Last week, a diverse coalition of members of Congress introduced the Equality Act, legislation that would amend existing federal nondiscrimination laws such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Fair Housing Act to include sexual orientation, gender identity, and—where currently lacking—sex. Regular “Race and Beyond” columnist Sam Fulwood III asked Laura E. Durso, Director of the Center for American Progress’ LGBT Research and Communications Project, and Sarah McBride, whose policy portfolio at the Center includes the Equality Act, to offer some insights into why communities of color should support this historic legislation.
The summer of 2015 will go down in history as one of the most pivotal seasons in our country’s march toward equal justice and basic fairness for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender, or LGBT, Americans. Over the past few months, we’ve witnessed loving and committed same-sex couples gain the freedom to marry nationwide, seen significant steps toward the removal of the discriminatory ban on transgender service members in the military, and watched as our fellow citizens’ hearts and minds continue to change and grow.
Despite how far we’ve come in securing fairness for LGBT people, the work for full equality for all Americans continues. For LGBT Americans, the undeniable and unacceptable reality remains that while the freedom to marry exists in all 50 states, 31 states still lack clear and consistent protections from discrimination in vital areas of daily life, including employment, housing, and the public marketplace.
The Equality Act would provide much-needed protections to combat the pervasive discrimination faced by LGBT people. This is especially vital for LGBT people of color, who live at the intersection of multiple marginalized identities. A recent report by the Center for American Progress, the Movement Advancement Project, the National Black Justice Coalition, and other partners demonstrated the negative outcomes disproportionately faced by LGBT people of color—particularly black transgender women—in health, education, and economic well-being.
The report called on Congress to pass workplace protections for LGBT Americans and to strengthen wage discrimination laws for all workers. And because access to a stable job does not begin or end with the hiring process—but also includes access to a quality education, stable housing, and goods and services—comprehensive protections in all areas of life are necessary to ensure that all people can provide for themselves and their families and live free from fear.
The Equality Act would also expand and enhance federal nondiscrimination protections for everyone—including people of color, women, and people of faith—by expanding the kinds of businesses barred from discriminating against customers and ensuring that religion cannot be used as an excuse to undermine these important rights, among other updates.
Modifying the Civil Rights Act for any reason should be done with great deliberateness and caution, and the decision to modernize our federal nondiscrimination protections through amending legacy statutes such as the Civil Rights Act was not reached lightly. Because of such statutes, we have a federal framework in place to combat discrimination, and that framework can and should work for everyone, including LGBT people, who deserve equal treatment under the law. The approach of updating these laws builds off of the successful model in the roughly 20 states that have passed LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination laws and ensures that LGBT Americans are treated equally. Additionally, over the past several years, we have seen a great deal of progress in getting LGBT Americans some degree of coverage, through court and administrative rulings, under sex protections, due to anti-LGBT bias falling under prohibited discrimination based on gender stereotyping. Amending existing statutes will ensure that this progress is not harmed.
This principle of do no harm extends beyond progress on the LGBT front and includes vocal and clear opposition to any attempt to utilize the Equality Act to undermine existing protections based on race, sex, national origin, or religion. The Center for American Progress would oppose any bill that diminishes nondiscrimination protections for any currently protected class. When it comes to civil rights, this country should move in one direction only: forward for all.
By both incorporating LGBT protections and expanding rights for all communities, the Equality Act represents our interconnectedness as a people. Its passage must be sought alongside equal passion for other important, related issues, from reforming our criminal justice system, to restoring voting rights, to changing our nation’s immigration policies.
We can no longer separate movements for equality and justice any more than we can silo our own lives and identities. When the Equality Act is finally signed into law, it will represent an important chapter in American history, and the only way to write that chapter is together.
Laura E. Durso is the Director of the LGBT Research and Communications Project at the Center for American Progress. Sarah McBride is a Research Associate for the LGBT Research and Communications Project.