When marriage equality passed in 2015, many both inside and outside the LGBTQ community thought the equality fight was, for the most part, over. But while same-sex marriage was a major victory, there are still many discriminatory laws that are just as important to the LGBTQ community. Chief among these is the lack of federal protection against discrimination in the workplace as well as in housing protections. However, according to newly elected Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, we're on the right track to finally achieving equality in this realm as well.
Pelosi delivered her gavel acceptance speech on Jan. 3 to the 116th Congress, which she called “the most diverse in history.” In her speech, she said, “This House will be for the people. Empowered by our mandate, we will pursue our mission. … We will make America fairer by passing the Equality Act to end discrimination against LGBTQ Americans.”
What exactly is the Equality Act? It was first introduced in the House of Representatives in 2015 by Rep. David Cicilline (D-Rhode Island) and in the Senate by Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin) and Cory Booker (D-New Jersey).
According to the Human Rights Campaign's website, the Equality Act “would provide consistent and explicit non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people across key areas of life, including employment, housing, credit, education, public spaces and services, federally funded programs and jury service.”
The bill also amends the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to, according to the HRC, “prohibit discrimination in public spaces and services and federally funded programs on the basis of sex and … update the public spaces and services covered in current law to include retail stores, services such as banks and legal services and transportation services.”
Why is all this important? Because 30 states still don't have fully inclusive non-discrimination protections for the LGBTQ community. That means in 60 percent of the country, LGBTQ people can be legally fired, denied housing or denied services just because they're gay. One example includes a teacher who was fired in Kentucky after she told her principal that she was going to have a child with her partner (he said he was concerned about “parent backlash”).
While California is, thankfully, one of the states with full LGBTQ non-discrimination policies, what happens if a gay couple or family living in California moves to another state for a job opportunity, a sick relative or a lower cost of living? If it's one of the 30 states lacking California's protections, suddenly they can be legally discriminated against.
Even if California gay residents don't move to one of these states, they still may be discriminated against while visiting. For example, a lesbian couple taking maternity photos in a Kentucky park were asked to leave the park grounds by a gatekeeper after they kissed for one of the photos. Kentucky has a hate-crime law covering gay people, but LGBTQ people are not protected under the state's non-discrimination law. So even a California gay couple just visiting another state that doesn't offer full LGBTQ protections could find themselves discriminated against just for kissing for a photo in the park (this couple did live in Kentucky but the park employee didn't know that).
And just hours after being sworn in last week, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an anti-discrimination order for state employees that specifically excluded protections for LGBTQ people. The Orwellian-sounding “Reaffirming Commitment to Diversity in Government” order pledges that his administration will prohibit discrimination against government employees and contractors based on “age, sex, race, color, religion, national origin, marital status or disability.” However, “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” are not among the listed protections.
How is such inconsistency fair just because you cross state lines? This is why a federal law forcing all states into equality is right and necessary.
Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said of Pelosi's speech, “Now is the time to move equality forward by advancing the Equality Act to ensure LGBTQ Americans are able to go to work, raise their families and live their lives free from discrimination. Far too many LGBTQ people face unfair and unjust discrimination each and every day with only a patchwork of protections across the country. We are thankful for Speaker Pelosi reaffirming her commitment to advance this critically important legislation and seize this historic moment to make full federal LGBTQ equality a reality.”
It's important to note that although the House may pass the bill, the Republican-controlled Senate may not, and even if they do, President Trump may not sign it into law. Nevertheless, even though ending the partial government shutdown is at the forefront of everyone's mind right now, it's good to hear that Speaker Pelosi's plan beyond that includes some much-needed and overdue protection for the LGBTQ community.