The Equality Act would protect people from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity
By Hugo Greenhalgh and Kate Ryan
LONDON, Feb 26 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - LGBT+ Americans moved a step closer to winning legal protection from discrimination this week when the U.S. House of Representatives passed a key civil rights bill backed by President Joe Biden.
The Equality Act - which now faces a tough battle in the Senate - amends the 1964 Civil Rights Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity for protection alongside race, religion, sex and national origin.
The lower house of Congress first passed the Equality Act in 2019, but it stalled in the then Republican-controlled Senate during the Trump administration, which opposed the bill. The Democrats won control of the Senate in last November's election.
For the Equality Act to become law, it must win 60 votes in the upper house, where there is a 50-50 split between Democrat and Republican senators.
Here are some facts about what the proposed law and what it could mean for LGBT+ Americans:
1. Employers would be banned from discriminating on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity when hiring or firing staff. Research by polling company Gallup Inc. in 2018 found 60% of gay, lesbian and bisexual Americans reported being fired or denied a job, compared with 40% of heterosexual workers.
2. LGBT+ Americans who are buying or renting homes would be protected from discrimination. Transgender Americans have just half the home ownership rate of the wider population, and almost half of same-sex couples report negative treatment when searching for housing.
3. The measure would protect LGBT+ people from being denied credit, loans and other financial services based on their sexuality or gender identity.
4. It would also outlaw unequal treatment or harassment against LGBT+ people in public places such as stores, restaurants and medical centers and also by adoption agencies. Including such establishments would increase protections to all U.S. citizens under the Civil Rights Act.
5. If passed, the law would ban the segregation of students in public schools or universities on the basis of their sexual identity or orientation.
6. Exclusion from jury service based on sexual identity or orientation would also be outlawed. The bill cites a long history of people who were thought to be LGBT+ being excluded from juries, which "unfairly creates a second class of citizenship for LGBT victims, witnesses, plaintiffs, and defendants".
7. Under state legislation, only 22 states and the District of Columbia prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
8. An estimated 83% of Americans favour laws that would protect LGBT+ people against discrimination in jobs and housing, including 68% of Republicans, according to a poll by the Public Religion Research Institute.
9. Biden is a vocal supporter of LGBT+ rights. Since taking office in January, he has signed an executive order that federal agencies must not discriminate against LGBT+ people and issued a memorandum aimed at protecting LGBT+ rights worldwide, including potentially through the use of sanctions.
10. "Every person should be treated with dignity and respect," Biden said as the Equality Act was introduced to the House last week. "This bill represents a critical step toward ensuring that America lives up to our foundational values of equality and freedom for all."
Sources: Human Rights Campaign, Williams Institute, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, U.S. Congress, Movement Advancement Project.
(Reporting by Hugo Greenhalgh and Kate Ryan @hugo_greenhalgh; Editing by Helen Popper; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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