Why the Equality Act?
Despite significant steps forward, many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) Americans continue to lack explicit, uniform protections where they live. 31 states still lack clear, fully-inclusive non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people, meaning that LGBTQ people are at risk of being fired, denied housing, and denied services for who they are or whom they love. Discrimination is a real and persistent problem for too many LGBTQ Americans. Nearly two-thirds of self-identified LGBTQ Americans reported experiencing discrimination in their personal lives.
The problems come up over and over again in the 31 states that don’t have clear, fully-inclusive LGBTQ non-discrimination laws. There’s the teacher who was fired after her principal found out she was planning to have a child with her partner. There’s the lesbian couple asked to leave a park while shooting maternity photos. And the transgender woman shamefully denied housing at a shelter. Despite the incredible progress on issues from marriage to military service, these stories are far too common.
The Equality Act
The Equality Act, which was introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) and in the Senate by Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), and Cory Booker (D-NJ), would provide consistent and explicit non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people across key areas of life, including employment, housing, credit, education, public spaces and services, federally funded programs, and jury service.
The legislation also amends the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit discrimination in public spaces and services and federally funded programs on the basis of sex and would update the public spaces and services covered in current law to include retail stores, services such as banks and legal services, and transportation services.
HRC’s Work to Support the Equality Act
Making the Case for Federal Non-Discrimination Protections
Before the Equality Act was introduced for the first time, HRC released new polling showing that support for federal non-discrimination protections exceeds even marriage equality. Likely voters support workplace non-discrimination protections by a massive 78 percent to 16 percent margin. This includes support from 90 percent of likely Democratic voters, two-thirds (64 percent) of likely Republican voters, and 70 percent of observant Christians. Moreover, nearly 60 percent of voters are less likely to support a candidate who doesn’t support such protections for LGBTQ people, including 61 percent of Independent voters and 58 percent of Catholic voters.
Prior to the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling in June 2015, HRC and the named plaintiff in the Supreme Court case, Jim Obergefell, traveled across the country to highlight the need for a federal non-discrimination bill. In March 2015, HRC released additional national polling showing strong, bipartisan support for a federal non-discrimination bill, and in December 2015, HRC released a report, Beyond Marriage Equality that highlighted the well-established use of, expansive legislation to address systemic inequities.The report details the history of such legislation, and highlights seven core areas where LGBTQ Americans lack consistent, permanent federal non-discrimination protections.
Building Congressional Support
In the year leading up to the introduction of the Equality Act, HRC worked with congressional staff and coalition partners on drafting the bill and building congressional support. Thanks to this work, in both the 114th and 115th Congresses, the bipartisan Equality Act was introduced with the most congressional support that any piece of pro-LGBTQ legislation has received upon introduction at that time. HRC staff, members, and supporters continue to lobby Members of Congress to build support for the Equality Act.
Building Business Support
The overwhelming majority of America’s leading businesses already address workplace fairness for LGBTQ employees, recognizing that equality is good for the bottom line. Among Fortune 500 companies, 92 percent have sexual orientation non-discrimination protections in place, and 82 percent have protections based on gender identity. These protections signal a critical sea change for private support of nondiscrimination protections. However uniform federal standards remain essential for workers across the country.
That is why HRC launched the Business Coalition for the Equality Act, a group of more than 100 leading U.S. employers that support the federal fix to a patchwork of state and municipal non-discrimination protections that present challenges to employee mobility and safety. Equality is good for business, and these business leaders have endorsed legislation that follows their decades of experience and success in establishing consistent non-discrimination protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity.