As a cisgender bisexual woman (she/hers), the Equality Act is important to me. In this post, I will provide resources and information for educators and others on this landmark civil rights legislation as it makes its way through the 117th U.S. Congress.
Similar bills have been proposed since the 1970s, but the modern version of the Equality Act was proposed in the 116th U.S. Congress. It passed the United States House on May 17, 2019 in a bipartisan 236–173 vote. However, the Senate did not act upon the bill after receiving it. Even if the Senate had acted and passed it, former President Trump had indicated he would have vetoed it.
What is the Equality Act?
Let’s start with what the bill is and what’s in it. You can read H.R. 5 The Equality Act in its entirety here. If you would like to listen to an audio recording of me reading Sections 1 and 2 of the bill, you can do so here.
The bill opens with, “A BILL To prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation, and for other purposes.” Section 2 explains how LGBTQ people are discriminated against in this country in the areas of
- access to public accommodations—including restaurants, senior centers, stores, places of or establishments that provide entertainment
- health care facilities
- government offices
- youth service providers including adoption and foster care providers
- state and local governments
In addition to that discrimination and lack of legal protection under federal law, LGBTQ people also face discrimination in
- employment and federal financial assistance
- are forced to undergo conversion therapy
- seeking to rent or purchase housing
- opportunities to establish credit (being denied a mortgage, credit card, or student loan)
- the right to an impartial jury of one’s peers and the reciprocal right to jury service
Forms of discrimination include “the exclusion and denial of entry, unequal or unfair treatment, harassment, and violence.” This discrimination prevents the full participation of LGBTQ people in society and disrupts the free flow of commerce. The bill clarifies that “an explicit and comprehensive national solution is needed to address this discrimination, including the full range of remedies available under the Civil Rights Act of 1964” to the LGBTQ community and women.
As an educator, I want to point out that this bill also seeks to extend laws that would allow child-placement agencies to serve same-sex couples and LGBTQ individuals who want to foster and adopt. Also, as many educators know, LGBTQ youth are overrepresented in the foster care system and report twice the rate of poor treatment while in care. LGBTQ youth in foster care also have a higher average number of placements, a higher likelihood of living in a group home, and higher rates of hospitalization for emotional reasons and of juvenile justice involvement. Numerous research studies have shown that adopted children thrive in same-sex households, and are generally more, tolerant, accepting, and open-minded than children raised in heterosexual homes.
The bill also states that the U.S. Supreme Court has correctly provided and held that numerous provisions of Federal law expressly prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, and Federal courts and agencies have correctly interpreted these prohibitions on sex discrimination to include discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and sex stereotypes in the case of Bostock v. Clayton County in 2020 and under title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The Equality Act would amend several current federal laws, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, that would, in effect, abolish state laws that allow LGBTQ discrimination in federally funded programs like education, housing, foster care, healthcare, and transportation.
The Equality Act of 2021: Expansive Antidiscrimination Protections for LGBTQ People and Women from National Women’s Law Center
Why should educators care about the Equality Act?
As an educator in Texas, I can tell you from my own LGBTQ experience both as a student and as a former middle school teacher and now as a high school teacher and librarian that LGBTQ discrimination exists in our schools. Everything from the complete lack of education and general knowledge of LGBTQ identities from school administrators, counselors, and teachers, discriminatory student data systems, the use of pink and blues, UIL Rules on gender, general health and sexual health information, clubs and organizations, teaching practices, curriculum, and classroom management practices all-cause harm and fail to recognize LGBTQ students for their full and authentic selves. Not to mention the discipline practices that disproportionately target non-binary, transgender, and gender non-conforming students.
See, I live in Texas, and in Texas, there are no state or local laws that afford LGBTQ people legal rights or protections. LGBTQ people are not a protected class, like Black people or people with disabilities. In addition, there are 7 anti-LGBTQ laws still on the books in Texas according to the Texas Observer including:
- ‘Homosexual Conduct’ Law: Section 21.06 of the Penal Code, passed in 1973, states that gay sex is illegal in Texas. Under the law, “homosexual conduct” — defined as “deviate sexual intercourse with another individual of the same sex” — is a class-C misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $500. Bills to repeal Texas’ sodomy ban have been introduced in every legislative session since 2005, but never made it out of committee.
- No Promo Homo’: in Schools According to Section 85.007 of the Health and Safety Code, materials used in education programs for people under 18 in Texas must state that “homosexual conduct is not an acceptable lifestyle and is a criminal offense.” Texas is one of only 8 states with such laws still in place.
- Texas DOMA: Sec. 6.204 of the Texas Family Code states that a marriage or civil union between two people of the same sex is “contrary to the public policy of this state and is void in this state.” The Texas Defense of Marriage Act (or DOMA) was modeled after similar federal legislation and passed in 2003 in response to the legalization of same-sex civil unions in Vermont. The Texas DOMA was rendered unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges in June 2015.
- Marriage Amendment: Article 1, Section 32 of the Texas Constitution states that marriage in the state “shall consist only of the union of one man and one woman.” The amendment also provides that neither the state nor any political subdivision may “create or recognize any legal status identical or similar to marriage.” The amendment, approved by voters in 2005, was also rendered unconstitutional by Obergefell.
- ‘Romeo and Juliet’ Provision: Section 21.11 of the Penal Code makes it illegal for gay or bisexual teens to have consensual “sexual contact” — including groping over the clothing — with someone of the same sex. The age of consent in Texas is 17, but the state’s child indecency statute provides an affirmative defense to the crime in court — commonly known as a “Romeo & Juliet” provision — if a person is “not more than three years older than the victim and of the opposite sex.” Indecency with a child is a second-degree felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison. LGBT advocates say the unequal “Romeo & Juliet” defense is unconstitutional, but it’s yet to be challenged in court. In 2015, the House voted 79-51 to keep the law intact, defeating a proposal from Representative Mary Gonzalez, D-El Paso, to remove the words “and of the opposite sex.”
- Unequal Birth Certificates: Section 192.008 of the Health and Safety Code barred the adopted children of same-sex couples from obtaining accurate birth certificates. In the wake of Obergefell, a federal district judge ordered the state health department to begin issuing accurate birth certificates to the adopted children of same-sex couples, regardless of the statute.
- Fertility Exclusion: Title 8 of the Insurance Code requires health plans that include pregnancy-related services to also cover in vitro fertilization. However, the requirement doesn’t extend to lesbian couples. The law states that insurance plans aren’t required to cover in vitro fertilization unless “the fertilization or attempted fertilization of the patient’s oocytes is made only with the sperm of the patient’s spouse,” and “the patient and the patient’s spouse have a history of infertility of at least five continuous years’ duration.” No bill has ever been filed to repeal the Texas law.
Hopefully, you live in a state where there are some LGBTQ protections. If you aren’t sure what yours are, head over to the GLSEN policy map to find out. You can also find out more about “No Promo Homo” laws here.
As an educator, you should be aware that even the most progressive states don’t have the kind of broad LGBTQ protections that the Equality Act would create.
Why the Equality Act Matters To Me
I know there are a lot of cisgender heterosexual people in my life who didn’t even know that the laws I explained above exist in Texas or that the protections of the Equality Act don’t already exist.
As a bisexual, I saw myself in the Equality Act when it stated, “LGBTQ people, including gender nonbinary people, also commonly experience discrimination because of sex-based stereotypes. Many people are subjected to discrimination because of others’ perceptions or beliefs regarding their sexual orientation. Even if these perceptions are incorrect, the identity imputed by others forms the basis of discrimination.” I documented a personal example of one such instance of discrimination and harassment that occurred when I attended the TCEA Annual Conference in 2020 on this same blog here.
Honestly, it’s amazing to me that LGBTQ people do more than just survive. It’s miraculous that we can thrive. In our country, there exist various religions that condemn our existence, religious practices that refute our nature, and cultural and family rules that invalidate us. Conversion therapy, mentioned in the Equality Act, is a discredited practice that is also a form of discrimination that happened to me and is still happening to LGBTQ people and kids today. It harms LGBTQ people by undermining our sense of self-worth, increases suicide ideation and substance abuse, exacerbates family conflict, and contributes to our feeling like a second-class citizen in our own country.
My point in this blog post is to bring attention to the Equality Act for educators and those they know. New Gallup data revealed that a majority of LGBT Americans say they are bisexual, and 1 in 6 adults in Generation Z consider themselves LGBT. That means that you most likely know someone who is LGBTQ. If you think you don’t, then perhaps you should examine why none of us have ever come out to you, and rethink your proposed lack of homophobia and transphobia. If you are an educator, I can guarantee that you serve LGBTQ students. If you don’t know who your queer kids are, then perhaps you should re-examine how safe a space you provide in your district, school, library, or classroom.
I found out from LGBTQ news sources I subscribe to on 2/18/21 that the Equality Act had been re-introduced in the house during the 117th Congress. I then reached out to my U.S. Representative, Michael Burgess, by phone, through his website contact form, and at the last minute on Wednesday, 2/24/21 was given an email address of one of his staffers to email them a PDF of my personal testimony as to why I was supporting the Equality Act. See, we had a bit of bad weather here in Texas last week, and we had issues with power, water, and school closures, so I wasn’t able to print it out and mail it to him. I then went about trying to get everyone I know who would be supportive of this bill to call their U.S. Representative and ask them to vote yes on the bill in the House. Unfortunately, Representative Burgess voted no on the bill, but no one from his office would tell me how he planned to vote.
On Thursday, 2/25/21, I watched the entire Equality Act debate on the House floor. All 43 minutes of it. It was as heartwarming and affirming as it was heartbreaking.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Have you ever been desperate to reach your U.S House Representative to beg for support of a bill to guarantee you won’t be fired from your job just for being bisexual?
- Have you ever had your basic American rights debated for only 45 minutes in the U.S. House of Representatives?
- Have you ever had to listen to hate and vitriol spewed regarding your request for basic American rights and freedoms by people who were more worried about a handful of transgender athletes and their own Christian religious freedoms than your life?
- Have you ever had your basic American rights voted on by the U.S. House of Representatives where 224 people voted for your rights and 206 voted against them?
I have. It happened yesterday, and it’s painful. My bisexual, sexual orientation wound is one that keeps opening up and being infected by hate and bigotry. I know many people won’t read this or care. They will scroll right by it on Twitter or wherever they see it. But this bill, this landmark civil rights legislation, means more to me and to the LGBTQ Community than heterosexual people will ever understand. I need this. My LGBTQ friends and family need this. My LGBTQ students need this. Their families need it. This bill affects the health, livelihood, and safety of so many people.
As an educator, you have a rare opportunity here to be part of history. To speak out about this historic, landmark civil rights legislation that will affect millions of Americans alive today, including me, and every LGBTQ American in generations to come. Will you choose to be on the right side of history?
How can you help?
In a statement, President Biden released on 2/19/21 he stated he will support the bill and sign it into law if it passes the House and the Senate, and he said:
Full equality has been denied to LGBTQ+ Americans and their families for far too long. Despite the extraordinary progress the LGBTQ+ community has made to secure their basic civil rights, discrimination is still rampant in many areas of our society. The Equality Act provides long overdue federal civil rights protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, locking in critical safeguards in our housing, education, public services, and lending systems — and codifying the courage and resilience of the LGBTQ+ movement into enduring law.
Everyone has 2 senators that represent them in our U.S. Congress, and if you’ve never contacted one of them before, now is your chance. You can go to this link, put in your address, and then get a list of the folx who represent you. If you click their names, it will take you to their government-provided and tax-payer funded website. You can send them a contact form response (which you must type in as the system will not allow you to copy and paste anything) or you can call them. When you call them, you can opt to leave a comment in their voicemail, or you can ask to speak to a staffer in their office. Below is a script for what you can say.
Hi, my name is ___. I live at (address, City, Zip).
As a voter and constituent, I urge Senator ______ to support the Equality Act and the crucial protections it would provide members of the LGBTQ community nationwide.
Our country cannot continue to tolerate discrimination – in employment, housing, public places, education or anywhere – on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Now more than ever, we need to pass the Equality Act and its consistent and explicit non-discrimination protections.
Please consider supporting the Equality Act today. For the LGBTQ community, and for the betterment of our country. Thank you for listening!
No matter which of these methods you choose, congressional staffers simply verify your zip code and then tally your response as FOR or AGAINST the Equality Act. If your senator already supports the Equality Act, it absolutely doesn’t hurt to call them and verify that. It also affords you the opportunity of going on record as their constituent of your support of their vote on the bill. Please understand that while I believe LGBTQ rights are human rights and should not be used as a political pawn and subjected to partisan politics, I recognize, that in America, LGBTQ rights is political.
The fact of the matter is that if your senator is a Republican, they may already be set in their position to vote against it. However, it’s still important that they hear from you and know there are people they represent who they are acting in direct opposition to if they vote against the bill. The LGBTQ Community is looking to sway 10 Republican U.S. Senators to support the Equality Act to avoid the filibuster and pass the Senate. Most Republican senators will vote along their party line on the Equality Act (because their Party is where the money and support to run again comes from) and your response won’t mean all that much to them. BUT your support and this act of reaching out to your Senator means a whole to me and to all LGBTQ people in America.
I hope you will choose to make your voice heard. If enough voices speak out, some senators could change the way they intend to vote. I am urging you to support equal rights for LGBTQ Americans who have known nothing but discrimination our whole lives thus far.
HRC Update 3/12/21
Here are three things you can do right now to keep the Equality Act moving forward.
- Join HRC for an Operation Senate Strikeforce virtual phone bank on Tuesday, March 16 as we drive calls into Senate offices. Join us from 5:00-7:00pm ET or 7:00-10:00pm ET!
- Sign up HERE to connect voters in key states with their U.S. Senator! You don’t have to wait until next week to make calls! You can make calls at any time to fellow voters, any day at your own convenience. You’ll receive all the training and resources you need to make calls on your own!
- Call your Senator right now and urge them to support the Equality Act. You can text EQUALITY ACT to 472472 to connect*. How you take action is up to you!
Join HRC between now and Wednesday March 17th whether that’s at Operation Senate Strikeforce or by taking action on your own.
Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on Equality Act for LGBTQ Rights
PBS NewsHour on YouTube: Watch it here
HRC Press Release
Senate Judiciary Republicans Will Use “Women” to Justify Attacks on Trans People, But a Brief Review of GOP’s Radical Opposition to Women’s Equality Reveals their Real Motivations and Hypocrisy
✅Media Bias Fact Check: Overall, we rate the Human Right Campaign Left Biased based on supporting issues associated with the political left and significant donations to Democrat candidates. We also rate them High for factual reporting due to proper sourcing and a clean fact check record.
Roll Call Article
Senate hearing showcases deep partisan divide over LGBTQ legislation: Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle shared personal stories to explain their stances
✅Media Bias Fact Check: Overall, we rate Roll Call Least Biased based on straightforward, factually based news reporting. We also rate them Very-High for factual reporting due to strong sourcing and a clean fact check record.
U.S. senators spar over landmark LGBT+ equality bill
✅Media Bias Fact Check: Overall, we rate Reuters Least Biased based on objective reporting and Very High for factual reporting due to proper sourcing of information with minimal bias and a clean fact check record.
Transgender teen Stella Keating receives viral praise after testifying before Congress on Equality Act
✅Media Bias Fact Check: Overall, we rate The Hill Least Biased based on editorial positions that are currently balanced and news reporting that is low biased. We also rate them Mostly Factual in reporting, rather than High, due to previous opinion columns promoting unproven claims.
Equality Act that would bar LGBTQ, gender identity discrimination faces uphill battle in Senate
✅Media Bias Fact Check: Overall, we rate ABC News Left-Center biased based on story selection and word choices that moderately favor the left and High for factual reporting due to proper sourcing and a reasonable fact check record.