Earlier this month, thousands of Philadelphians honored LGBTQ history, celebrated progress and affirmed our diverse identities at Pride. In the wake of these celebrations, now is the time to take action in the fight for LGBTQ equality. By advocating for the Equality Act, we can take a tangible step toward full, federal equality for all LGBTQ people.
Despite significant progress nationwide, Pennsylvania remains one of 31 states that still lack fully inclusive LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections. This inconsistency in state law leaves 50 percent of LGBTQ Americans at risk of being fired just because of who they are or whom they love. In the face of such uncertainty, the Equality Act presents the bold solution that we need: codifying LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections in federal law.
Reintroduced May 2, the Equality Act is crucially important bipartisan legislation that would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of protected classes in our nation’s civil-rights laws. The Equality Act would establish explicit protections for LGBTQ people in employment, housing, public accommodations, federally funded programs, credit, education and jury service. It would also ban sex discrimination in federally funded programs and public accommodations, which would close a gap in vital protections for all women. Passing this law would have an immediate and substantial impact on the landscape of LGBTQ equality.
As a member of the Human Rights Campaign of Greater Philadelphia, I am deeply grateful that Pennsylvania’s own Sen. Bob Casey and Reps. Brendan Boyle, Bob Brady, Matt Cartwright, Mike Doyle and Dwight Evans are among the cosponsors who reintroduced this bill. Their support recognizes that discrimination is a real and persistent threat to the lives and livelihoods of LGBTQ people.
In fact, nearly two-thirds of LGBTQ Americans have reported experiencing discrimination throughout their lives. Transgender women and women of color are particularly vulnerable to discrimination in employment, housing and education, areas addressed by the Equality Act.
For example, over one-third of transgender women report losing a job due to their gender identity or expression; 31 percent of black transgender women and 27 percent of Native American transgender women report being denied housing because they are transgender; and 38.5 percent of LGBTQ youth report that discrimination negatively impacted their school experience. These statistics represent real people and real pain, but the lack of uniform federal protections leaves many LGBTQ people with no legal recourse.
To fix this system, we must affirm that basic legal protections from discrimination should not depend on the state where you live. In short, we must pass the Equality Act. An unprecedented 241 members of Congress endorsed this fundamental belief as cosponsors of this year’s bill. This represents the largest showing of Congressional support for any pro-LGBTQ bill in history, but the fight is just beginning.
The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ-rights organization, is proud to stand with all LGBTQ people and allies to advocate for passing the Equality Act into law. Here in Philadelphia, our steering committee is a group of dedicated and passionate volunteers who care deeply about advancing justice and equality for every member of the LGBTQ community. In the coming months, we look forward to working together with partners throughout Philadelphia and across the state in order to make full, federal LGBTQ equality a reality.
You can make a difference by taking action. Those of us in the Greater Philadelphia area represented by Reps. Ryan Costello, Charlie Dent, Brian Fitzpatrick or Pat Meehan can call, write a letter, email or tweet our member of Congress or Sen. Pat Toomey and urge them to support the Equality Act. Together we can make our voices heard.
Bruce Easop is a co-chair of community engagement on the Human Rights Campaign of Greater Philadelphia Steering Committee.