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Protection from discrimination should not be dependent on where you live. Yet, in the majority of U.S. states, LGBTQ Americans can lose their housing and be denied service.
And, until earlier this year when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that such discrimination was unconstitutional, Americans in many states could lose their jobs because of their sexual orientation and gender identity.
This is wrong.
So, it is reassuring to hear President-elect Joe Biden say that working to pass federal legislation to protect the rights of all LGBTQ Americans is one of his top priorities.
The legislation already exists. It’s called the Equality Act. It would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to explicitly prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in education, employment, housing, credit, public accommodations and the use of federal funds.
The federal legislation has passed the U.S. House of Representatives. But, like much Democratic-backed legislation in recent years, it is stalled in the Senate.
Maine Sen. Susan Collins is the only Republican co-sponsor of the legislation in the Senate.
“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 said in a statement in March 2019.
Many states have acted on their own. More than half of states, including Maine, have incorporated sexual orientation and gender identity into some or all of their anti-discrimination laws, providing protections that the federal government and many other states do not.
Maine lawmakers added those protections by amending the Maine Human Rights Act in 2005. Fifty-five percent of voters rejected an attempted people’s veto of the bill, sending a message of support to LGBTQ Mainers.
But, for those living in states without such protections, legal discrimination remains a threat. That threat was highlighted and heightened by the Trump administration, and its efforts to exclude LGBTQ Americans from several civil rights protections. The administration particularly targeted transgender Americans, exluding them from the military, removing health care protections and reversed rules aimed at protecting the rights of transgender students.
Biden has also pledged to reverse these harmful and discriminatory Trump actions as well.
Such actions, of course, are essential to end a movement back toward discimination and hatred. But, so is the incoming administration’s message of embracing all Americans, too.
“And to all those who supported us: I am proud of the campaign we built and ran. I am proud of the coalition we put together, the broadest and most diverse in history,” Biden said during a victory speech on Nov. 7. “Democrats, Republicans and Independents. Progressives, moderates and conservatives. Young and old. Urban, suburban and rural. Gay, straight, transgender.”
Simply by saying those words — gay, straight, transgender — Biden set a tone of inclusion, replacing four years of division and denigration.
However, recent years remind us that work remains to be done to ensure all Americans are treated equally. Words and pledges are nice, but the best way to truly protect the rights of all Americans is to write them into our laws. Passing the Equality Act would be an important step toward ending harmful and hateful discrimination.