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Lawmakers from both sides of Congress–including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi–have introduced a bill which would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the Civil Rights Act, to protect those who are gay or transgender from a broad spectrum of discrimination.
The Equality Act initially was designed to simply protect gay and transgender Americans from discrimination in employment, Pelosi said.
“But everybody just said, ‘Why should we be ending discrimination in the workplace? What about in every place – in housing, in every place?’
“So, that’s when [Democratic Rep. David] Cicilline stepped forward and said, ‘We’ll open the Civil Rights Act.’ Not a small thing to do, and that’s why [Democratic Rep.] Lewis and the Congressional Black Caucus and all of our members were so important in getting behind that fully so here we are today.”
Cicilline, of Rhode Island, is an openly gay member of Congress. Lewis, of Georgia, is known as a leader and hero of the original civil rights movement.
Although Congress has repealed the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” ban on gay and lesbian servicemembers and the Supreme Court recognized same-sex marriage, gay and transgender Americans continue to face discrimination on a variety of fronts, supporters of the Equality Act noted.
To remedy that, the Equality Act would add sexual orientation and gender identity as categories to the Civil Rights Act.
The Equality Act would ensure that LGBTQ Americans are protected by the same federal non-discrimination laws that already apply to race, religion, and more.
Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Susan Collins (R-Me.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), and Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced the legislation, joined by 43 of their Senate colleagues.
The legislation was filed simultaneously in the House by Cicilline, joined by 239 representatives.
“All Americans deserve a fair opportunity to pursue the American dream,” said Sen. Collins. “Throughout my Senate service, I have worked to end discrimination against LGBTQ Americans, from leading the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ to advocating for the passage of the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act. It is time we ensure that all people are judged on their talents and abilities, and have full access to the services they need and the opportunities they seek.
“This bill marks the beginning of that process, and I urge my colleagues to join me as we take steps to build bipartisan consensus around the Equality Act,” Collins added.