Third time may be the charm for The Equality Act?

Photo: Getty Images

Bill providing LGBTQ+ protections is currently being reviewed by U.S. Committees.

By Jorge Paniagua

Republicans challenged the legislation with anti-transgender rhetoric at the House Judiciary Committee’s first hearing for The Equality Act last week.

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Earlier this month, Congressional Democrats re-introduced The Equality Act, a bill that provides protections for LGBTQ+ people, people of color and women in key aspects of life such as employment, housing, public accomodations, education and federal programs.

The bill, which was first introduced in 2015, would amend existing civil rights laws — which include the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Fair Housing Act, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, the Jury Selection and Services Act, and several laws regarding employment with the federal government, to include “gender identity” and “sexual orientation,” according to Human Rights Campaign.

“Most Americans know, that this fight for equality is on the right side of history. It is the direction our nation must move,” Congressman Alan Lowenthal said. “We have come so far in the last few years in this struggle, but we have to keep fighting. It’s not enough to have a majority agree. We have to create a world where no one would even question the equality of all Americans. It’s going to be a long journey, but passing the Equality Act will be remembered as one of the milestones on that march forward.”

The bill was introduced to The House of Representatives with 287 co-sponsors, the most any piece of LGBTQ+ rights legislation has received in history. Furthermore, the Public Religion Research Institute, a nonpartisan research organization, found that approximately 70 percent of Americans supported a bill such as The Equality Act.

“Currently, LGBTQ people are not protected at the federal level from experiencing discrimination in housing, employment, public accommodations, or many other basic aspects of life like jury service and applying for credit,” Executive Director of the Long Beach LGBTQ+ Center, Porter Gilberg, said. “Further, 28 states currently have no explicit anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people. The Equality Act will ensure that LGBTQ people are given the same opportunity to fully and meaningfully contribute to their communities and to our country.”

During last Tuesday’s hearing before The House Judiciary Committee, Republicans claimed to support LGBTQ+ rights while, simultaneously, making crass assertions regarding transgender and gender nonconforming people.

“Consider this possibility — if President Trump were to say, I am now the first female president? Who would celebrate that?” Representative Matt Gaetz (R-FL), said during the hearing. “Would those who support the legislation think that’s a good thing, or would they be dismayed? Bad actors have already weaponized some ostensible equality laws for their own benefit.”

Throughout the hearing, Republicans used a familiar political strategy in an attempt to discredit the bill  — providing a platform for conservative-leaning members of a marginalized community to vilify legislation which does not align with their ideology. For example, Republicans featured Julia Beck, a lesbian Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist, to share her thoughts regarding The Equality Act. Beck shared her fears regarding men taking advantage of women’s spaces if the bill is passed.

“People who call themselves transgender, nonbinary, and everything in between, still deserve the same basic human rights that we all do, but treating someone as if they are a member of the opposite sex is not a civil right,” Beck said during the hearing.

The Equality Act was introduced to The House of Representatives and Senate twice before — once in July 2015 during the 114th Congress and, again, in May 2017, during the 115th Congress. The bill is currently being reviewed by the 116th Congress which has a House majority of Democrats. Yet, Republicans are still in charge of the Senate.

“In the two previous congresses the bill never moved past being referred to a committee in the Senate,” Congressman Lowenthal said. “The Equality Act in this Congress has been referred to the Senate Committee on Judiciary. With the GOP still in control of the committees, it is entirely likely that it will not pass beyond the committee portion of the process.  This is one of the many reasons why having a majority in the House isn’t enough. We also need a Democratic majority in the Senate, as well.”

Aside from being introduced to the Committee on the Judiciary, the bill has also been referred to an array of other United States Committees which include Education and Labor, Oversight and Government Reform, Financial Services and House Administration committees, according to Lowenthal.

“LGBTQ Americans face the same kind of abhorrent discrimination as African Americans faced under Jim Crow,” Lowenthal said. “Today, in 2019, an LGBTQ individual can get married on Saturday and get fired on Monday when their boss sees their marriage announcement in the paper. Just as with the 1960s civil and voting rights legislation, we need to make a similar leap forward today with the Equality Act.”

A hearing for The Equality Act before The House Committee on Education and Labor is scheduled to take place on Tuesday, April 9.