The Equality Act is a proposed federal bill currently waiting to be passed by the United States Senate. The Act would function as an extension to the Bostock v Clayton County Supreme Court ruling, which defended against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in the workplace. However, the bill would provide further protections for the LGBTQ+ community in a number of sectors, including housing, education, healthcare, and adoption and foster care services. The Act also formally acknowledges conversion therapy as a harmful practice for the health and wellbeing of LGBTQ+ people.
Further, the Act aims to bolster existing legislation that protects the rights of women and people of colour. The bill recognizes that trans women of colour face one the highest rates of violence in the country, and that this oppression is also rooted in institutions such as housing and healthcare. Thus, the intersectional nature of this proposed legislation is important to acknowledge.
According to polls, 76% of Americans support the Equality Act and the bill is also backed by at least 648 organizations. However, the Act has not received the same level of support among lawmakers. On February 25th, 2021, the Act passed in the House of Representatives by a margin of 224-206. Of the 224 votes in favour, only three were cast by Republican members.
The Equality Act has faced attacks from the Republican Party, all of which are based on unfounded statistics. For instance, Republicans wrongly argue that the bill would pose a threat to cisgender women and girls if transgender people, particularly trans women, were allowed to use the restroom that coincides with their gender identity. Recently, there is also growing concern that allowing trans girls to compete in sports would be an unfair advantage. Both of these claims are not only blatantly incorrect, but this rhetoric also perpetuates fear and violence towards trans people.
Republican lawmakers also argue that the Act would infringe on religious freedoms. If passed, the bill would override the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and would not allow businesses to deny service or employment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Similar protections already exist on the bases of race, disability, and religion, making it time that the LGBTQ+ community also be included.
The Fate of the Bill
During his campaign, President Joe Biden promised to make passing the Act a priority during his first term in office. In fact, the Equality Act has been brought before the House by Democrats multiple times and managed to pass in 2019 during the Trump administration.
However, the fate of the bill now lies with the Senate. Both Parties currently hold 50 seats, and in order for the Act to pass, it must overcome the filibuster, which requires 60 votes. Yet, because of the bill’s partisan nature and the spread of misinformation about the trans community by the Republican Party, it will be an uphill battle to pass the legislation.