The Future of LGBTQ+ Anti-discrimination: The Equality Act


Stanley Zhao, Contributor

On Feb. 25, the United States House of Representatives voted largely along party lines to pass the Equality Act, a bill that amends the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In its provisions, the act extends civil rights law to protect individuals against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identification. Passed by a vote of 224-206, the bill garnered the support of all House Democrats and three additional House Republicans. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-Ill., intends to introduce the legislation to the Senate floor in the upcoming weeks. 

The bill’s primary sponsor, Rhode Island Democrat David Cicilline, applauds the concerted dedication to bolster the legislation. He affirms that “the LGBT community has waited long enough. The time has come to extend the blessings of liberty and equality to all Americans regardless of who they are and who they love.” The passage of the bill marks a salient milestone for both the Biden administration and the national LGBTQ+ community. 

Although the Equality Act managed to skirt past its challengers, the bill will face a more formidable adversary within the Senate chambers— the uphill battle is tensed by an already-rigid demarcation of fifty Democrats and fifty Republicans. Because of a foreseeable filibuster, a supermajority of sixty votes is necessary to surmount the procedural roadblock and make it onto President Biden’s Resolute desk. This means the Democratic caucus will be under exigency to recruit at least ten Republican senators for the bill to pass.

The legislation’s advocates recognize the difficulty of the task at hand because this was not the first attempt to pass the Equality Act. The bill first passed the House in 2019 after Democrats retook leadership of the House of Representatives. However, the bill quickly died after then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., denied its consideration. 

This year, the Equality Act scraped by with a razor-thin margin in the House because its detractors maintain that such a piece of legislation will undermine the integrity of religious freedom in the country. Predominantly Republicans, these critics raise concerns for how the Equality Act will adversely impact religious communities and women’s sports. Representative Andy Biggs, R-Ariz. proclaims that the bill is a “devastating attack on humanity.”

“While it attacks religious freedom, freedom of expression and freedom of association, all important rights recognized in the First Amendment, it doesn’t stop there, it also denies the biological facts that men and women are the two genders,” Biggs adds.  

Several high-profile Democrats have responded to staunch resistance against the Act’s passage, including Leader Schumer.

“Their attacks on trans people in the transgender community are just mean,” Schumer asserts. “They don’t represent our views and they don’t represent the views of a majority of Americans.”

The nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute corroborates Schumer’s observation. The think-tank reported that over 70 percent of Americans express support for bills like the Equality Act—including Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. Moreover, the Supreme Court ruled in Bostock v. Clayton County that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin) also forbids discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender because they fall under the category of “sex.” So why does the matter continue to remain in contention?

Because the language of Bostock v. Clayton County specifies discrimination solely in the workplace, sex discrimination in other sectors or fields are, theoretically, unprohibited. Under President Biden, an executive order was issued to apply the ruling of Bostock v. Clayton County outside of the workplace, including housing and health care. However, future administrations may capitalize on the loophole. By institutionalizing the Equality Act, protection against the entire scope of sex discrimination will be impervious to foreign acts of obstruction. 

Although the Equality Act would end de jure discrimination in the United States, the legislation is by no means the final capstone to attaining equality. Jackson Jones, a first-year student at Vanderbilt from Louisville, Kentucky, recognizes that more work must be done. 

 “It’s honestly exhausting having to guard my own identity and put up a façade when I feel unsafe. While the Equality Act wouldn’t immediately eliminate harmful attitudes, it’s definitely a big step in the right direction towards having our queer brothers, sisters, and siblings to live life as they truly are.”

However, the Act itself serves as the foundation for continuous innovation and advancements to be made on behalf of the LGBTQ+ community for a more equal and equitable tomorrow. 

“While many advancements toward LGBTQ+ equality have recently been made, the Equality Act explicitly offers protections for members of the LGBTQI+ community,” says Carlos Caballero, a first-year student from Miami, Florida. “I think people often forget the fight for equality is nowhere near over; it was just 6 years ago that we got the basic right to get married, and now we’re fighting for legal equality against discrimination. It’s important to pass the Equality Act because we can’t have social equality without achieving legal protection first.”