The Equality Act passed the U.S. House of Representatives on February 25, 2021, and is awaiting action in the U.S. Senate. If passed, the Equality Act will provide LGBTQ Americans with federal nondiscrimination protections for the first time in history.
This guide was created to help journalists access facts and context to explain the Equality Act and counter misinformation spread by opponents, who have a history of anti-LGBTQ activism.
WHAT IT DOES
The Equality Act provides comprehensive protections for every LGBTQ American, prohibiting discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation and gender identity in housing, public accommodations, education, federal funding, employment, access to credit and jury service. Discrimination prevents “the full participation of LGBTQ people in society,” as the text of the act states.
The Equality Act also expands protections for all women and for people of faith.
Currently the 1964 Civil Rights Act includes protections for only four areas of public accommodation: hotels/lodging; restaurants; entertainment spaces like movie theaters and sports arenas; and entities located within those spaces. The Equality Act ensures protections in those spaces for race, religion, national origin, and sex, including sexual orientation and gender identity. It also expands the range of covered public accommodations to include retail stores, transportation, and healthcare providers.
WHY IT’S NEEDED
LGBTQ Americans are not fully protected from discrimination in 29 states, including 93% of LGBTQ Southerners who live in a state that does not have laws to protect them in virtually every aspect of daily life. More than one-in-five LGBTQ Southerners are Black. The legacy of slavery and systemic racism has significant, lasting impact on queer people of color in states without LGBTQ protections.
Research shows more than one in three LGBTQ Americans faced discrimination of some kind in the past year. Three-in-ten LGBTQ Americans faced difficulties last year accessing necessary medical care due to cost issues, including more than half of transgender Americans.
- 51% LGBTQ people say they experienced harassment or discrimination in a public place such as a store, public transportation, or a restroom
- 36% faced harassment or discrimination in the workplace
- 21% faced harassment or discrimination at school
LGBTQ people face increased risk of violence. Allowing discrimination further threatens LGBTQ people, and wrongly normalizes and encourages unequal treatment, as violators face no consequences under the law.
OPPONENTS OF THE EQUALITY ACT
Opponents are using misinformation to argue against the Equality Act, as they did in efforts against marriage equality and transgender bathroom access. They specifically target the most vulnerable people in the country, including LGBTQ youth.
They have supported harmful conversion therapy which falsely claims to be able to change a person’s innate sexual orientation and gender identity.
Some opponents have a history of spreading homophobic as well as transphobic rhetoric on their platforms.
The same groups opposing the Equality Act are funding and supporting the swath of state bills and legal challenges targeting transgender students. They have provided boilerplate language, talking points and legal representation against LGBTQ rights for the last 50 years. At least two organizations are listed as extremist hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
CLAIM: The Equality Act makes “women unequal” and would be “the end” of females.
FACTS: The Equality Act expands protections for all women, including lesbians, bisexuals, transgender and queer women. It expands protections against discrimination based on sex in public accommodations.
CLAIM: The Equality Act “punishes” those who don’t embrace “newfound gender ideology” or a “radical redefinition” of sex.
FACT: History has recorded the existence of transgender people for thousands of years. The Equality Act recognizes that reality, and the fact that transgender people face higher risks of discrimination, harassment and violence. It seeks to secure protections in the law against unequal treatment.
CLAIM: There are only two genders. Transgender girls and women are “biological males.” Sex is an objective biological reality.
FACTS: Science shows that sex and gender are not the same thing, and there are more than two genders and more than two sexes. The American Academy of Pediatrics describes gender identity as “one’s internal sense of who one is,” and “may be male, female, somewhere in between, a combination of both, or neither (ie, not conforming to a binary conceptualization of gender).”
CLAIM: Teenage girls are being swept up in a “transgender craze” and fewer are identifying as lesbian as a result.
FACTS: Population data shows more people identifying as LGBT in the youngest generation studied (Gen Z) in all categories in the acronym above all previous generations, not just in transgender identity. Gallup data showed the number of young LGBTQ people identifying as lesbian doubled compared to the previous generation, a far greater increase than the number of young people identifying as transgender. There is no evidence that transgender youth are identifying as transgender because their friends are doing it. A researcher’s report on alleged “social contagion” was pulled and republished with a correction to note its flawed data collection methods and warned against using terms like “rapid onset gender dysphoria” as it is not a formal condition or diagnosis.
CLAIM: The Equality Act is a “danger” to women’s safety by allowing transgender women and girls access to restrooms, locker rooms, and women’s prisons.
FACT: There is no evidence of increased safety risks, according to a study from the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law. Transgender women are at far greater risk of harassment, physical and sexual violence in men’s prisons or shelters. Reporting shows 15 of nearly 5,000 transgender inmates are housed according to their gender identity. 35% of trans prisoners report being sexually assaulted, according to the Department of Justice.
CLAIM: The Equality Act will “destroy” girls’ sports.
FACT: The Equality Act does not specifically address transgender participation in school sports. It amends the section of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 on desegregating public education to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
CLAIM: Transgender girls will “destroy” girls’ sports.
FACTS: Transgender girls have been participating in girls’ sports for years with no evidence of destroying girls’ sports. 16 states, the NCAA (since 2011), the Olympics (since 2004), and several professional and recreational leagues including USA Gymnastics, U.S. Soccer, and the National Women’s Hockey League all have policies allowing transgender participation in sports. Participation in girls’ sports declined in states with outright bans.
CLAIM: Girls and girls’ sports need to be “protected” or “saved” from transgender participation.
FACTS: Several state bans against transgender sports participation, including Mississippi’s, can be enforced by reproductive anatomy screenings, a danger to all girls. Lawmakers proposing to “protect” girls’ sports have been silent about unequal facilities and funding for girls and women’s sports, as well as violence against female athletes by predatory coaches and trainers. Lawmakers could not cite an instance of transgender participation being an issue in their states. More than 500 college student-athletes, and the greatest women’s players in sports today, support transgender participation.
Transgender youth need protection. 40% of transgender and nonbinary youth reported being physically threatened or harmed because of their gender identity. 45% of trans students fear using the bathroom at school. 22% of trans women perceived as transgender in school were harassed to the point they had to leave school because of it.
CLAIM: Transgender girls dominate girls’ championships and take scholarships from cisgender female athletes.
FACT: There are no instances of a transgender athlete getting a scholarship or dominating a championship. In Connecticut, a cisgender athlete filed a lawsuit against the state’s transgender inclusive school policies. Two days after filing the suit, she defeated one of the transgender athletes named in it at the Connecticut state championship.
CLAIM: The Equality Act would “force doctors to perform transgender surgeries.”
FACT: The Equality Act does not specify transgender surgeries. It states facts that LGBTQ people commonly experience discrimination in accessing healthcare, and prohibits discrimination or segregation in public accommodations, including establishments that provide healthcare. 33% of transgender people reported at least one negative experience related to being transgender including being refused treatment. 23% reported they didn’t seek health care due to fear of being mistreated. The CDC noted how discrimination and lack of access to care has resulted in greater rates of COVID-19 infection and complication for LGBTQ people.
For transgender youth, there are many steps to gender affirming care, the first and easiest being recognizing their authentic pronouns and name, steps that significantly alleviate mental distress. Every major medical association supports gender-affirming care.
CLAIM: The Equality Act would “crush” religious freedom.
FACT: Religious freedom is enshrined in federal law and in the Bill of Rights. Religion is a protected class in the Civil Rights Act, and discriminating against someone based on their religious beliefs is illegal under that federal law. The Equality Act would not remove any of these existing protections. It expands protections for people of faith in public accommodations.
Similar claims and fears about religious freedom were used to argue against marriage equality, which has been legal nationwide for nearly six years. Hundreds of thousands of couples have married since, with no negative consequences for straight couples or society.
Solid majorities of all major religious groups in the U.S. support laws protecting LGBTQ people: 79% of Jewish Americans, 81% Hispanic Catholics, 77% of white Catholics, 73% Black Protestants, 78% of Mormons favor protections.
CLAIM: The Equality Act would squelch free speech and freedom of religion.
FACT: Freedom of speech and religion are core values for all Americans, not just those opposed to LGBTQ equality. LGBTQ people are people of faith. 47% consider themselves religious. Religious belief does not require rejecting LGBTQ people. Majorities of all faith groups support LGBTQ anti-discrimination laws. Religious organizations are already serving LGBTQ people, with no conflict to their religious beliefs or need for a religious exemption. Many clergy members actively support LGBTQ people and fight for their rights, protection and dignity.
CLAIM: The Equality Act is government overreach.
FACT: 29 states do not have laws protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination. A significant majority of Americans are not aware that LGBTQ people are not federally protected from discrimination in many areas of life. GLAAD’s Accelerating Acceptance study found up to 91% of non-LGBTQ Americans believe it should be illegal to discriminate against LGBTQ people.
SUPPORT FOR THE EQUALITY ACT
CIVIL RIGHTS LEADERS: including the American Civil Liberties Union, NAACP LDF, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, National Center for Lesbian Rights, GLBTQ Legal Advocates and defenders, Asian Americans Advancing Justice.
EDUCATORS: The American Federation of Teachers; the American School Counselor Association; the National Education Association; Service Employees International Union; and the National Association of Social Workers).
CORPORATIONS: The Equality Act has and has been endorsed by more than 350 major companies, including dozens of Fortune 500 companies such as The Coca-Cola Co., Dow Chemical Co., Gap Inc., IBM, Johnson & Johnson, Kellogg Co., Marriott International Inc., Microsoft Corp., and Target Corp.
MEDICAL COMMUNITY: Major medical associations including American Academy of Pediatrics, American Psychological Association, American Heart Association, among others.
FAITH LEADERS: More than 120 leaders across all denominations, backgrounds and organizations such as the Religious Institute, Interfaith Coalition and Faith in Public Life.
THE AMERICAN PUBLIC: Majorities of Americans of every faith and political affiliation support laws protecting LGBTQ people.