LGBTQ rights advocates urge lawmakers to pass the Equality Act

WASHINGTON — Tanya Asapansa-Johnson Walker knows firsthand about the discrimination faced by many in the LGTBQ community today.

“I am a proud Black Transgender woman,” Johnson Walker told a House committee Tuesday. “I am a combat engineers Army veteran and my past has not been an easy one.”

Johnson Walker told lawmakers about discrimination she has faced when seeking medical care and housing.

“I tried to find medical care to assist with my transition, but was turned away, laughed at and at times declared mentally ill,” said Johnson Walker. “I myself have been turned away and discriminated against when seeking housing.”

LGBTQ rights advocates pointed to ongoing economic barriers and urged Congress to do more to legally protect the community against this kind of discrimination.

“Over a third of LGBTQ people who applied for credit in 2019 had their applications rejected,” said Spencer Watson, President and Executive Director of the Center for LGBTQ Economic Advancement and Research. “LGBTQ households are also more likely to be unbanked or underbanked than non-LGBTQ households are.”

Witnesses from Tuesday’s hearing said even with progress made from last year’s Supreme Court ruling to include protection against discrimination based on sex for employees, they urged Congress to pass more federal protections for the community too, particularly the Equality Act also known as H.R.5.

The Equality Act already passed the House earlier this year and it now sits in the hands of the Senate.

The vote in the House was 224-206, with three Republicans joining every Democrat to vote in favor of the measure.

The bill would amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to protect people from being discriminated based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing and other public accommodations like restaurants.

“Without it, LGBTQ people will continue to be subject to state level discrimination and the constant chipping away of federal protections,” said Todd Sears, Principal and Founder of Out Leadership, LLC.

The fate of the proposal is unclear in the Senate.

The Equality Act has faced Republican pushback over criticism about it infringing upon religious freedom, opposition to transgender women participating in sports, and questions about restroom access.

“This bill is a blatant attempt to normalize and promote laws that are both unfair and dangerous to our society,” said Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-Georgia) in April. “H.R.5 circumvents the bipartisan Religious Freedom Restoration Act.”

A vote for the Equality Act has not been scheduled in the Senate.