New Democrats Endorse H.R. 5 Barring Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity
The New Democrat Coalition on Wednesday formally endorsed H.R. 5, also known as the Equality Act, which aims to amend the federal Civil Rights Act to bar discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
The coalition, which is comprised of 101 forward-thinking and fiscally responsible Democrats, has long pushed for equal rights legislation to protect members of the LGBT community.
The Equality Act jointly introduced in both the House and the Senate on March 13, 2019, would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, public accommodations, public education, federal funding, credit, and the jury system.
Speaking outside the Rayburn House Office Building Wednesday afternoon, Representative Annie Kuster, D-N.H., acknowledged the fight to get the bill it’s day on the House floor had been a long one, and said she couldn’t be happier to be one of the bill’s co-sponsors.
The very first attempt to pass such legislation was made by Representative Bella Abzug, D-.N.Y., in 1974, but it failed to get out of the House Judiciary Committee.
Twenty years later, a narrower Employment Non-Discrimination Act was introduced, but immediately faced staunch opposition over a provision granting bathroom access for transgender people. A modified version of the bill passed the Senate in 2013, but did not advance in the House.
Kuster recalled that earlier this year she had the opportunity to walk with Representative John Lewis on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, site of a bloody conflict in March 1965, when armed police set upon and brutally beat civil rights demonstrators attempting to march to the state capital in Montgomery.
“In that moment, I was reminded of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words, ‘The time is always right to do what is right,'” Kuster said, adding, “Now is the right time to pass this legislation.”
“We know the discrimination that our LGBT sisters and brothers still face,” the representative continued. “As co-chair of the bipartisan Task Force to End Sexual Violence, I think it is so important to recognize that they also still face harassment and violence at rates, sometimes significantly higher than other Americans.
“Discrimination that goes unchallenged can create a climate where violence and abuse festers,” she said. “We in Congress can send a clear signal that discrimination in our jobs, schools and beyond is wrong and will not be tolerated.”
Kuster noted her home state of New Hampshire has already banned the type of discrimination covered under the proposed federal Equality Act.
“I look forward to extending these protections nationwide,” she said.
Representative Chrissy Houlahan, D-Pa., the mother of a gay daughter, quoted the passage of the U.S. Constitution that states “No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States. Nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty or property without due process of law nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
“That’s not a Democratic text. That’s not a Republican text … It is the document that we here in Congress have sworn to uphold,” Houlahan said.
“Yet in our country, in much of our country, it is still legal in many places for someone to be fired for being LGBT,” the representative continued.
“How can we say that we’re doing our duty to uphold the Constitution and to serve all American people when we live in a society where equality under the law isn’t extended to all Americans?” she asked.
Houlahan said she finds it an untenable contradiction that in a country in which an elected official, her daughter Molly could lose her job at any time or be denied housing “simply because of who she is and because of who she loves.
“I am a Patriot,” the representative added. “I’ve served our country in the Air Force and I refuse to stand by and watch our country fail to live up to its promise to all Americans. Passing the Equality Act should not be up for debate.”
Representative Chris Pappas, D-N.H., an openly gay politician and businessman, recalled growing up and being “afraid that I couldn’t live my truth, that I couldn’t be who I am, that I wouldn’t be supported by my family or by the much larger community.”
“It makes a pretty profound statement that I can stand here today as an out LGBT member of Congress, representing my home state in terms of the progress that we’ve made on issues around LGBT equality over the last many years and decades,” he said.
“We stand on the shoulders of those who have come before us and fought the tough fights, who have put themselves in difficult situations, who have risked their lives, their security, their health and safety to be able to speak out on these issues,” Pappas said. “And now we’re on the verge of passing something pretty fundamental.
“Our patchwork system of state protections have left more than 4 million Americans at risk of employment discrimination in the United States, 7 million Americans without the protections of discrimination in public spaces, and five-and-a-half million Americans at risk of being denied a mortgage because of who they are or who they love. This is heartbreaking. And this is an injustice that we’ve got to correct and correct now.”
Representative Suzan DelBene, D-Wash., vice chair of policy for the New Democrat Coalition, called the Equality Act “one of the most important pieces of legislation we can pass this Congress,” noting that a number of states have actually dropped protections for transgender Americans and “legalized discrimination under the guise of religious freedom.”
“Right now, only 21 states have protections against housing and employment discrimination for sexual orientation and gender identity, and only 15 states have similar protections against education discrimination,” she said. “It wasn’t that long ago that we were standing right across the street, cheering the U.S. Supreme Court decision on marriage equality. But there’s more work to do. We have to pass the Equality Act.”
H.R. 5 has garnered the support of both Democratic and Republican members of Congress, a number of civil rights and human rights organizations, major professional associations, and businesses ranging from Apple and Google to Mastercard and Netflix.
Joining the representatives outside the Capitol on Wednesday were Chad Griffin, president, of the Human Rights Campaign; Niki Christoff, senior vice president, strategy & government relations, at Salesforce; Chris Padilla, vice president of government and regulatory affairs, at IBM, and Patrick Hedren, vice president for labor, legal and regulatory policy, at the National Association of Manufacturers.
The vote on H.R. 5 is expected to be held next week, likely on either Thursday or Friday, according to a New Democrat Coalition spokeswoman.
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