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What is the Equality Act and why is it the most important thing for LGBTI people in the US?

What is the Equality Act and why is it the most important thing for LGBTI people in the US?

LGBT protest in DC for equality

A frequent bill discussed in US politics and LGBTI rights is the Equality Act. Numerous organizations, activists, and politicians advocate for its passage.

What exactly is it, however, and why is it so important?

Its history begins in 1974.

Rep. Bella Abzug (D-NY) first developed the bill, along with the help of Rep. Ed Koch (D-NY). The simplest definition and aim of the act is to amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by adding prohibitions of discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, and marital status.

It died in the House Committee on the Judiciary before Congress could vote on it.

Three years ago today, on 23 July 2015, it finally reached the fated halls of the US Capitol.

Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) introduced it to the House of Representatives, while Senator Jeff Merkley and others introduced it to the Senate. Ultimately, however, it failed to pass.

It has been reintroduced in the current session of Congress, which ends next January.

What does it do?

The updated version of the Equality Act seeks to protect people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, and sex.

As per the Civil Rights Act, it prohibits discrimination in the following areas: employment, housing, public accommodations, public education, federal funding, credit, and the jury system.

Currently, 50% of all LGBTI people living in the US reside in states without statewide protections for them. This means they can be fired or denied housing simply for who they are.

Why does it matter?

A recent example is the Masterpiece Cakeshop Supreme Court case, in which cases the Justice decided narrowly for a baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.

Federal, nationwide protections for LGBTI people in the area of public accommodation could have avoided this.

No longer would LGBTI people in the United States have to worry about public spaces or opportunities being denied to them simply because of their identity — or at least that the law wasn’t on their side.

Is there support?

According to JoDee Winterhof, Human Rights Campaign Senior Vice President for Policy and Political Affairs: ‘Momentum is on our side as a growing majority of Americans, 115 leading businesses and more than 240 bipartisan Members of Congress have announced their support for the Equality Act.’

HRC also has a business coalition for the Equality Act. So far, 115 major corporations have joined it, such as Google, Nike, and more. These companies employ over 5.8 million people in the US.

One major boost for the passage of the Equality Act is this November’s midterm elections.

Winterhof added: ‘That’s why we are working harder than ever to turn out the vote this November and send a pro-equality majority to Congress to finally pass this crucially important legislation and pull the emergency brake on this administration.’

This is the most important next step for LGBTI people in the US. There needs to be an end to legalized discrimination.