Freedom for All Americans Testimony In Support of S. 393, the Equality Act
Dear Senator Durbin, Senator Grassley, and Members of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary:
Freedom for All Americans is the national bipartisan campaign to secure LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections nationwide. Since 2015, FFAA has worked in states, at the federal level, and alongside legal partners in the courts to advance full protections for the LGBTQ community that ensure people cannot be turned away or humiliated by employers, landlords, and places open to the public because of who they are or who they love.
S. 393, the Equality Act, is the best way to achieve this goal. It is common sense legislation that would update our country’s civil rights laws to include express and enduring nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people in virtually every area of public life, including employment, housing, places of public accommodation, credit, federally-funded programs and services, and jury service. These protections would allow LGBTQ people to fully take care of themselves and their families, and to fully participate in and contribute to their communities. By updating our federal civil rights laws to provide explicit protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity — alongside race, color, national origin, sex, and religion — this bill would deter discrimination and ensure that LGBTQ people have legal recourse if they are harmed by it. In addition to providing LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections, the Equality Act will also modernize protections from discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, and religion beyond those currently afforded under federal law.
The Equality Act is much needed because anti-LGBTQ discrimination remains an urgent problem in our country today. A 2020 report shows that one-third of LGBTQ Americans, including three-fifths of transgender Americans, faced discrimination in the past year. More than half of LGBTQ people say they experienced harassment or discrimination in a public place such as a store, on public transportation, or in a restroom. This evidence of discrimination against LGBTQ people far under-represents the actual prevalence of discrimination LGBTQ people experience. Reasons for underreporting include fears that LGBTQ people have that disclosing their sexual orientation or transgender status will lead to further discrimination, harassment, rejection, and even violence; inadequate state and local laws prohibiting discrimination; and inadequate enforcement or mechanisms to track complaints of discrimination by LGBTQ people. Furthermore, three bills have already passed this year in state legislatures seeking to restrict LGBTQ rights, including two bills specifically targeting transgender youth. These unconscionable attacks seek to roll back existing protections and serve as evidence of the hostility and discrimination LGBTQ people continue to face.
In recent years, numerous cities and states have successfully implemented their own LGBTQ nondiscrimination ordinances, helping millions and harming no one. In 2018, Republicans in New Hampshire, who controlled both chambers of the legislature and the Governor’s mansion, enacted a transgender nondiscrimination law; and New York followed suit the same year. Additionally, also in 2018, voters upheld LGBTQ nondiscrimination laws by wide margins at the ballot in Anchorage, Alaska and statewide in Massachusetts. In 2019, six Midwestern governors signed executive orders prohibiting discrimination against LGBTQ state employees, including three Republican governors. In 2020, Virginia became the first Southern state and 21st state in America to enact comprehensive LGBTQ nondiscrimination legislation, with strong bipartisan support. Over 330 towns and cities have passed comprehensive LGBTQ nondiscrimination ordinances to date. Local leaders are seeing the urgent need in their communities and responding; they know that we are all safer when each of us is treated with dignity and respect.
Unfortunately, approximately 50% of the LGBTQ population in America – seven million people – in 29 states lack express LGBTQ nondiscrimination laws and remain vulnerable to discrimination in critical areas of life, including in particular federally-funded programs and services such as disaster relief and shelters and public places such as restaurants, hotels, and stores. The patchwork of varying laws in different cities and states is unsustainable, particularly when LGBTQ people are traveling for work or crossing state lines to vacation with their families. It’s similarly unworkable for businesses with operations in multiple states, whose employees face different levels of protection across the company. Passing comprehensive and express federal nondiscrimination protections will ensure that all LGBTQ Americans – and the people who love them, work with them, and pray with them – know they should be treated with basic dignity and respect no matter what zip code they call home.
Even more importantly, passing the Equality Act is about people, not politics. The human toll of discrimination is devastating. The Equality Act’s protections will help curb discrimination that real people face in their lives. The bill is about people like Jody Davis in Ohio, a Christian and veteran who was denied housing and refused service at a store because she is a transgender woman. It would affect Chris Chun in Texas, a 30-year veteran of the U.S. Army and father to a transgender girl whose safety he worries about every day. The Equality Act would deter incidents that happen to people like Randal Coffman in Florida, who was evicted by his landlord for being gay. For people like Bailey and Samantha Brazzel, who simply wanted to file their taxes but were turned away by a tax preparer in Indiana because they are a same-sex couple, the Equality Act makes clear that turning them away because of who they are is impermissible. And for same-sex couples like Krista and Jami Contreras in Michigan, who had to find a new healthcare provider for their six-day-old newborn after the doctor they’d chosen turned them away for being lesbians, the Equality Act could be lifesaving. The scope of discrimination that LGTBQ Americans face is not fully quantifiable but it is well-documented. For people who have suffered the pain and humiliation of being different, passage of the Equality Act will mean the world.
Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court delivered a powerful affirmation of LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections in its ruling of Bostock v. Clayton County, declaring that LGBTQ discrimination is a form of sex discrimination and thus prohibited under our nation’s civil rights laws. But critical gaps remain. Because some areas of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 do not include protections on the basis of sex, the protections extended by the Bostock victory and the Executive Order issued by President Biden this year cannot be applied to federal laws prohibiting discrimination in public places or federally funded programs and services. The Equality Act would update federal law to expressly prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity in those settings. It also modernizes what constitutes a place of public accommodation for all protected characteristics to include places like retail stores, banks, and transportation services. In addition, the current protections provided by the Bostock Supreme Court ruling and subsequent Executive Order by the Biden Administration are impermanent. Judicial victories can be overturned and executive orders can be repealed by future administrations. Congress must pass the Equality Act to codify the current protections into law, apply them to all areas of public life, and make clear to legislators and citizens alike that discrimination is wrong.
Some have expressed concern about the Equality Act’s impact on the freedom of religion. The freedom of religion is important to all of us — that’s why it is protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and that will never change. We can balance the freedom of religion with freedom from discrimination — and in fact, existing law already does that. The Equality Act applies the same exemptions to its prohibitions on sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination as apply under federal law already with respect to discrimination based on race, color, and national origin, maintaining the same balance our nation has embraced for decades. LGBTQ people are our friends, neighbors, family members, and coworkers. All Americans deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, just as the Golden Rule instructs us all to treat others as we would like to be treated. That’s what the Equality Act is all about.
There is overwhelming consensus that a broad number of Americans support LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections. This support runs deep across political party, demographics, and geography. An October 2020 survey by the Public Religion Research Institute found that more than eight in ten Americans (83%), including majorities of Independents (85%) and Republicans (68%), support these protections. A previous study affirmed support from majorities of Americans in every U.S. state. More than 100 religious institutions and faith organizations have explicitly endorsed the Equality Act. Business leaders know discrimination is bad for business — that’s why more than 335 major corporations have endorsed the Equality Act. These companies have combined operations in all 50 states, headquarters spanning 33 states, and collectively generate $5.7 trillion in revenue. In total, these companies employ more than 12.4 million people across the United States. This momentum shows that Americans are ready for fairness, freedom, and equal opportunity for LGBTQ people.
The Equality Act will bring us one step closer to our nation’s promise of liberty and justice for all. Everyone should be free to go about their daily lives — enter a store, check into a hotel, or eat a meal at a restaurant — without fear of discrimination or harassment. Treating people fairly is not a Democratic or Republican value — it’s an American value. Freedom for All Americans urges U.S. Senators to vote with their hearts and to do the right thing for all Americans, including our LGBTQ family members, friends, coworkers, fellow worshippers, loved ones, and community members. Please reach out to Jon W. Davidson, Freedom for All Americans’ chief counsel, with any questions at (323) 536-9880 / [email protected].
CEO and National Campaign Director
Jon W. Davidson