Nancy Pelosi says she’s committed to passing federal legal protections for LGBTQ+ people.
During her gavel acceptance speech Thursday, the newly elected Speaker of the House said that she’s making the passage of the Equality Act — which would explicitly protect people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity if passed — a priority in the 116th Congress, The Washington Blade reports.
“This House will take action on overdue legislation that has bipartisan support in the Congress and across the country,” said Pelosi, the Democratic Representative for California’s 12th District, per Time. “We will make America fairer by passing the Equality Act to end discrimination against the LGBTQ community.”
Along with the Equality Act — previously introduced by openly-gay Rhode Island Rep. David Cicilline — Pelosi spoke of pushing for “common-sense” gun control and protections for DREAMers.
Ian S. Thompson, the American Civil Liberties Union’s Legislative Representative in D.C., tells OUT that a comprehensive, federal LGBTQ+ non-discrimination law is “important” because currently, what exists is “a patchwork of protections at the state and local level” and court decisions that interpret the “sex” in Title VII and Title IX’s “on the basis of sex” as an umbrella term that covers both sexual orientation and gender identity — an interpretation that the Justice Department has come out against in recent years.
“You’re lucky if you live in a state like Massachusetts, Washington, or Hawaii that has strong protections. In states [that don’t have them] like Alabama and Texas, the reality is very different,” Thompson says.
Because of this “patchwork of protections” that varies state by state, about two fifths of LGBTQ+ people live places where they are not protected from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. This includes housing discrimination, employment discrimination, and access to public accommodations.
“[The Equality Act] would provide people with formal, legal protections against discrimination,” says Thompson. The hope is that its passage would help to change culture over time.
The cynic in me worries that the Democrats in Congress might sacrifice the “gender identity” portion of the Equality Act’s protections in the hopes of getting Republicans on board, as they did with ENDA in the mid-aughts. Thompson says he’s “100% confident…that gender identity will not be up for debate in 2019.” He’s also very “confident” that the new Democratic majority will be able to pass the Equality Act by the end of the year, though passing it in the Republican majority Senate, much less avoiding a presidential veto, will likely have to wait until after 2020.
“It’s important to build momentum,” Thompson tells OUT. “Passing [the Equality Act] in the House of Representatives in 2019 would provide real momentum heading into 2021, which is the first time we could realistically hope to see it become law, depending on the outcome of the 2020 elections.