Not a Sprint, but a Marathon: What to Expect in the 2021 Legislative Session

By Shane Stahl • January 7, 2021 • 10:59 am

This year holds much promise for our movement to protect LGBTQ Americans from discrimination. The quest to pass a comprehensive federal nondiscrimination bill continues, as does defending against bills that would harm LGBTQ people in areas of everyday life. Freedom for All Americans has defined five priorities for 2021—here’s a look at what lies ahead, and how you can help us in this fight.   

1. Advancing the Equality Act 

President-Elect Joe Biden has pledged to pass the Equality Act within his first 100 days in office. The Equality Act would provide comprehensive federal nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people in housing, employment, public accommodations, and nearly all other areas of everyday life. The bill passed the House in 2019 with a bipartisan vote of 236-173, and is expected to be reintroduced and pass the House again this year. On January 5, voters in Georgia elected two pro-equality Senators in a special runoff election, which means that in both houses of Congress, there will be pro-equality majorities. More than ever before, the opportunity is here to finally pass this crucial legislation and finish the work of generations.  

2. Swift Executive Action 

Upon taking office, President-Elect Biden has the power to reverse discriminatory policies the previous administration has put in place, which have affected the lives of countless LGBTQ people.  

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) can begin to enforce the Affordable Care Act’s prohibition on anti-LGBTQ healthcare discrimination. Additionally, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) can revoke a rule that allows publicly funded services like homeless shelters to turn away transgender people. With the stroke of a pen, the President-Elect can also end the ban on transgender people serving openly in the military. 

3. Holding the Line on Bills That Target Transgender Youth 

In 2020, we saw a flurry of bills introduced across the country specifically aimed at transgender youth, including bills denying them best-practice medical care and preventing them from the opportunity to participate in sports. Dozens of these bills advanced, and in Idaho Governor Brad Little signed HB 500 into law, an anti-transgender sports bill. Troublingly, this kind of bill has also been introduced in the US House and Senate. Already this session, we have seen several anti-LGBTQ bills filed in various legislatures. 

MEDICAL CARE BANS

In 2020, two-dozen states saw legislation introduced that would deny best-practice medical care to transgender youth, in direct contradiction to guidance issued by two of the nation’s leading medical authorities, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association.

Denying best-practice medical care and support to transgender youth can be life-threatening. It has been shown to contribute to depression, social isolation, self-hatred, risk of self-harm and suicidal behavior, and more. Research shows that transgender youth whose families support their gender identity have a 52% decrease in suicidal thoughts, a 48% decrease in suicide attempts, and significant increases in self-esteem and general health.

TRANSGENDER ATHLETE BANS

Over the past year, bills seeking to ban transgender athletes from playing sports have seen a significant increase. In 2020 alone, over 20 states filed such bills. While most were defeated or died (in large part due to the pandemic, which led to premature adjournment), Governor Brad Little in Idaho signed on such bill into law, HB 500. Currently, a stay on the bill going into effect is in place due to a lawsuit brought by several LGBTQ advocacy groups.

Kids learn a lot of important life lessons in sports: leadership, confidence, self-respect, and what it means to be part of a team. When we tell transgender girls that they can’t play girls’ sports—or transgender boys that they can’t play boys’ sports—they miss out on this important childhood experience and all the lessons it teaches.

Transgender kids want the opportunity to play sports for the same reason other kids do: to be a part of a team where they feel like they belong. We shouldn’t discriminate against kids and ban them from playing because they’re transgender.

 It is imperative that we protect transgender youth—an already marginalized groupfrom discrimination. They, like all LGBTQ people, deserve to live free from discrimination in all areas of everyday life.  

4. Activating Broad Public Support for LGBTQ Freedom 

We did see forward movement over the past year. More and more cities passed their own local comprehensive nondiscrimination ordinances; and last spring, Virginia passed the Virginia Values Act, enacting statewide nondiscrimination protections for all LGBTQ Virginians. 

According to a study by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), 83% of Americans believe that LGBTQ people should be protected from discrimination. That support is bipartisan, and includes 94% of Democrats, 85% of independents, and 68% of Republicans. Strong majorities in all major religions also support these protections 

However, similar majorities believe that LGBTQ people are already protected by law. Unfortunately, that’s not yet the case. In federal law and 29 states, there are no comprehensive LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections. Although the Supreme Court did rule on workplace protections last year, the jury is still out on housing and public accommodations discrimination; this means that an LGBTQ person can be evicted or denied a home, fired or denied a job, or be turned away from a place of public accommodation like a restaurant or shop simply because of who they are or who they love.  

We’ve got to keep working to overcome this broad public assumption, and let people know the work of protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination is nowhere near finished.  

5. Combating Lies About Transgender People 

It’s urgent that we combat misinformation fueled by opponents of legislation like the Equality Act. It’s not a coincidence that state attacks on transgender people are surging, or that anti-transgender legislation is now in Congress. Opponents of LGBTQ freedom want to use fearmongering against transgender people to derail our movement. We won’t let them. Transgender people are our friends, family, neighbors and co-workers, and are deserving of dignity and respect.

How Can I Help? 

There are many ways to become involved in this critical work.  

  • Urge your Senators, the President-Elect and the VP-Elect to finish the job by passing comprehensive, federal LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections in 2021. Click here to email and tweet @ them.
  • Sign our pledge supporting comprehensive federal nondiscrimination protections, and join our email list to be among the first to know important news and updates regarding our work. 

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