In recent years, we’ve made tremendous strides towards LGBTQ equality in America. We’ve come so far, so fast, that it can be easy to forget what life was like just a few short years ago.
A decade ago, the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act” barred same-sex couples from receiving equal treatment under federal law.
A decade ago, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Americans could not serve openly in our military.
A decade ago, marriage equality existed in just one state — Massachusetts.
A decade ago, vicious, violent acts motivated by prejudice against LGBTQ Americans were not legally recognized by the United States government as hate crimes.
Though we still have more progress to make, thanks to the hard work of activists, lawyers, and lawmakers across the country, LGBTQ Americans today enjoy fundamental rights in all these areas of law.
We’ve come too far to turn back now. That’s why our only choice in response to the Trump Administration’s threats to LGBTQ equality is to fight — and fight back hard.
When we fight, we win. Earlier this year, a leaked draft of an executive order showed that the Trump Administration was considering issuing a sweeping license to discriminate across America — allowing business owners, social service agencies, and more to deny equal treatment to LGBTQ people, women, and religious minorities with taxpayer dollars.
This would have been a huge blow to the progress we've made, slamming the door of discrimination in the face of LGBTQ Americans in many different facets of life. It could have allowed businesses with federal contracts to discriminate against LGBTQ employees. It could have allowed shelters funded with taxpayer dollars to refuse to provide services to LGBTQ Americans fleeing domestic violence. It could have allowed adoption agencies to refuse to place children with a same-sex couple or transgender parent. It could have even allowed essential services to be denied to children based on their LGBTQ status.
But we fought back. The order signed by President Trump on Thursday is still a dangerous first step in using religion as a license to discriminate, but it is significantly changed from the prior leaked draft. We must remain vigilant because we know this administration is full of individuals who are determined to allow discrimination against LGBTQ people and women, and we know worse is still to come.
The best defense is a good offense. That’s why we can’t just be fighting back against these damaging executive orders, we also need to be looking forward and fighting to complete the still-unfinished business of full LGBTQ equality in America.
Most Americans know that federal law prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, race, religion, national origin, and other protected categories. But what most Americans don’t know is that sexual orientation and gender identity are not explicitly covered by the same federal nondiscrimination laws.
Our only choice in response to the Trump Administration’s threats to LGBTQ equality is to fight — and fight back hard.
The Equality Act, which I’ve authored with Congressman David Cicilline (D-R.I.) and reintroduced in Congress this week with nearly 250 cosponsors, would change all this. It would explicitly and permanently ensure full protections for the LGBTQ community under federal civil rights law. These protections — which are already explicitly spelled out in federal law for other groups of Americans — range from employment, housing, and public accommodations to education, financial services, jury selection.
Passing the Equality Act would not only enshrine these important protections in federal law — it would also send a powerful message about LGBTQ equality in America. It would tell all Americans that we stand with our LGBTQ friends and neighbors and that we won’t ever tolerate or condone discrimination against them. And it will make it much harder for any future administration to threaten these most fundamental rights and freedoms.
In 2017, it’s time for full equality for LGBTQ Americans under federal law. It’s time to bring the Equality Act forward for a debate on the floor of the House and the floor of the Senate.
As the late Sen. Ted Kennedy said, “The promise of America will never be fulfilled as long as justice is denied to even one among us.” Though we’ve come a long way, justice is still being denied to LGBTQ Americans.
Let’s pass the Equality Act and move one major step closer to fulfilling the promise of America for all.