*Updated April 8th
The Equality Act was passed in the House of Representatives last month, moving this landmark legislation closer to becoming law. This legislation would update the Civil Rights Act to explicitly prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. These nondiscrimination protections would apply to areas including public accommodations and facilities, education, federal funding, employment, housing, credit, and the jury system. It would also expand the list of protected places of public accommodations, including retail stores; transportation services like airports, taxis, bus stations; and service providers.
There are 27 states, including Pennsylvania, that do not have any state laws protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination. Even after a favorable Supreme Court ruling last year that determined discrimination against LGBT people to be a form of sex discrimination, legislation is still required explicitly name sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes under the Civil Rights Act. Additionally, since the Supreme Court case applied specifically to employment discrimination, the Equality Act is needed in order to expand these protections into housing, public accommodations, and federally funded programs.
The House bill was sponsored by David Cicilline (D-RI) and was approved by a 224-206 vote. All of our Representatives from southeastern Pennsylvania voted in favor in favor of the bill. President Biden has consistently stated his support for this legislation and has pledged to sign it should it pass the Senate. The legislation faces a tougher road in the Senate where it will require 60 votes to avoid a filibuster. In Pennsylvania, Senator Casey has already signaled his support and has been a co-sponsor of the bill in the Senate. Senator Toomey is seen as a key swing vote.
It is important that our elected officials hear from their LGBT constituents about how discrimination has negatively impacted their lives. It is similarly important that senators hear from business owners, faith leaders, and other advocates about the need for inclusive non-discrimination protections. SAGE is running an online letter-writing campaign through which individuals can contact their senators to urge them to vote in favor of the Equality Act. Individuals can simply enter their name and address and will be provided with a template letter that can be sent electronically to the senators in their state. There is also the option to edit this template letter for those wanting to share any additional thoughts or experiences.