House 'Equality Act' Gives Civil Rights Protections To Gay And Transgender People

by Julie Scagell
Chip Somodevilla/Getty

The bill will move to the Senate where it will likely face opposition

The House of Representatives passed the Equality Act today, a bill aimed at protecting the LGBTQ community from discrimination in housing, the workplace, public accommodations, and other settings. The bill also expands protections to prohibit discrimination based on sex in public and private accommodations.

The bill — originally introduced in 2015 — passed 236-173, coming at a time when the Trump administration continues to undo past policies protecting LGBTQ individuals. One such act was a ban on transgender soldiers from serving in the military and another — refusing to investigate or take action on any complaints filed by transgender students who claim they’ve been barred from using the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity; both direct attacks on the civil rights of all Americans.

“The question before us is not whether the L.G.B.T.Q. community faces outrageous and immoral discrimination, for the record shows that it clearly does,” said Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee. “The question is whether we, as Congress, are willing to take action to do something about it. The answer goes straight to the heart of who we want to be as a country — and today, that answer must be a resounding ‘yes.’”

The legislation is attempting to fill a gap in existing federal law that currently protects citizens from being discriminated against based on race, religion, sex, and disability, but does nothing to specifically address the protection of LGBTQ people from such discrimination in both public and private sectors. That means LGBTQ can be fired from a job, refused service at a restaurant, or be evicted because the people that own those establishments don’t agree with their sexual identity.

The bill will head to the Republican-led Senate, where it will likely be rejected. Still, many are praising the bill because this is the first time legislation like this has received a full vote from either chamber of Congress.

According to the New York Times, the Senate will stuff the bill, citing “concern for the safety of women and girls in intimate spaces” and “conscience protections” for professionals who refuse medical procedures they find “morally objectionable,” stated in a draft statement of response. They also addressed concerns that the bill could “force schools to teach and affirm sex education that includes self-identified gender identity.”

“I implore my colleagues to listen to the stories of every stakeholder here, including the transgender girls and boys this bill is meant to help — because we may be hurting them by allowing doctors to prescribe hormones and perform major surgeries on adolescents without parental consent or involvement,” House Representative Doug Collins (R) echoed of the above statement.

“Today on this day we have an opportunity to send a message now to help end discrimination in our country and set all of our people free,” Georgia Rep. John Lewis said.