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Senate Committee Holds Hearing on the Equality Act, Marking an Important Step Toward Becoming Law

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March 17, 2021
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Today, the Senate Committee on the Judiciary held a hearing on the Equality Act, marking the next important milestone toward becoming law. The bill would update federal law to make clear that LGBTQ people, as well as women, people of color, and immigrants, are protected against discrimination in public places, public accommodations, and federally funded services, including in states that do not already explicitly include these protections in state law. The Equality Act has already passed in the House of Representatives and will soon be scheduled for a vote in the Committee before heading to a full Senate floor vote, each step bringing it closer to becoming law.

“We are closer than ever to finally making the Equality Act a reality,” said Kevin Jennings, CEO of Lambda Legal. “For 47 years, LGBTQ advocates have been asking Congress to pass comprehensive federal legislation that guarantees us the same rights and protections as other Americans. The current patchwork of some rights is not enough as our communities continue to be vulnerable in so many facets of their day-to-day lives simply because of who they are or who they love.” 

Earlier this month, Lambda Legal released The United States of Discrimination: Trends in Bias Against LGBTQ People and People Living with HIV, a report that reveals how pervasive discrimination against LGBTQ people still is, illustrating the urgent need for the Equality Act. Based on data gathered from the nearly 5,000 requests for legal assistance fielded by Lambda Legal’s Help Desk in 2020 alone, this report documents how discrimination continues to hurt LGBTQ people in almost every aspect of their lives.

“The Equality Act would be an important step toward fulfilling this country’s promise of equality for all,” added Jennings. “And contrary to the misinformation perpetuated by those who oppose the bill and deal in baseless myths and fearmongering, this bill would expand protections for all of us — including women and girls. There has never been an opportunity like the one before us now to take this important legislation all the way. The time to get this done is now.”

The Equality Act would update existing federal nondiscrimination laws, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Fair Housing Act, to confirm that discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity is unlawful discrimination based on sex. The Equality Act clarifies that sex discrimination laws prohibit discrimination against LGBTQ people in employment, housing, credit, education, and other areas and explicitly extends sex discrimination protections to public accommodations and federally funded programs.

The bill has bipartisan support in Congress and the vast majority of Americans support passing laws protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination. It was introduced by United States Representative David Cicilline (D-RI) and United States Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR), with dozens of co-sponsors.

If you feel you have experienced discrimination, please contact Lambda Legal’s Help Desk at www.lambdalegal.org/help