Congress Aims to Prohibit LGBTQ+ Discrimination Through Bipartisan Equality Act

Aurora Khatibi Garrity, News Editor

On Feb. 25,, the House of Representatives voted to pass H.R.5, or the Equality Act, for the second time in American history, this time with a bipartisan vote of 224-206. The bill will prohibit discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation and gender identity within public domains, such as employment and housing. 

If passed by the Senate, the act would amend civil rights laws, among them being the 1964 Civil Rights Act, in which there is no clear defined prohibition against sex, sexual orientation or gender identity discrimination. 

The Equality Act was first introduced in 1974 and became an important bill in the LGBTQ+ civil rights movement after the Stonewall riots of 1969, which is considered one of the most important events in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights in the US. 

In 1994, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) was created and passed through the Senate but did not advance through the House of Representatives, partly due to the concern that transgender Americans would not be protected.

In 2019, ENDA expanded into the current H.R.5 and passed through the House. However it was not passed at the time by the then-Republican controlled Senate. The Trump Administration and congressional allies opposed the act over concerns that religious liberty and freedoms would be threatened. 

Audrey Munro, co-president of the Gay-Straight Alliance club at Palos Verdes High School, believes that the Equality Act would be beneficial for all, and that “giving rights to the LGBTQ+ community that every other American has does not mean you are taking away rights from any other group.” 

The transfer of power to the Biden Administration and a Democratic majority in the Senate this past year may finally allow this bill to be passed. 

“Every person should be treated with dignity and respect, and this bill represents a critical step toward ensuring that America lives up to our foundational values of equality and freedom for all,” President Biden said in a statement on the Equality Act. “No one should ever face discrimination or live in fear because of who they are or whom they love.” 

For years, individuals who are a part of the LGBTQ+ community have reported being denied access to public or shared facilities, and, according to the bill’s proponents, it will allow the Department of Justice to “intervene in equal protection actions in federal court on the account of sexual orientation and gender identity.”

Currently, 29 states do not outlaw anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination and the Equality Act would help to decrease and diminish this number. 

According to the Human Rights Campaign, “civil rights laws are effective in decreasing discrimination because they provide strong     federal remedies targeted to specific vulnerable groups. By explicitly including sexual orientation and gender identity in these fundamental laws, LGBTQ people will finally be afforded the exact same protections as other covered characteristics under federal law.” 

The Equality Act has amassed broad support from Democrats, Republicans and Independents and is endorsed by more than 630 organizations. 

“I definitely think there has been change this year, especially in the younger generations as well,” said Munro. “I think with social media everyone can voice their opinions and more people are supportive, and hopefully we can continue to grow support for the LGBTQ+ community.”