The Equality Act May Be First Federal Law Protecting LGBTQ+ Americans

Equality Act

Democratic lawmakers reintroduced the Equality Act to Congress on Wednesday, a bill that would amend federal civil right legislation to include protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Currently, unlike protections for race, religion, or disability, protections for LGBTQ+ people come down to state and municipal laws, meaning LGBTQ+ people in some states are either not protected at all or only protected if they live in a certain city.

"In most states in this country, a gay couple can be married on Saturday, post their wedding photos to Instagram on Sunday, and lose their jobs or get kicked out of their apartments on Monday just because of who they are," David Cicilline, D-R.I., the bill's main sponsor said in a press conference Wednesday afternoon, NBC News reports. "This is wrong."

In a phone interview with Out, Chris Pappas, the first out gay representative from New Hampshire who is also one of the bill’s original co-sponsors and a member of the Congressional LGBTQ Equality Caucus, said it’s imperative that the legislation be introduced now so that “millions of Americans can live their truth.”

“That’s going to be such an incredible message,” Pappas said, “especially to LGBTQ+ youth across the country who are questioning their place in American society.”

Pappas said the bill is a reminder that “no one is less or more equal” than any other American.

The Equality Act was first brought to Congress in 2015, though it is a rework of a bill first introduced in 1974. Not only would the bill add protections based on gender identity and sexual orientation to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the bill would add more locations where discrimination is not allowed under the bill’s parameters, including emergency shelters, banks, transit, and pharmacies. If signed into law, it would be the first federal bill to put LGBTQ+ protections on the books.

“We need to update our civil rights statutes to make sure no one faces discrimination in any corner of this country,” Pappas adds.

Currently, the United States House of Representatives is majority Democrat and the bill is expected to pass there. It would be the first time the LGBTQ+ protections bill has passed the House. However, even though a few Republicans voted for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in 2013, only one Republican — Susan Collins of Maine — has thrown her support behind the Equality Act.

A recent poll from the Public Religion Research Institute showed broad support among Americans for nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ+ Americans. Not only do most groups support protections, only one group has seen a downward trend in support for LGBTQ+ protections: Republicans.

When Out asked about the downward trend, Pappas blamed Donald Trump.

“We have a president who is on the wrong side of history and has been pushing a dangerous agenda that is undoing the great progress that was made during the Obama administration,” he says. “I think he’s sending the wrong message to his base and to the American people about the future of this country and who is a part of it.”

Pappas said that he is hopeful about the Equality Act passing. Pappas pointed to a strong coalition of lawmakers and business people as evidence that the bill could fare well in both the House and the Senate.

“Businesses can tell you that when you create a culture of acceptance, we all succeed,” Pappas says. “There may be bumps in the road, and the Trump Administration is a significant roadblock on the push toward equality, but there are lives at stake and this is too critical an issue to be sidelined.”

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