act needs to pass not only the Democrat-controlled House but also the Republican-controlled Senate, and then be signed by President Trump, according to Pelosi there is bipartisan support. In an op-ed for The Advocate, Pelosi and Rep. David Cicilline (D-Rhode Island), the chief author of the bill, write, "We have the bipartisan support of members of Congress and the strong support of the business community. And most importantly, we have the overwhelming support of the American people — 71 percent of whom support the Equality Act."
Among the protections that the act would grant LGBTQ Americans are equal protection in employment, credit, housing, education, public accommodations, federal financial assistance and federal jury service. Believe it or not, although many states have passed laws that provide these protections for LGBTQ, since there is no federal mandate, states where these laws do not exist leave us vulnerable for discrimination. The act would also prevent small businesses, such as bakeries, from turning away customers because they're LGBTQ. It would make sure that transgender people have access to gender-specific facilities as well. Finally, the Equality Act would prevent the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which protects religious freedom, from being used to discriminate against the LGBTQ community.
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The op-ed, which is magically titled "The Equality Act Is Just the Beginning," says that the fight for LGBTQ equality will continue beyond the act, referencing Trump's trans military ban. "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," Pelosi and Cicilline write. Therefore, the Equality Act would not address this piece of discrimination, which is why Pelosi and Cicilline say they "won't stop there" once/if the act is passed.
The op-ed ends by referencing the Stonewall Inn protest, one of the first times the LGBTQ community publicly fought back against discrimination in the event that many consider to be the birth of the gay rights movement. "This summer, we will mark 50 years since LGBTQ Americans took to the streets outside New York City's Stonewall Inn to fight back against brutality and discrimination, and demand an end to harassment, persecution and hate. … The road from Stonewall may be long — but our march toward justice, toward freedom and toward equality will not be denied. Hatred will never defeat pride. As we continue this progress, let us remember the words of Harvey Milk: 'Rights are won only by those who make their voices heard.'"
Indeed, it's time to take a major step toward ending LGBTQ discrimination once and for all. Bravo to Pelosi for sticking to her word and making sure the Equality Act got off the ground, and fingers crossed it becomes law sooner rather than later.