LGBTQ citizens in the United States are one step closer to enjoying federal legislation that would protect them from bias at work and in housing.
On May 1, the House Judiciary Committee approved the Equality Act (H.R. 5), which would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to add sexual orientation and gender identity under its protected classes.
The legislation was introduced by Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) and approved in a 22-to-10 party-line vote, setting it up to go to the floor.
Every Republican on the committee voted against the bill, but it is co-sponsored by two GOP representatives, including one from Pennsylvania, Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick, who represents the First Congressional District, an area that includes all of Bucks County and sections of Montgomery County in the southwest region of the state.
“This is the land of the free and the home of the brave, and freedom means freedom for everybody,” he told PGN. “We are believers in fighting back against discrimination in all of its forms, and this bill is a positive step in the right direction.”
The Equality Act is expected to pass the House, but it faces an uphill climb in the Senate, which is Republican controlled.
Fitzpatrick acknowledged the challenge, but said he is working with Cicilline to craft a strategy that would convince his GOP counterparts in the Senate to give the bill a chance.
“We want this to be signed into law, so we’re not going to be satisfied if it merely passes the House,” he said. “I’m gonna work hard … and do everything I possibly can to convince my colleagues that this is a good thing for our country. We need to move past the dark era of discrimination and toward a brighter, more-hopeful future for all Americans, no matter who they may be.”
If passed, the Equality Act would provide sweeping federal protections for LGBTQ people, but according to Jason Landau Goodman, executive director of the Pennsylvania Youth Congress, it wouldn’t necessarily go far enough to provide necessary statewide protections — especially in places like Pennsylvania where no such laws exist for LGBTQ people.
“We must continue to press forward with every resource and bit of energy we have to ensure that we have LGBTQ non-discrimination protections under state statue,” said Goodman, whose organization has been working with lawmakers to pass an LGBTQ non-discrimination law in the Commonwealth. “The Equality Act would allow the federal government to process claims of discrimination, but not everyone pursues legal action through the federal government — it’s often done locally. To not include sexual orientation and gender identity along with the other protected classes [in state civil rights laws] is leaving us vulnerable to discrimination and should no longer be allowed.”
He told PGN that there is currently one bill, SB224, awaiting approval in the state senate committee that would protect LGBTQ Pennsylvanians from gender- and sexual orientation-based discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodation. That was introduced by Republican Senator Pat Brown.
Philadelphia Sen. Larry Farnese and State Rep. Dan Frankel discussed their own bills at a news conference May 6.
Goodman said he is cautiously optimistic one of the bills will be passed into law, especially after they’ve generated support from both sides of the aisle.
“It’s disappointing that at times this conversation is presented as a partisan issue, when that could not be further from the truth. Supporters should know that there is support in every community and from folks across the political spectrum,” he said. “We’re encouraged that the committees that [the bills are] being assigned to are having meaningful discussions on LGBTQ non-discrimination protections. We are hopeful that legislators will do the right thing and advance these LGBTQ non-discrimination protections.”