From the April 10, 2019 issue of Between the Lines Newspaper
Lori Lightfoot was elected Mayor of Chicago!
Let that sink in – an African-American Lesbian was elected Mayor of the nation’s third largest city. If that wasn’t historic enough, on the same day Madison, Wisconsin, and Kansas City, Missouri, also elected queer women as mayors – Satya Rhodes-Conway and Jolie Justus.
Now let this sink in.
On the same day as these historic wins, the House Judiciary Committee held hearings on the reintroduced Equality Act that would protect LGBTQ people nationwide from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
No this isn’t an episode of “The Twilight Zone” or a parallel universe in some graphic novel. It’s right here in the United States of America where three queer women can get elected mayors of their respective cities but in 30 out of 50 states, they have no protections at work, school, housing and from receiving many services including medical care.
Hard to believe that in these days, despite significant steps forward, LGBTQ people lack basic legal protections in all 50 states across the country. The patchwork nature of current laws means that protections in one state could disappear with a move or job transfer leaving LGBTQ people subject to uncertainty and potential discrimination impacting our safety and that of our families, as well as our day-to-day lives.
The Equality Act was jointly introduced in both the House of Representatives and Senate on March 13, 2019, with the support of both Democratic and Republican members of Congress. But as they say it’s not our first rodeo before these bodies, fighting for these protections.
The original Equality Act was developed by U.S. Reps. Bella Abzug and Ed Koch in 1974. It was reintroduced in the 114th Congress in 2015 and again in the 115th Congress in 2017. But still, LGBTQ Americans remain unprotected from discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations, public education, federal funding, credit and the jury system.
If approved by Congress, the measure would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that banned discrimination based on race, religion, sex and national origin.
So maybe it will be different this time.
After seeing many of the significant steps forward LGBTQ communities under the Obama Administration come under attack since the 2016 elections, the House is once again under control of the Democratic party.
And unlike, past efforts when the Equality Act received weak bipartisan support, the 2019 bill was introduced with 287 original co-sponsors – the most congressional support that any piece of pro-LGBTQ legislation has received upon introduction.
It also has 161 corporate sponsors with operations across all 50 states, including Apple, Amazon, Google, IBM, Facebook and Twitter.
National civil rights organizations including the NAACP, international human rights organizations, as well as major professional associations, also joined in in support of the 2019 Equality Act.
And the testimonies.
Jami Contreras telling how doctors refused to treat her infant daughter because she and her wife were lesbians. Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D) from Washington’s 7th congressional district, which includes most of Seattle, sharing her personal account of being a mother to a “gender non-conforming child. And my friend, and founder of Black Transmen Inc., Carter Brown telling how he was fired because of his gender identity.
Unfortunately, these hearings were not shown during prime time and didn’t receive as broad a coverage as the elections. These testimonies were powerful.
They were each different but as Dennis Wiley, pastor of the Covenant Baptist United Church of Christ said in his testimony “No two discriminations are the same … but it’s still discrimination.”
Tuesday, April 2, 2019, was a historic moment in time.
We saw three queer women elected to the highest office in their municipalities, one the first African-American woman mayor of the nation’s third largest city.
We saw hearings open on the Equality Act to provide protection for our communities, our families in all 50 states with greater support than ever before.
We’ve come a long way, but we also saw the hope of Tuesday tempered with the reality that homophobia, transphobia and social inequality still exist not only in society at large but in our community as well.
At the hearings, Julia Beck, a lesbian Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist testified in opposition to protecting gender identity under the Equality Act. A Duke Law School professor testified she was concerned with transgender women forcing cisgender women out of sports.
Texas Representative Louie Gohmert implied that transgender people were not honest about their gender identity. Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz said while he was against the discrimination of the LGBTQ community, he worried that “bad actors” would take advantage of programs set up for women.
Can we just call these arguments what they are: BULLSHIT!
We’ve come a long way but with every victory comes more work.
We must hold our three new mayors accountable to do the real work, using the wisdom and strength gained from our past struggles against hatred, discrimination and inequality to do better not just for LGBTQ Americans but for everybody.
And as members of the LGBTQ community, we must continue to tell our stories. Silence is not an option – stand up, speak out.
IT’S TIME TO PASS THE EQUALITY ACT NOW!