LGBTQ groups say 'America is ready' for the Equality Act

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Leaders from several LGBTQ organizations met with the White House recently to discuss the urgent need for the bill's passage.

Senior White House officials met with leaders from several LGBTQ and gender justice groups on Monday to discuss the importance of Congress passing the Equality Act.

Those leaders say the country is more than ready for the broad protections the bill would provide to millions of Americans.

The legislation, which would provide sweeping nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people in housing, healthcare, education, jury service, and more, passed the House in February. The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the bill in March but it's unclear when the legislation will be brought up for a vote.

According to the White House, domestic policy adviser Susan Rice, along with Cedric Richmond, director of the Office of Public Engagement, and Jen Klein, executive director of the gender policy council, met with advocates to talk about passing the bill and to discuss the wave of anti-LGBTQ bills pushed by state lawmakers this year.

Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign; Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality; Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women's Law Center; Fran Hutchins, executive director of the Equality Federation; and Kasey Suffredini, CEO and National Campaign Director for Freedom for All Americans, were all present at the meeting.

A readout of the meeting revealed that its participants had discussed the "urgency and importance of Congress extending long overdue civil rights protections to LGBTQ+ Americans by passing the Equality Act," and the spate of attacks on transgender youth at the state level.

Several states have enacted bans on transgender girls playing on the sports team of their gender. Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee (R), meanwhile, signed two bathroom bills into law, one forcing businesses to post signs telling the public if they allow trans people to use the bathroom matching their gender, and another that leaves schools vulnerable to lawsuits if they allow trans students to use the bathroom matching their gender.

In April, Arkansas became the first state to ban transgender minors from accessing hormone treatments and puberty blockers.

"America is ready for the Equality Act, and after the onslaught of anti-LGBTQ attacks in the states this year, it's clear our LGBTQ friends, family members and neighbors need protections from discrimination now as much as ever," Suffredini told the American Independent Foundation in an email on Tuesday, following the White House meeting.

He added, "With public reports of bipartisan discussions happening in the Senate, we are grateful to have had the opportunity to discuss with the White House, as we are doing with all critical stakeholders, the ongoing and paramount importance of passing this legislation."

Suffredini said he was encouraged by the support of Democratic lawmakers like Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, as well as the Biden administration's public push for the bill.

Hutchins said, in a separate email, said the "current patchwork of state nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people across the U.S. is not sufficient."

"Without the Equality Act, LGBTQ Americans remain vulnerable to being evicted from their homes, kicked out of a business that’s open to the public, denied health care, or denied government services in a majority of states simply because of who they are," Hutchins said. "We need Congress to act now to pass the Equality Act."

David told the American Independent Foundation that while there were hurdles ahead, the White House meeting showed that the bill was at least a priority for the Biden administration, with officials prepared to work alongside advocates to "identify the votes to move the bill through the Senate and onto President Biden's desk."

"With the Equality Act starting to gain traction in the Senate, it's really important right now that all the parties continue talking to ensure more progress," Keisling said of the Monday meeting, in a separate statement.

Because of longstanding filibuster rules, lawmakers must get 60 votes to move the Equality Act forward. That means they need at least 10 Republican senators to get on board with the legislation. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) is reportedly on the fence about the bill as well.

Keisling did not elaborate on whether the bill had gained the necessary traction in the Senate, but said she was optimistic that it could get the 60 votes needed to pass.

Still, she cautioned in a phone conversation with the American Independent Foundation, "I am pretty close to positive that it will not be voted on in June."

Schumer (D-NY) had originally said back in May that the Equality Act could come up for a vote during Pride Month, according to CBS News.

President Joe Biden has indicated in public statements, as well as in his joint address to Congress in April, that he wants to see the bill's passage this year. During his campaign, he said that getting the Equality Act through Congress would be a top priority for his administration in his first 100 days, which came in late April.

Schumer told LGBTQ advocates during a virtual town hall in April that the bill would eventually get a vote in the Senate despite the slow progress.

"Every senator will be forced to show where they stand on this issue. They won't be able to duck and hide," he said.

Schumer noted that because many Republican voters approved of nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people, there was increased pressure on GOP senators to vote in favor of the bill.

Still, some Senate Republicans have continued to reject the legislation, pushing transphobic rhetoric in opposition to the bill and falsely claiming that cisgender women and girls will be put at risk if it passes.

This story was updated to correct the spelling of Mara Keisling's last name. 

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.