States’ anti-LGBTQI+ attacks underscore need for the Equality Act
This year, state lawmakers are once again waging an onslaught of legislative attacks against LGBTQI+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex) communities. These bills take various forms — from providing a license to discriminate against LGBTQI+ people, to denying transgender youth access to gender-affirming health care or the ability to participate in school sports, to eliminating LGBTQI+ people from education curricula, and more. Despite these attacks, a recent Gallup poll showed that a record 7.1 percent of U.S. adults currently identify as LGBTQ, with this uptick largely driven by Gen Z. To ensure this growing population is protected by comprehensive nondiscrimination protections, the Senate must follow through on what the House did one year ago and pass the Equality Act.
According to the Equality Federation, last year, over 400 anti-LGBTQI+ bills were introduced in states across the country, with many specifically targeting transgender youth. Since the beginning of 2022, the American Civil Liberties Union estimates that over 140 of these bills are already active in 32 states. Earlier this month, for example, South Dakota signed into law a bill banning transgender students from participating in school sports, marking the first anti-LGBTQI+ bill signed into law in 2022. A bill that would criminalize providing gender-affirming medical care to transgender youth is advancing in Alabama.
This week, the Florida House of Representatives is advancing a “Don’t Say Gay” bill that prohibits teachers from talking about LGBTQI+ issues or people, permits parents to sue if they believe schools have violated the law, and undermines existing protections for LGBTQI+ students.
State legislators aren’t the only elected officials attacking LGBTQI+ constituents. This week, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) of Texas directed the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services to adhere to a purely political opinion from the state’s attorney general claiming that gender-affirming care for transgender youth constitutes child abuse. This absurd and non-binding opinion contradicts legal precedent and established medical best practices, as affirmed by the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychological Association.
These policies have concrete harms: For example, according to research by the Williams Institute, the Alabama bill could restrict access to care for approximately 2,900 transgender youth ages 13 to 18 across the state, depriving them of necessary, best-practice medical care which can be lifesaving. Even if these bills don’t pass, their introduction alone — repeatedly accompanied by hateful, dehumanizing, and ignorant arguments — detrimentally affects the mental health of LGBTQI+ people, exacerbating existing disparities, particularly among youth. According to data by the Trevor Project, 66 percent of LGBTQ youth, including 85 percent of transgender and/or nonbinary youth, report that recent debates about state laws to restrict the rights of transgender people have negatively affected their mental health. These unconscionable state bills aim to ensure that one child would have more rights than another simply because of who they are.
As these state-level attacks continue, the need for federal protections could not be more urgent. LGBTQI+ Americans are not fully protected from discrimination in 29 states. The existing patchwork of state-level laws and the current gaps in federal civil rights laws leave millions of LGBTQI+ people without explicit protections from discrimination. The Equality Act would modernize federal civil rights laws by including sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics (including intersex traits) as unlawful grounds for discrimination, along with race, color, religion, sex and national origin. Doing so would protect LGBTQI+ people from discrimination in key areas of everyday life. These protections are sorely needed: According to a 2020 nationally representative survey conducted by the Center for American Progress and NORC at the University of Chicago, more than one in three LGBTQI+ adults faced discrimination of some kind in the year prior to the survey, including more than two in five LGBTQI+ people of color and more than three in five transgender individuals.
One year ago, the House recognized the need to strengthen and expand federal civil rights laws to ensure clear, consistent and comprehensive nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQI+ people in all states by passing the Equality Act. The bill enjoys a broad and diverse base of support. A 2021 survey from the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute found that more than 80 percent of Americans, including majorities of Republicans, Democrats and independents, and majorities of people from all major religions, support LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections such as those found in the Equality Act. The bill also enjoys the support of over 500 major U.S. corporations operating in all 50 states, as well as a coalition of more than 120 faith groups representing the full spectrum of religious communities across the country.
Now is the time for the Senate to act. Senators must denounce this wave of dangerous and harmful state-level attacks and take concrete action to protect LGBTQI+ communities and their LGBTQI+ constituents by passing the Equality Act.
Sharita Gruberg is the vice president of the LGBTQI+ Research and Communications Project at the Center for American Progress.