Here's what LGBTQ lawmakers plan to do to advance equality in 2021

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Democratic lesbian and gay lawmakers say they're determined to improve the lives of LGBTQ people, now that they have control of the Senate once more.

Democratic members of Congress will soon have far more flexibility to pass bills benefiting LGBTQ people, including major nondiscrimination protections — and many members say they're excited to get started.

Earlier in January, Democrats won back control of the Senate following dual victories in the Georgia runoff elections by Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff.

Before those victories, many bills that might have assisted LGBTQ people — whether by prohibiting discrimination, addressing the impact of past discrimination, or helping the government gather data on the community — had no hope of passing, given that the chamber was under GOP control.

Some of those bills will now get a renewed push from LGBTQ House lawmakers once President-elect Joe Biden takes office.

Democratic members expect Biden, who has a long list of pro-LGBTQ policy measures, and who was the first president-elect to thank transgender voters in a victory speech, to support the various pieces of legislation.

One of the biggest priorities for LGBTQ Democrats in the 117th Congress will be to pass the Equality Act, said Rep. Angie Craig (D-MN), co-chair of the LGBTQ Equality Caucus and the first openly lesbian mother in Congress.

The House passed the Equality Act in 2019 but, like many such bills, it didn't have any path forward in the Senate. The Equality Act would explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in a number of areas, including housing, education, credit, public spaces and services, and more.

"The [LGBTQ Equality Caucus] wants to make sure that the Equality Act is a high priority," Craig said. "...I woke up on Wednesday morning elated that we will be in the majority in the Senate because that was the biggest barrier to signing the Equality Act into law."

Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI), who has introduced the Equality Act three times since he became a member of Congress, said, "No American should be forced to live in fear because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. That's why I'm going to continue fighting to pass this bill, and why I am grateful that President-elect Biden has committed to making it a top priority of his administration."

A source familiar with Sen. Tammy Baldwin's (D-WI) legislative efforts said she plans to re-introduce the Equality Act this Congress. Baldwin was the first openly gay woman and first openly gay person elected to Congress who was not an incumbent.

Craig said she also wants to see the passage of the Every Child Deserves a Family Act, which she cosponsored in 2019. The bill, which was sponsored by the late Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), bans discrimination against LGBTQ children and prospective parents in child welfare programs and services.

She said this is an important piece of legislation for her as someone who understands the struggles of LGBTQ people trying to adopt children. In the 1990s, when Craig and then-partner Debra Langston first tried to adopt their son, the child's biological mother was pressured by her parents not to allow the couple to adopt him. The woman eventually changed her mind again on the adoption but the child's grandparents began a legal battle to take him from Craig and Langston's custody, and argued that they were unfit parents because they were lesbians.

Thankfully for Craig, a court eventually approved their adoption of the boy.

Craig said she plans to co-sponsor the bill with Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL) this year.

Rep. Chris Pappas (D-NH), New Hampshire's first openly gay member of Congress, has separately sponsored the SERVE Act of 2019, which ensures that many LGBTQ veterans have access to Department of Veterans Affairs hospital care and nursing homes. He said he wants to make another push for the legislation this year.

"This [bill] deals with individuals who may have been separated from service because of their gender identity during the Trump administration and also would protect people who have been discharged during Don’t Ask Don’t Tell," Pappas said. "It would ensure they can receive benefits through the VA regardless of the type of separation they had from military ... We’re hoping for a better opportunity to get that passed this Congress."

Pappas and Craig said that within the LGBTQ Equality Caucus, they would also push for LGBTQ diversity within the Biden administration and policy changes it might support.

"In addition to recommending individuals we would like to see in key positions, the caucus has also been working on and will soon be putting out a list of administrative changes that we hope the administration will pay close attention to help support our legislative efforts," Pappas said.

Two new LGBTQ members of Congress, Reps. Mondaire Jones (D-NY) and Ritchie Torres (D-NY), will eventually unveil their own legislative agendas. They are the first gay Black men elected to Congress.

Jones supports Medicare for all and forgiving college debt, and making public colleges and universities all tuition-free. Torres has said that he plans to advocate for a "comprehensive social safety net that establishes both health and housing as a human right."

LGBTQ student loan borrowers have traditionally reported higher levels of debt than the general population and many queer, trans, and/or nonbinary people struggle to access affordable housing.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.