House Introduces Equality Act for LGBTQ Rights

*The Breakdown is The North Star’s daily analysis of an essential news story designed to provide historical context, go beyond the popular headlines, and offer a glimpse of where this story may be going next.


Key Facts: Last Wednesday, congressional Democrats — with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at the helm — introduced the Equality Act with the goal of overhauling existing Civil Rights legislation to prevent discrimination against LGBTQ people. “While the President betrays our values with his [transgender service] ban, the Congress is bringing our nation closer to equal liberty and justice for all with the Equality Act,” Pelosi said in a statement. “In the workplace and in every place, education, housing, credit, jury service — you want jury service? In public accommodations.”

The bill has received the support of the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC). “Being open for business means being open to everyone. When LGBT workers and entrepreneurs are protected, they are empowered to bring their whole selves to work, which increases productivity and innovation, raises performance levels, and retains top LGBT talent,” NGLCC co-founder and president Justin Nelson said in a statement.

Historical Context: Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) introduced the Equality Act in 2017. The bill would amend provisions of the Civil Rights of 1964, the Fair Housing Act, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, the Jury Selection and Services Act, and other laws concerning employment with the federal government. NBC reported that different forms of the same bill have been introduced since 1974, but it has never received a congressional vote.

The bill has similar anti-discrimination efforts to those in 72 countries, according to The Hill. The same report found that 53 percent of people in the US live in states without comprehensive protections, meaning that they could not report discrimination “simply because of who they are.” Though there is a degree of federal protections in the realms of employment discrimination, the Supreme Court has a vague definition of “sex” that includes sexual orientation and gender identity, the publication noted. Beneath the Surface: Some non-profit organizations believe the LGBTQ community still lacks basic protections from sexual or gender discrimination. According to Human Rights Campaign, almost two-thirds of LGBTQ Americans reported discrimination at some point in their lives.

Other supporters indicate that the bill would provide protection from discrimination in public places, transportation services, entertainment venues or other establishments that sell goods and services. It would also ensure that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, legislation that protects religious freedom in the US, is not used as a tool to discriminate.

What’s Next: Some senators are confident the Equality Act will pass in the House of Representatives for the first time, but the Republican-run Senate may not enact the law. “We also hope that Mitch McConnell would bring it up in the Senate, but I don't think people are holding their breath,” Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), a co-sponsor of the bill, told ELLE. “And if he doesn't, I think it says to everybody that 2020 elections are really, really important.”

The bill has already met some opposition along party lines. Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) is the only Republican co-sponsor, while Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) expressed his opposition this week. Consequently, the West Virginia Democratic Party is requesting Senator Shelley Moore Capito (D-W.Va.) to rally behind the legislation.


About the Author

Robert Valencia is the breaking news editor for The North Star. His work as editor and reporter appeared on Newsweek, World Politics Review, Mic.com, Public Radio International and The Miami Herald, among other outlets. He’s a frequent commentator on foreign affairs and US politics on Al Jazeera English, CNN en Español, Univision, Telemundo, Voice of America, C-SPAN, Sirius XM and other media outlets across Latin America and the Caribbean.