The Equality Act:
What It Is and the Current Status

Written By:

Tatiana Pagan

Publishing Date: 

September 18, 2021

US Congress’ H.R. 5, also known as the Equality Act, passed in the House of Representatives 224-206 on February 25, 2021. This bill would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which currently protects people from being discriminated against based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, and other services. The bill, which was first introduced on February 18, 2021, outlines the following: “Prohibits discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity in areas including public accommodations and facilities, education, federal funding, employment, housing, credit, and the jury system. Specifically, the bill defines and includes sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity among the prohibited categories of discrimination or segregation. [...] The bill prohibits an individual from being denied access to a shared facility, including a restroom, a locker room, and a dressing room, that is in accordance with the individual's gender identity.” Simliar LGBTQ anti-discrimination bills have been introduced since 1974. In fact, such legislation has been “introduced in all but one session of Congress since.” (Allen, 2021) It has passed in the House twice but missed being passed in the Senate by just one vote in 1996. The Equality Act of 2019 passed 236-173 but died in committee before being voted on by the Senate. With the Equality Act of 2021 being debated on the Senate floor, there are still a number of challenges. The main issue is voter’s perception of LGBTQ rights. In a 2019 poll by Reuters/IPSOS, 45% of respondents believed that federal anti-discrimination protections already exist for LGBTQ people. Only one third of respondents were aware that transgender people were not protected from gender identity discrimination under federal law. The bill is also facing opposition from a number of sources. While 379 pro-equality bills were introduced in thirty-eight states in 2020, another 185 anti-LGBTQ laws were introduced in thirty-five states. A total of twenty-seven states lack anti-discrimination laws. While these bills were on a state level, a similar divide exists on the federal level, as noted in February’s close 224-206 vote in the House. Some critics of the Equality Act are concerned about the threat to religious freedoms. The fear is that certain businesses and organizations would be forced “to choose between operating or following their beliefs” due to religious objections. Those in support have highlighted that passing the bill would ensure that LGBTQ people would not be denied medical treatment housing on the grounds of religious beliefs. Furthermore, the Equality Act would actually provide new protections for people of faith. This would include more protections from faith-based discrimination in public accommodations. The bill also preserves the protections for religious exemptions under the Civil Rights Act. This ongoing divide has led to a filibuster on the Senate floor. With sixty votes needed to pass the Equality Act, the bill will need ten Republican votes in addition to every Democrat in the Senate. Frustration is building, as supporters feel that the delay in passing the Equality Act in the Senate only allows for more anti-LGBTQ bills to pass at the state level. Over 250 anti-LGBTQ bills have been filed at the state level in 2021. The frustration has worsened due to the promise President Biden made to pass the Equality Act in his first hundred days-- a deadline that passed months ago. While testimonies have been made before the Senate Judiciary committee, notably from 16-year-old Stella Keating back in March, little progress has been made since. While the filibuster is a hurdle to overcome, America’s youth can still engage in the political process. Senators can be contacted by email, postal mail, or telephone. Doing so will highlight the importance of the Equality act and the support it has from those outside of Congress. It is also important to inform others of the bill, as spreading awareness will help further the conversation and rebuild the traction lost since the Equality Act passed in the House of Representatives. Regularly checking on the status of the bill is vital in preventing misinformation. Organizations like GLAAD, the Human Rights Campaign, and The Trevor Project regularly update their sites with news on the Equality Act and similar bills. There is also a list of other LGBTQ organizations you can support that go beyond the Equality Act. These groups offer legal, workplace, athletic, veteran, and elderly support for the LGBTQ community.

Sources

  1. Kurtzleben, D. (2021, February 24) House Passes the Equality Act: Here’s What it Would Do. NPR. https://www.npr.org/2021/02/24/969591569/house-to-vote-on-equality-act-heres-what-the-law-would-do

  2. Gruberg, S., Medina, C., and Santos, T. (2021, March 15). What You Need to Know About the Equality Act. Center for American Progress. https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/lgbtq-rights/reports/2021/03/15/497158/need-know-equality-act/

  3. Ahrens, K. (2021, June 11). Opinion: The Equality Act is in Limbo. A lot is at stake for the LGBTQ community, especially our youth. The San Diego oUnion Tribune. https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/opinion/commentary/story/2021-06-11/equality-act-senate-lgbtq-youth

  4. Allen, J. (2021, April 2). The Equality Act is 46 Year in the Making. The US Senate Should Pass it Now. WBUR. https://www.wbur.org/cognoscenti/2021/04/02/equality-act-stella-keating-julie-marie-allen

  5. 2021. H.R. 5 - Equality Act. congress.gov. https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/house-bill/5

  6. Fields, A. (2021, January 25). The Human Rights Campaign Releases Annual State Equality Index Ratings. Human Rights Campaign. https://www.hrc.org/press-releases/the-human-rights-campaign-releases-annual-state-equality-index-ratings

  7. Caspani, M. (2019, June 12). Americans’ perception of LGBTQ rights under federal law largely incorrect: Reuters/Ipsos. Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-lgbt-stonewall-equality-idUSKCN1TC120

  8. Diaz, D. and Grayer, A. (2021, March 16). House passes Equality Act aimed at ending discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2021/02/25/politics/equality-act-passes-house/index.html

  9. Burns, K. (2021, June 30). Where the LGBTQ Equality Legislation Goes to Die. The New Republic. https://newrepublic.com/article/162861/lgbtq-equality-act-joe-manchin-compromise-betrayal