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New Bills Would Bring Sweeping, 'Vital' LGBTQ Protections

The Equality Act would expand Civil Rights Act and provide 'full, federal equality' for all LGBTQ people, supporters say

A new bill introduced Thursday seeks to replace the Employment Non-Discrimination Act with more comprehensive LGBTQ rights legislation. (Photo: Thomas Hawk/flickr/cc)

Comprehensive non-discrimination bills that would update and increase employment, housing, and education protections for LGBTQ people are being introduced in both houses of U.S. Congress on Thursday.

The Equality Act, sponsored by Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), will be formally announced during a noon press conference, but The Advocate received an early copy of the proposed legislation and reports that it would:

include protections in public accommodations, public education, employment, housing, federal funding, jury service, legal protections, and credit. The bill would also clarify that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act cannot be used to defend discrimination against LGBT people.

...The Equality Act would also amend Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include employment protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Religious beliefs, race, sex, color, and national origin are already protected characteristics. The bill would not change existing religious exemptions for religious corporations, schools, and associations to make hiring decisions based on religious beliefs if the employee will be performing work connected with their religious activities.

The Equality Act seeks to replace the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which prohibits discrimination in hiring on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
"In most states, a same-sex couple can get married on Saturday, post pictures on Facebook on Sunday, and then risk being fired from their job or kicked out of their apartment on Monday."
—Rep. David Cicilline

In a "Dear Colleague" letter to other lawmakers requesting co-sponsors for the bill, Cicilline wrote, "Every day, millions of LGBT Americans face the danger of real discrimination and sometimes even violence because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. In most states, a same-sex couple can get married on Saturday, post pictures on Facebook on Sunday, and then risk being fired from their job or kicked out of their apartment on Monday."

"A majority of states in our country do not have laws that protect LGBT individuals against discrimination," Cicilline continued.

The Equality Act is also being sponsored by Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.).

As ThinkProgress reports, the bill would also provide protections for women:


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Currently, there is no federal protection on the basis of sex in public accommodations. In addition to sexual orientation and gender identity, The Equality Act adds “sex” to that list of protections as well. This would ensure that women have equal access to spaces with the same protection under federal law that other categories currently have. As Amanda Terkel explains at the Huffington Post, “This change would mean that a car dealership couldn’t charge a woman more than a man, simply because she’s a woman. Or a salon couldn’t charge men and women different prices for the exact same haircut.”

“Sex” would also be added to the protections for federal financial assistance under Title VI, meaning that women would also secure equal access to public funds, and no federal funding could be spent in a way that encourages or results in sex discrimination.

With Republicans in control of both chambers, passing the bill may prove an uphill battle—particularly as the GOP is pushing its own legislation, the First Amendment Defense Act, which would limit the government's power in cases where a business or individual denies services to LGBTQ people.

But with the Supreme Court's ruling last month that legalized same-sex marriage throughout the U.S., supporters of the bill are hopeful that the tide is turning.

"No one in our community should be at risk of being fired, evicted from their home, or denied services because of who they are or whom they love," said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ rights organization. "There is an unacceptable patchwork of state-level protections for LGBT people, and more than half of LGBT Americans live in a state that lacks fully-inclusive non-discrimination laws. The time has come in this country for full, federal equality, and nothing less."

Griffin continued: "A federal non-discrimination bill would create permanent and clear protections to ensure that all employees are hired, fired or promoted based on their performance. All LGBT Americans deserve a fair chance to earn a living and provide for their families."

"The Equality Act will yield non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people in areas as diverse as employment to jury service," said Rea Carey, executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund, a grassroots lobbying organization. "We now need the certainty of explicit federal legislation to provide employers and workers with this same clear and consistent message in every corner of our nation. And what’s more, this broad federal legislation reaches beyond employment to extend vital protections on several new fronts."

Carey concluded: "Discrimination impacts everyone negatively—particularly LGBTQ people of color who experience unemployment, poverty and homelessness at higher rates than the general population. Congress can do something meaningful to help change this picture. They can pass the Equality Act."

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