Their names were Lexi, Monika, Dustin, Nina, Tony, Summer – all were transgender women and men or nonbinary individuals, and all were killed in 2020. Last year, at least 45 trans and nonbinary people were murdered – a gut-wrenching increase from 2019.
For many, the LGBTQ rights struggle in the United States peaked in 2015, when SCOTUS made same-sex marriage the law of the land. It is true that, in many ways, the LGBTQ community has come a long way: from invisibility to acceptance to Pride, the queer struggle has claimed many wins in recent years. In 2018, Jared Polis became the first gay man elected to gubernatorial office. In November 2020, Sarah McBride (an American University alumni) became the United State’s first transgender state senator. In February 2021, another ceiling was shattered as Pete Buttigieg was sworn in as Secretary of Transportation, making him the first openly LGBT Cabinet member in history.
There is much to celebrate – but we cannot let these victories overshadow the crises that the community is still facing today. Specifically, trans men/women and nonbinary people continue to face incredible levels of discrimination: one in five transgender people has been discriminated against when it comes to housing, and more than one in ten have experienced eviction. According to the Transgender National Center for Gender Equality, 20 to 40% of the 1.6 million homeless youth identify as LGBTQ – about 320,000 to 640,000 young people. Discrimination against LGBTQ people also happens in other areas. In a 2020 report, over a third of LGBT Americans stated that they faced moderate to significant negative impacts from discrimination. Moreover, 29% of the same study’s respondents reported that this discrimination significantly affected their economic well-being. The impact is even more dramatic for Black and trans people (37% and 54%, respectively). Regarding health and well-being, 15% of LGBQ people and 28% of trans people reported that they avoided medical care when sick or injured because of discrimination.
These numbers are staggering, and they show that the struggle for LGBTQ rights and equality is far from over. At a time when the GOP is weaponizing the very existence of trans people across the United States by blocking access to gender-affirming treatment, banning transgender individuals from sports, or restricting their access to healthcare, it is time for Congress to take action. Trans and LGBTQ people have increasingly become fuel for the GOP’s political fire, and it is having dramatic effects on the community. But solutions exist.
This past February, the House passed the Equality Act. This bill would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender (right now, the Civil Rights Act protects against discrimination based on sex, which means that LGBTQ rights are often at odds with the interpretation of that bill). It would also extend protections for LGBTQ people (including in the 27 states where they currently do not benefit from legal safeguards) and make it illegal to deny access to housing, employment, or health care based on sexual orientation and gender. LBGTQ people would also be protected when it comes to public accommodations – what the bill defines as “places or establishments that provide (1) exhibitions, recreation, exercise, amusement, gatherings, or displays; (2) goods, services, or programs; and (3) transportation services.” Another necessary provision of the bill is that it would trump the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which has often been used as an excuse to counter LGBT rights.
Now that the bill has passed the House, it faces an uncertain future in the Senate. It shouldn’t. This legislation provides basic legal protections to LGBTQ Americans, who deserve to be treated fairly and equally. Yet, Senate Republicans and other opponents to the bill argue that sufficient legal protections are already in place, citing a 2019 Supreme Court ruling. In Bostock v. Clayton County, SCOTUS ruled that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 should protect Americans from sexual orientation and gender discrimination, essentially implementing specific parts of the Equality Act into law. However, with Amy Coney Barrett now sworn in as Justice, it is not impossible to imaging that the Court might overturn some of its previous decisions, especially in light of the recent push to introduce anti-LGBT bills in Republican-led states.
Because of this anti-LGBTQ sentiment sweeping through the country, the Biden administration must prioritize passing the bill. As a presidential candidate, President Biden initially announced the bill would be passed during his first 100 days, before backtracking on that promise. Right now, the administration is looking to avoid further polarizing policy brawls in the Senate as it seeks to pass Biden’s infrastructure plan. But while we wait, LGBTQ people quietly lose their homes, are denied life-saving treatment, and are generally being ostracized from society just because of who they are. And while the bill is necessary, it does not address the unprecedented amounts of violence against members of the community – it is simply the first step in protecting LGBTQ Americans. At least 11 transgender people have already lost their lives this year. With further inaction from Congress and the federal government, 2021 is on track to set new glooming records for LGBTQ people.
With Pride month just around the corner, it is only fitting to celebrate landmarks achieved by the LGBTQ community. But we must remember that many of us are still impacted by homelessness, lack of access to health care, misgendering, exclusion, and – perhaps most importantly – acts of violence that are not being reported or investigated. There is so much more work to be done in LGBTQ education, mental health, and justice. The Equality Act is a landmark piece of legislation that could pave the way for future inclusive policies, and the need to pass it has never been greater than it is now.