Equality Act hangs in the balance as Democrats falter in Senate races

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11/08/2020

On May 14, 1974, Rep. Bella Abzug, a feminist icon in women’s rights movement, introduced one of the most important pieces of civil rights legislation ever ignored. It had just one co-sponsor. The 10-page bill never moved out of committee. Had it passed, it would have amended the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. It was called the Equality Act. The bill’s modern iteration moved closer to passage with Joe Biden’s projected win on November 7. But maybe not close enough. Biden has vowed to pass the Equality Act within his first 100 days in office, an unexpected commitment as the country battles the coronavirus pandemic. To do that, however, he will need the backing of a sharply partisan Senate. The bill easily cleared the Democrat-dominated House last year. Its chances of surviving the Senate, where it looks like Republicans will maintain control, is questionable. Kierra Johnson, incoming executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force, said that LGBTQ+ policy has long lagged behind cultural acceptance for LGBTQ+ people. “Unfortunately, I think because of that, we have not passed the Equality Act yet,” Johnson said. “I think people take for granted that there are gay people on TV and queer people running for office and TV shows about trans women, that somehow we have broken the ceiling.” On October 29, LGBTQ+ media organization GLAAD released new findings showing that 89 percent of straight cisgender Americans falsely believe it illegal to evict someone because they are LGBTQ+. Seventy-nine percent of LGBTQ+ people are under the same impression. Eighty percent of straight cisgender respondents also mistakenly believed that it’s illegal to deny service to LGBTQ+ people in restaurants and bars.

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