Last week, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) held their first Project THRIVE Policy Briefing of 2021. Project THRIVE is a collaborative, national campaign to support LGBTQ youth. During the briefing, HRC highlighted the Equality Act’s advances while calling attention to the attacks against the Transgender community occurring in State Legislatures.
On February 25, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Equality Act, legislation that would ban discrimination against individuals based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The Equality Act would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964, adding the prevention of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Opponents of the law find it threatens those with organizations or businesses with religious objections to serving LGBTQ individuals. The Equality Act would enshrine the Bostock v. Clayton (2019) ruling into law. The bill would expand protections beyond employment and housing, including federally funded programs and public accommodations. The Equality Act would need 60 votes to avoid a filibuster in the Senate. Still, federal civil rights protections are monumental, but they are not sufficient; states are not required to follow the Equality Act nor Bostock v. Clayton.
The Bostock v. Clayton decision did not eliminate the need to pass state-level, non-discrimination laws. In 2020, the highest number of anti-trans bills were introduced in the States; however, the number will be surpassed in the next few weeks, making 2021 the year with the highest anti-trans bills introduced. There have been countless attacks in State Legislatures pushing back against progress for the trans community. Specifically, there has been an influx of bills focused on medical care (incl. gender-affirming medical care) for trans youth and access to sports consistent with gender identity for trans youth. As of February 10, there were 22 bills in 17 states attempting to stop the participation of transgender youth in sports. As of February 12, 15 bills targeted the trans community and their ability to seek medical care.
In 2021, the number of Religious Refusals has also surged in states, especially Medical Care Refusals. The Equality bill would overrule the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (overwise known as RFRA). Under the Equality Act, an entity could not use RFRA to challenge the Equality Act’s provisions nor utilize RFRA as a defense to a claim made under the act.
How does the Equality Act impact child welfare? In contrast to the Fairness for All Act, which would essentially privatize child welfare, opening youth up to discrimination, the Equality Act could affect LGBTQ youth in the following ways:
- A teacher could not refuse to use a student’s correct name and pronouns
- A retailer could not refuse to rent a non-binary kid a tux for their prom
- A child welfare provider could not refuse to place a child with a lesbian couple
- A trans girl could not be turned away from a homeless shelter because of her gender identity
This legislation is a first step in ensuring that child welfare providers receiving federal funding are not subjecting children, youth, and families to discriminatory services, programs, or policies. CWLA has endorsed the Equality Act. To take action and join the HRC campaign, click here.