Tag: Democrats

Equality Act hangs in the balance as Democrats falter in Senate races

Equality Act hangs in the balance as Democrats falter in

Can Biden convince enough Republicans to back the federal LGBTQ+ protections he promised?

Kate Sosin

Originally published by The 19th

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On May 14, 1974, Rep. Bella Abzug, a feminist icon in women’s rights movement, introduced one of the most important pieces of civil rights legislation ever ignored. It had just one co-sponsor.

The 10-page bill never moved out of committee. Had it passed, it would have amended the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. It was called the Equality Act.

The bill’s modern iteration moved closer to passage with Joe Biden’s projected win on November 7. But maybe not close enough.

Biden has vowed to pass the Equality Act within his first 100 days in office, an unexpected commitment as the country battles the coronavirus pandemic.  To do that, however, he will need the backing of a sharply partisan Senate. The bill easily cleared the Democrat-dominated House last year. Its chances of surviving the Senate, where it looks like Republicans will maintain control, is questionable.

Kierra Johnson, incoming executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force, said that LGBTQ+ policy has long lagged behind cultural acceptance for LGBTQ+ people.

“Unfortunately, I think because of that, we have not passed the Equality Act yet,” Johnson said. “I think people take for granted that there are gay people on TV and queer people running for office and TV shows about trans women, that somehow we have broken the ceiling.”

On October 29, LGBTQ+ media organization GLAAD released new findings showing that 89 percent of straight cisgender Americans falsely believe it illegal to evict someone because they are LGBTQ+. Seventy-nine percent of LGBTQ+ people are under the same impression. Eighty percent of straight cisgender respondents also mistakenly believed that it’s illegal to deny service to LGBTQ+ people in restaurants and bars.

“People tend to think that things they think are wrong are also illegal,” explained David Stacy, government affairs director for the Human Rights Campaign.

The Public Religion Research Institute reports that nationally, about 70 percent of Americans support passing LGBTQ+ nondiscrimination protections.

But just 22 states and Washington, D.C., have housing protections on the books that cover gender identity and sexual orientation, and 21 states and D.C. have LGBTQ+ public accommodation laws. The Movement Advancement Project, an LGBTQ+ group that tracks protections nationwide, estimates that just under half of LGBTQ+ Americans live in states that shield them from being denied service in restaurants, bars and hotels.

The latest iteration of the Equality Act would change that. It bars discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in housing, public accommodations, education and employment, among other things.

“It cuts off the need to continue to litigate, whether all federal sex discrimination laws provide protections to LGBTQ people,” said Sarah Warbelow, legal director at the Human Rights Campaign.

For years, any significant gains for LGBTQ+ rights have been through the courts.

Democratic control of both the White House and Congress is seen as the most friendly scenario for the Equality Act. But in 2009 and 2010, when Democrats held a supermajority in Congress and Barack Obama was in the White House, there were still no legislation passed granting civil rights to LGBTQ+ people.

There were small steps. Congress repealed the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy of dismissing openly LGBTQ+ service members in 2010. Congress failed to pass federal job protections, however, and President Donald Trump’s transgender military took effect in 2018. Congress also green lit the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act in 2009, a law that many LGBTQ+ rights groups have since abandoned as faith in the criminal legal system wanes.

Christian and Clifton's intimate hometown Ohio wedding at Jeffrey Mansion Photo by Starling Studio Featured on Equally Wed, the world's leading LGBTQ+ wedding magazine

But the overturning of sodomy laws, the passage of marriage equality, nationwide employment protections — all came through the courts.

Jenny Pizer, law and policy director for Lambda Legal, said there is a reason why LGBTQ+ advocates invested so heavily in advancing equality through litigation.

“Movements about the rights of a minority group, at least in the past, have depended in particular ways on court action,” she said. “The courts are supposed to be enforcers of minority rights and other constitutional rights, including free speech, freedom of assembly and other freedoms guaranteed to us.”

That includes a person’s rights against their own government, she added.

The 1970s, which saw the introduction of the Equality Act, were not easy for LGBTQ+ people. Throughout the decade, more than half of states still had sodomy laws on the books, the last of which were overturned in 2003 by the Supreme Court.

Still, LGBTQ+ advocates gained ground on other issues with a pace that other movement leaders marveled at. The Stonewall Rebellion — a riot against police brutality and homophobia in New York in 1969 — marked the start of the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement. In 1982, Wisconsin became the first state to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation. In 2015, the Supreme Court granted couples of all genders the right to marry. In courts across the country since, transgender students like Gavin Grimm have fought and won for the right to use a restroom that aligns with their gender. This June, the Supreme Court ruled LGBTQ+ people are protected against workplace discrimination.

None of those gains would match the significance of a modern-day Equality Act, advocates say, not because they aren’t important, but because the act rolls a patchwork of court wins into one federal law.

“Unfortunately, I feel like we shortcut ourselves when we talk about marriage, because it’s all of the things that come with marriage,” said Johnson. “What was underneath marriage was all the ways that LGBTQ people were actually not considered a part of family because of how family is defined by marriage, particularly in this country.”

While the Supreme Court ruled in favor of LGBTQ+ workplace protections in the Bostock v. Clayton County case in June, the Trump administration has shown few signs of enforcing the law. The ruling, delivered by conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch, also came with a caveat: some employers sincerely object to hiring LGBTQ+ people, he said. That statement signals that the court is eager to take up the issue of religious exemptions on LGBTQ+ protections, possibly rendering the ruling substantially less effective.

It’s that very issue, the suggestion that equality for gay and trans people in public life threatens religious freedom, that LGBTQ+ rights advocates have been unable to overcome in securing congressional support for the Equality Act, said Johnson.

“I don’t know, somehow we became the anti-Christ,” Johnson said, laughing. “But I think it becomes really powerful to have progressive or even moderate religious leaders who can speak to the importance of civil rights for queer people and talk about this as not just [something] they believe despite their faith, but because of their faith.”

Data increasingly shows that Republican voters back LGBTQ+ equality. The Human Rights Campaign polled voters in swing states and found that even among Trump voters, the majority of Americans backed transgender access to health care. Still, many Republican lawmakers who say they back equality for marginalized groups see LGBTQ+ rights in particular as inevitably at odds with religious liberty.

As long as that’s the case, the votes for the bill just don’t add up to the 60 it needs to pass.

“We feel like if we brought the bill to the floor, even in the current senate, we could get the votes to get to 51,” said Stacy. “Whether we can get 60 is a different question.”

Photos by Starling Studio via Christian and Clifton’s intimate hometown Ohio wedding at Jeffrey Mansion, featured on Equally Wed, the world’s leading LGBTQ+ wedding magazine

Democrats demand end to Donald Trump’s abhorrent trans military ban once and for all in wake of historic Supreme Court ruling

Democrats demand end to Donald Trump's abhorrent trans military ban

Army Sergeant Shane Ortega laces up boots before posing for a portrait at home at Wheeler Army Airfield on March 26, 2015 in Wahiawa, Hawaii. (Kent Nishimura/Getty Images)

Democratic lawmakers have pressed for an end to Donald Trump ‘s ban on transgender people serving in the military, in wake of the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling on LGBT+ civil rights protections.

In its ruling last month, the Supreme Court made clear that anti-discrimination protections enshrined in the 1964 Civil Rights Act also protect people from discrimination in employment based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

LGBT+ activists are hopeful that the ruling means that days are numbered for the ban on trans people serving in the armed forces, which was imposed in the wake of an infamous Trump tweet-storm in 2017.

Trump administration warned of ‘certain defeat’ over trans military ban

In a letter to Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Attorney General William Barr published Wednesday, Democrats in the House of Representatives urged the Trump administration to “immediately” eliminate the ban and cease resisting court action on the issue in the face of “almost certain defeat.”

The letter states: “This policy denies transgender people the ability to enlist in the military and puts transgender troops at risk of being discharged for living openly and authentically.

“The Bostock decision unambiguously clarified that Title VII’s prohibition against discrimination on the basis of sex includes protections for LGBTQ workers.

“Justice Gorsuch wrote ‘[t]he statute’s message for our cases is equally simple and momentous: An individual’s homosexuality or transgender status is not relevant to employment decisions. That’s because it is impossible to discriminate against a person for being homosexual or transgender without discriminating against that individual based on sex.’”

Noting the four ongoing lawsuits challenging the ban working their way through the court system, the letter adds: “The US Supreme Court’s ruling in Bostock will provide significant weight to those already substantial claims: the principle announced— that gender-identity discrimination is discrimination ‘because of sex’—applies equally to claims under the Constitution.

“Prolonging the litigation in the face of almost certain defeat, and thereby prolonging the existing policy, will continue to inflict serious harm on transgender people seeking to serve our country and on those already serving while living in the shadows, enduring the dignitary harm of being told they’re a burden.

“This policy is an attack on transgender service members who are risking their lives to serve our country and it should be reversed immediately.”

Democratic lawmakers joined activists to rally against the transgender military service ban.
Democratic lawmakers joined activists to rally against the transgender military service ban. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The White House declined to comment on the letter, according to forces outlet Stars and Stripes.

The letter, spearheaded by Washington Democrat Suzan DelBene, is signed by 113 Democratic members of Congress, including every single out LGB House lawmaker – David Cicilline, Angie Craig, Sharice Davids, Sean Patrick Maloney, Chris Pappas, Mark Pocan and Mark Takano. There are no out transgender people elected to the House of Representatives.

Joe Biden has already vowed to immediately scrap trans ban

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has already pledged to scrap the ban if elected in November.

Former Vice President Joe Biden
Joe Biden has vowed to strike down the trans military ban (Michael Brochstein / Echoes Wire/Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

His policy plan makes clear: “Every American who is qualified to serve in our military should be able to do so—regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity and without having to hide who they are.

“Biden will direct the US Department of Defense to allow transgender service members to serve openly, receive needed medical treatment, and be free from discrimination.”