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In America, there are currently 30 states without full legal protections for LGBTQ people, according to the Human Rights Campaign. That means that, in those states, people can be discriminated against in areas of employment, housing, education, or public accommodation, all on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
This is why, on Wednesday, members of Congress officially reintroduced the Equality Act, federal legislation that would ban discrimination against LGBTQ people.
“We have introduced the Equality Act because everybody deserves to have the same opportunities and the same opportunity to chase their ambitions and the same shot at success,” Senator Tammy Baldwin, a co-sponsor on the bill and the country’s first openly gay senator, told ELLE.com. “The Equality Act is our answer to this challenge.”
The bill, which has garnered major support from business leaders and civil rights groups, would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to explicitly protect people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity; currently, it protects people on the basis of race, sex, religion, and national origin.
According to NBC, the Equality Act has been introduced in different forms since 1974, but it’s never been given a Congressional floor vote. Prior to the midterm elections, NBC also reported that then-House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi promised that passing the bill would be a priority for the House, if Democrats were to win the majority. It’s also been reported that more than 230 representatives and 46 senators are expected to co-sponsor the bill when it’s reintroduced.
While in the past the bill did not move anywhere in the House of Representatives or the Senate, Sen. Baldwin says that this time is different, due to what she calls a “pro-equality majority” in the House, consisting of mostly Democrats but also some Republicans. She believes that this will allow the bill to pass in the House for the first time in history. “We also hope that Mitch McConnell would bring it up in the Senate, but I don’t think people are holding their breath,” she said. “And if he doesn’t, I think it says to everybody that 2020 elections are really, really important.”
The bill is also being introduced in Congress under the Trump administration, the same administration that has placed limits on transgender soldiers and has rolled back LGBT-friendly health initiatives. “There are tangible things you can point at that the President and his administration have done that have gone backwards in terms of legal protections for people in the LGBTQ community, whether it’s in his Education Department, his Justice Department, in the Department of Defense,” Baldwin said. “There are ways that very clearly he has walked back progress that was hard fought over decades, which is a reminder that we can never rest.”
Because equal protection does not yet exist. And the implications are terrifyingly real. “I think as people, we don’t think about equality every day, [we] think maybe it’s already been achieved and can’t be pulled back… If you think about it, marriage equality means that you can be married, but it also means if that’s how your boss finds out that you’re gay, you could be fired,” Baldwin explains. “If your landlord finds out that you’re gay and in a gay relationship, you can be discriminated against in housing, maybe evicted… Too many people think it’s all been won already, and we have to use the introduction of the Equality Act as a reminder that there’s still a long, long way to go in vital life areas like employment, housing, and access to public accommodations.”
If you’re interested in supporting the bill and making sure it gets passed, Sen. Baldwin suggests communicating with your elected officials at all levels about how and why equality is important and to share your own stories about discrimination and harassment in order to build understanding. “I would just boldly say, consider running for office. We need more women, we need more diversity, we need folks who, at all levels of government, are guided by their own life experiences.”