In his first State of the Union address, President Joe Biden implored Congress to "finally" pass the Equality Act.
The bill would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, public accommodations, education, federally funded programs, credit and jury service.
In 2021, the House approved the legislation. The bill has since remained with the Senate Judiciary Committee.
"And folks, for our LGBTQ+ Americans, let's finally get the bipartisan Equality Act to my desk," Biden said during the speech March 1. "The onslaught of state laws targeting transgender Americans and their families is simply wrong. I've said last year, especially to our younger transgender Americans, I'll always have your back as your president, so you can be yourself and reach your God-given potential."
Biden's call for action comes during a time when lawmakers across the country are restricting the rights of transgender Americans:
- In Texas, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott recently ordered state child welfare officials to investigate families where a child is receiving gender-affirming care, including the use of puberty blockers, hormone treatments and surgical interventions.
- In South Dakota, Republican Gov. Kristi Noem signed a bill in February that would ban transgender youth from participating in school sports with students of their same gender identity.
- In Florida, the state's House of Representatives recently passed a Republican-backed bill that prohibits teachers and school staff from discussing sexual orientation and gender identity.
Less than half of U.S. states have passed legislation ensuring LGBTQ individuals have basic freedoms like the right to rent a home or the ability to receive public goods and services. If passed by Congress, the Equality Act would ensure these freedoms in every state.
Joni Madison, interim president of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), applauded Biden for renewing his commitment to getting the Equality Act passed and enacted into law.
"With LGBTQ+ people lacking basic freedoms and protections in many states across the country, the Equality Act will finally ensure comprehensive, federal protections that make it clear that everyone deserves the opportunity to live free from harassment and discrimination—no matter where you live," Madison said in a statement.
HRC recently launched its "Reality Flag" campaign to expose how LGBTQ people still lack basic freedoms and to galvanize public support for the Equality Act. The "Reality Flag" is an altered version of the American flag with 29 of its stars removed, representing each of the 29 states lacking comprehensive protections for LGBTQ individuals.
"Something is seriously wrong when state legislatures around the country are attacking LGBTQ+ rights for political purposes, forcing families to pack up their homes and move to another state so their children can have equal rights and legal protections," Madison said. "This needs to change."
How Employers Can Make a Difference
LGBTQ workers still continuously face discrimination at work. A 2021 survey by the Williams Institute found that 1 in 10 LGBTQ workers experienced discrimination at work in the last year. LGBTQ employees of color were more likely to report being denied jobs and experiencing verbal harassment.
LGBTQ workers also earn about 90 cents for every dollar U.S. workers make on average.
Employers can support LGBTQ workers in various ways. In 2021, the Society for Human Resource Management provided resources and guidance for companies on how to create inclusive workplaces for LGBTQ workers.