One bipartisan remedy to the wave of anti-LGBTQ legislative attacks? passing the Equality Act
President Biden’s recent call for Congress to send the Equality Act to his desk isn’t just a reminder of the urgent need to pass comprehensive nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ Americans. It’s also a reminder of some of our nation’s fundamental values — like treating others the way we’d like to be treated. It’s easy to assume that we’ve become so partisan in nature — so prone to retreating to our red and blue corners — that we can’t achieve big policy victories that improve lives. But we can, because treating people fairly is not a Democratic or Republican value, it’s an American value; and it’s a value that moves the country closer to our ideals of liberty and justice for all.
Consider this: 83 percent of Americans support measures that protect LGBTQ people from discrimination, including nearly 70 percent of Republicans. As the leaders of two national organizations working to secure full equality for LGBTQ Americans, we understand how critically important it is to translate this broad support for nondiscrimination into action by Congress. Earlier this year, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Equality Act with bipartisan support. President Biden is ready to sign it into law.
In the weeks ahead, the U.S. Senate must get the job done and pass the Equality Act.
Inaction is not an option. Not only does the Equality Act include measures that enjoy deep and broad support, but our community urgently needs comprehensive and explicit protections from discrimination. We are emerging from a state legislative session that saw more anti-LGBTQ bills introduced and advanced in legislatures across the country than in any other session in recent memory. Many of these bills single out transgender youth for discrimination.
These discriminatory bills don’t reflect the values of most Americans, including most conservatives. If anything, we know that a supermajority of Americans in every single state support nondiscrimination measures, including 168 local LGBTQ organizations that recently signed a letter calling on the Senate to pass the Equality Act. A growing coalition of current and former GOP elected officials are speaking out for nondiscrimination protections through Conservatives Against Discrimination, an effort spearheaded by former Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson and former Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. We need these conservative leaders to continuing speaking up as we face discriminatory challenges: Eight states enacted measures that ban transgender students from participating in school sports. Arkansas lawmakers overrode the veto of the state’s Republican governor, Asa Hutchinson, to enact a draconian measure banning trans youth from accessing gender-affirming health care. Many of the measures are downright dangerous for transgender youth. This wave of hostile bills makes as clear as ever that protection from anti-LGBTQ discrimination is a real and urgent need throughout our country.
Efforts to harm LGBTQ people in the states are one of the most urgent reasons we must pass the Equality Act — but states that have enacted nondiscrimination protections already also offer important lessons, particularly for members of Congress who remain undecided. Opponents of the Equality Act have flung an array of scare tactics against the wall to see what sticks — making false arguments about undue burdens for small businesses, to unfounded claims about how this will impact people of faith (most of whom, by the way, support LGBTQ nondiscrimination).
Not one of these scare tactics have come to pass in states that have enacted nondiscrimination protections. Americans know that protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination doesn’t take anything away from anyone else or create other problems — that’s why voters in Massachusetts overwhelmingly upheld the state’s transgender nondiscrimination protections when anti-LGBTQ activists challenged them in 2018. We also know that nondiscrimination protections strengthen economies, not harm them. That’s why more than 400 major U.S. companies — from Apple to Coca Cola to General Mills — support the Equality Act. Conversely, we know that bills our opponents typically push can have devastating economic consequences — just ask business leaders in North Carolina, which faced a $3.7 billion loss over the discriminatory HB 2 legislation.
At the end of the day, passing the Equality Act is about delivering on the promise of equal treatment under the law for all Americans. Right now, approximately 6.7 million LGBTQ people live in one of 29 states without nondiscrimination laws. People like Jody Davis, a veteran in Ohio who was denied housing and refused service at a store because she’s trans. People like Bailey and Samantha Brazzel, who just wanted to file their taxes — but were turned away from a tax preparer in Indiana because they’re a same-sex couple.
Discrimination remains a pressing challenge and an abdication of our values — a 2020 study found that one in three LGBTQ people faced discrimination in the last year, including three in five trans Americans. The Equality Act is an affirmation of our values as a nation, and a tangible — and urgently needed — measure that will improve the lives of LGBTQ people. The Senate cannot delay a moment longer — it’s time to pass the Equality Act.
Fran Hutchins is the Executive Director of Equality Federation, the national partner working with state-based organizations to advance LGBTQ equality. Kasey Suffredini is the CEO & National Campaign Director of Freedom for All Americans, the bipartisan campaign to secure full nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ Americans.