The Equality Act just passed the House of Representatives of the United States Congress. This bill now moves to the Senate for consideration.
Before getting to this stage, which is celebrated by many, there have been lots of debate and discussion around this bill and what it would mean for a variety of groups. I’m sure as the Senate determines its fate, the debates will continue. It’s a good time to get educated on the subject.
I’ve done my best to research and read through the law as well as the variety of arguments surrounding it. I offer this summary of both sides, as well as some of my thoughts at the end. If you have thoughts not covered in my summary, please share. It’s important to make sure we understand this complex subject and the possible effects of the law.
What is the Equality Act?
Essentially, the Equality Act is an amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, an anti-discrimination law, to include consideration for the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer) community. I will refer to this community as LGBTQ+. There is recognition made in the bill for pregnant women who may also face discrimination. The findings of the bill’s sponsors additionally recognize that prices of goods can be unequal depending on the target market (pink razors are priced higher than blue razors), though nothing specific in the Act would legislate any changes.
What does the Equality Act cover?
The Equality Act strives to cover all of the essential areas of life. It includes employment, housing, public spaces, federally funded programs, and education to name the biggest ones.
Is this Equality Act unique?
The United Kingdom passed an Equality Act in 2010, similar but with some additional provisions and clarification. In the United States, at the federal level, there is not yet a provision of this nature. There are a handful of court cases which have ruled in favor of not discriminating against individuals who are part of the LGBTQ+ community, which can be used in future cases.
At the state level, there are several states which have enacted laws which prevent discrimination on the basis of either gender identity or sexual orientation.
Reasons behind the Equality Act?
Court cases and other evidence show that individuals who identify as members of the LGBTQ+ community have experienced discrimination in many areas of life. These individuals have also been the targets of hate and physical violence. Sponsors of this bill recognize the need for legal protection for these individuals from such crime and discrimination.
In addition to the general protections against discrimination for LGBTQ+ citizens, many are hoping it will lead to protections against other practices such as conversion therapy (specific efforts to systematically condition an LGBTQ+ person to change their identify to heterosexual).
Here are the concerns on both sides, organized by topic:
As it affects religion:
Against Equality Act – The Equality Act states that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) is not considered in this amendment. Religious organizations nationwide are concerned that by stating that the RFRA does NOT apply, it will have a negative impact on the wide range of institutions and services which they manage.
For Equality Act – Those who support the Equality Act specifically support the provision excluding the RFRA because many feel that religion is used as an excuse for unnecessary discrimination.
As it affects women’s sports:
Against Equality Act – There is growing concern that as biological males become females and wish to participate in accordance with their gender identity, women will be reduced to spectators in their own sports.
For Equality Act – Many argue that biological males who transition to females have similar hormone levels and performance compared to biological females. The larger concern is that athletes who identify as females would experience further discrimination both socially and in sports because their status is not acknowledged by the greater population. Anectodal evidence also shows that adhering solely to biological factors may also disadvantage women. In the case of biological female athletes going through a transition into a male identity, their higher testosterone levels give them an unfair advantage.
As it affects youth and children:
Against Equality Act – Looking at current laws in some states throughout the country, parents and others are concerned that medical professionals would not be required to consult parents when providing care for questioning or nonconforming gender youth and children. There is no provision in the current Equality Act to protect the relationship between parents and children.
For Equality Act – A big concern among allies and members of the LGBTQ+ community is that family members, parents especially, do not always know how to properly help and support the mental health of children and youth who do not conform to traditional gender norms. The existence of conversion therapy is deeply concerning and has diminished trust that youth in the discovery stage will be properly supported. Also there is a concern that suicide is correlated with gender nonconformity, and some feel that close family members may unintentionally put these vulnerable young people at higher risk.
Concerning male or female-only spaces (locker rooms, bathrooms, dorms, etc.):
Against Equality Act – There is concern that biological males and females would end up mixing with each other because of the transgender segment of the population. Some feel that mixing biological males and females would be inappropriate, even unsafe, regardless of gender identity. The Equality Act has not specifically addressed this concern, leaving it open for interpretation.
For Equality Act – For the transgender community, safety regarding male and female only spaces has been a major concern as well. Because society does not appropriately recognize transgender as being acceptable, individuals who identify outside of their biological sex are at higher risk of harm in male/female only environments. Supporters of the Equality Act feel that this law will help legitimize the LGBTQ+ community and provide legal footing for defense against any harm or harassment.
Mom Talks Politics’ Thoughts
My biggest concern as I have researched this issue is that, sadly, we are so divided by political ideology that we can’t make reasonable compromises. I read through some of the transcripts of the debate that took place in the House of Representatives before they voted, and there was a lot of talking and very little listening. Both sides bring up real concerns that could potentially be addressed if our political climate allowed for it.
My fear is that we are growing accustomed to forcing each other to accept our political viewpoint, rather than being considerate. Bad feelings continue to grow, and as we assert our rights, we leave space for more infringement. This piece of legislation may serve certain purposes, but it is not as powerful as what We the People can do to improve perception and respect, not only for the LGBTQ+ community, but for all communities.
We have deep wounds that only seem to grow deeper.