The polarization of American politics and the Equality Act: History and facts
A brief history of the Equality Act and why its passage is critical to the rights of LGBTQ+ people

Haven’t we seen this before?

Is it really needed?

Which corporations support it?

Is it a big deal?

Will it pass the Senate?

What’s wrong with the Wall Street Journal these days?

Where is Susan Collins at?

I have answers to all your very legitimate questions!

The United States House (the “gayest”- that we know of – with 2% of the seats occupied by openly LGBTQ+ elected officials – see our previous article) is set to vote tomorrow on the Equality Act, a bill that would ban discrimination against people based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

“Again?” Might be your reaction. If you have a feeling of “déjà vu” (where are the punctuation accents on this keyboard), you are the only one!

In fact, the original Equality Act was developed by representatives as early as 1974 without any chance to even get to a vote. I will spare your its various iterations until it reappeared on March 13, 2019, reintroduced by openly gay Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) (who has introduced the bill every year since 2015), the Equality Act of 2019 during 116th Congress when it passed Congress and landed in limbo on the infamous desk of Mitch McConnell joining a few “dead on arrival” bills.

In the meantime, on June 15, 2020, the United States Supreme Court ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in employment (also championed by Out Leadership and our member companies – “ SCOTUS Title VII Decision: Huge Victory but a Small Step Towards Equality). While we enthusiastically welcomed a ruling we had championed for some time, we also reaffirmed support for passage of the Equality Act, as Title VII only covered employment. Indeed, in many States, LGBTQ+ people still lack non-discrimination protections in housing, public accommodations, public education, federal funding, credit, or jury service which will be covered under the Equality Act.

A central campaign promise of President Biden (championed by several transition memos including that of Out Leadership) was to make the Equality Act a key deliverable in the first 100 days of his Presidency. The Equality Act – The Return in its current form “ H.R.5” was re-introduced on February 18, 2021, by Rep. Cicilline and referred to a vote on Thursday 25th February.

Now if you pay attention to this latest iteration, here are five developments we’re keeping our eyes on.

  1. The co-sponsors of the bill are less numerous than in 2019 (223 vs 240). That should be a wake-up call for LGBTQ+ people and their allies ahead of the 2022 elections. We are losing support;
  2. There is no Republican co-sponsor and that is odd. Odd because everywhere else in the G-7 LGBTQ+ protections are a bipartisan issue (meaning members of both conservative and progressive parties stand against discrimination). Sen. Susan Collins (also read A moderate Republican is still a Republican in the Washington Blade) did not co-sponsor a bill she had co-sponsored before and that is problematic. Not only is it a sign of polarization of American politics, but it also means the bill might get stuck again in the Senate (10 Republican Senators need to vote to end the debate for the Bill to pass). As a reminder out of 13 openly LGBTQ+ members of congress, none – zero – are Republican;
  3. The support of the private sector for the Equality Act is at an all-time high. The act is supported by hundreds of American businesses and the US Chamber of Commerce. These include many of Out Leadership members such as Alix Partners, Bank of America Corp., Citigroup Inc., Dow Chemical Co, NASDAQ, Paypal, Visa, etc). This matters because it sounds a strong signal to politicians that the private sector care about social equity in an attempt to get enough Senate Republicans on board.
  4. Opponents of the Equality Act claim it threatens so-called religious freedom. It indeed would force businesses or organizations that have religious objections to serving LGBTQ+ people to comply. But then again it is a strange argument: because human rights of course cannot and should not be trumped by other considerations. Indeed replace the word “LGBTQ+” with “Jewish people” or “black people” and you can see the historical aberration of a religious right to discriminate.
  5. The Wall Street Journal opinion section – which has been somewhat out of control on issues of LGBTQ+ discrimination lately published an article titled “The Equality Act Makes Women Unequal” decrying a demand for a “compelling adherence to gender ideology” joining forces with a trend of radical feminism in Europe we will discuss in Out Leadership upcoming Europe Summit. These ideas have been echoed by other Republican politicians who harp on about fringe issues such as claiming that in Sports “women would lose to literally thousands of boys and men” as if hordes of male high school athletes were waiting on the sideline to transition so they could win the local turkey trot.

In summary, Marjorie Taylor Green of Georgia has already shown us how hectic opposition to the Equality Act could get. Unfortunately, it is not as much about the well-being of LGBTQ+ people than it is about politics. The striking polarization of Democrats and Republicans on LGBTQ+ issues – a problem specific to the United States – is a problem. We at Out Leadership are always thinking about how we can bridge this artificial “cultural gap”. The response as usual is that the private sector, once again, has a vital role to play and a vested interest in social cohesion, as both parties are dependent on its support.

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