The Equality Act: Tip Sheet for Journalists

 

On Wednesday, March 17, 2021, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee will hear testimony about The Equality Act. 

The name of the hearing, to be held before the full Senate committee, is “The Equality Act: LGBTQ Rights are Human Rights.” It will be the first time the landmark LGBTQ civil rights legislation will be discussed in the Senate. If passed, the Equality Act will provide LGBTQ Americans with federal nondiscrimination protections for the first time in history. 

The Equality Act provides comprehensive protections, prohibiting discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation and gender identity in many areas of life, including housing, public accommodations, education, federal funding, employment, access to credit and jury service. Discrimination prevents “the full participation of LGBTQ people in society,” as the text of the act states.

Polls show decisive support for LGBTQ legal protections from Americans of all faith groups and political affiliation. GLAAD research shows up to 91% of Americans believe it should be illegal to discriminate against LGBTQ people. Currently, less than half of U.S. states have laws that protect LGBTQ people from discrimination; LGBTQ people in the majority of the country are currently subject to discrimination without any legal protections at the state or federal level. 

Opponents of The Equality Act are expected to argue against it based on false claims of religious bias and misinformation about transgender children. The facts to counter this misinformation are below, as well as the anti-LGBTQ records of Judiciary Committee members and certain witnesses. 

Journalists are encouraged to familiarize themselves with the facts and the participants’ records to inform their coverage of this historic hearing.

“Overwhelming majorities of Americans, from all faiths, already support protections against discrimination for their LGBTQ family, neighbors, co-workers and friends," said GLAAD President and CEO, Sarah Kate Ellis. "The Equality Act ensures those values are secured into law.  Those who use their platforms to spread misinformation and endanger LGBTQ people prove why The Equality Act is so needed. Every LGBTQ person deserves to know they will be safe, can belong and can have the same chances to succeed as anyone.”

For the committee majority, The Equality Act will be presented by Rep. Marie Newman of Illinois (parent of a transgender daughter), Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin (first out LGBTQ person elected to Congress, then Senate) and Rhode Island Rep. David Cicilline (out gay Congressman and lead sponsor of the Equality Act). The majority will call the following witnesses: Alphonso David, President of the Human Rights Campaign; Stella Keating, a transgender teenager; and Dr. Edith Guffey, a United Church of Christ conference minister, Kansas resident and mother of a nonbinary child.

“I just need the chance to live my life and achieve my dreams," Stella is expected to say. "Passing the Equality Act will allow me the freedom to do that in whatever state I choose to live in. Shouldn’t I have the right to live freely in the country that I love?” 

Media please note, transgender is an adjective, not a noun. “Stella is a transgender teenager.” Research from The Trevor Project shows 40% of transgender and nonbinary youth reported being physically threatened or harmed because of their gender identity. GLSEN research shows 45% of trans students fear using the bathroom at school. 22% of trans women perceived as trans in school were harassed to the point they had to leave school because of it.

Dr. Guffey is also on the Board of Directors of PFLAG. “The law should treat all our children -- God’s children -- equally," Dr. Guffey noted in her prepared remarks. “Without the Equality Act, the law does not fully protect me as an African American woman, and it does not protect my trans non-binary child.”

Dr. Guffey represents the vast majority of people of faith who believe LGBTQ people should be protected from discrimination. Robust majorities of Mormons (70%), Hispanic Catholics (72%), white mainline Protestants (71%), white Catholics (71%), other non-white Catholics (68%), and Americans who identify with other religions (67%) favor LGBT nondiscrimination protections. 

Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, a judiciary committee member, will be presenting for the minority. She signed a Supreme court amicus brief defending a taxpayer-funded agency's right to discriminate against same-sex couples seeking to foster a child. With Rep. Vicky Hartzler of Missouri, who is also presenting at the hearing, Sen. Blackburn filed another Supreme Court amicus brief to defend a florist who discriminated against a same-sex couple. Sen. Blackburn recently falsely claimed that "gender specificity" would be "eliminated" if Democrats win the Georgia Senate runoff elections, a fear that has not come to pass.

Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi's anti-LGBTQ record includes opposition to same-sex taxpayers’ commmitment ceremonies at the taxpayer-funded Mississippi Agriculture & Forestry Museum. Sen. Hyde-Smith has made racist remarks such as offering praise to a supporter, “If he invited me to a public hanging, I’d be on the front row.” Mississippi has a history of lynchings. Sen. Hyde-Smith was among the eight senators who voted to block the Electoral College count that led to the deadly siege at the Capitol, and repeatedly voted against investigating the attack where her female colleagues were targeted and stalked.

Rep. Hartzler has been campaigning against the Equality Act on the false premise it "erases women's rights." The bill strengthens and supports protections for women, expanding protections based on sex in public accommodations. Rep. Hartzler proposed a 2017 bill that would have banned military coverage of gender-affirming treatment for trans troops. She also opposes the Equal Rights Amendment, which would codify equal rights for women. Her views have been presented at the anti-LGBTQ Heritage Foundation.

Abigail Shrier is an opinion columnist for the Wall Street Journal. She has no medical training and writes about the “harm” in allowing transgender youth to medically transition. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the leading governing body of pediatric medicine, found that affirming gender identity protects and saves trans youth lives, and that “for children who have not reached puberty, gender transition involves no medical interventions at all: it consists of social changes like name, pronoun and gender expression.” Shrier has frequently spread misinformation, falsely comparing being transgender to disorders like anorexia and bulimia, and falsely and baselessly claiming transition is akin to demonic possession and self-harm. She has encouraged parents to reject the identities of their trans kids. Shrier, and every American, should watch parents of trans children describe the truth about being transgender.

Shrier complains of being “canceled” but she appears on top-rated podcasts, her books are still for sale and she has a platform in the Wall Street Journal, where she falsely claimed President Biden’s first executive order supporting trans students was “the end of girls’ sports.” Trans girls pose no threat to athletics or girls’ sports. States that include trans girls have a higher rate of girls playing sports than states with bans). Polls show that executive order was the most popular among all of Pres. Biden’s first day actions. Shrier has also misled in claiming cis girls can’t win against trans girls. Two days after a lawsuit was filed by cisgender girls’ families, one of the girls beat a transgender girl named in the lawsuit in a Connecticut state championship. Trans athletes are not ruining or dominating girls' sports.

Mary Rice Hasson is a fellow in Catholic Studies at the conservative think tank Ethics and Public Policy Center. Her book, Get Out Now: Why You Should Pull Your Children From Public School Before It's Too Late, falsely claims and without evidence, that schools are being overtaken by a “harmful” gender ideology. She told the UN in 2019 that trans acceptance and inclusion is a "threat" to cis women and girls. Trans acceptance and efforts at inclusion are not a threat to anyone. Hasson’s beliefs do not reflect the reality of most trans girls, who are harassed, bullied and physically threatened at school and in the world.

Opposition to the Equality Act can often be tied to the same handful of national anti-LGBTQ groups that are linked to state anti-trans bills. These groups (Alliance Defending Freedom, Family Policy Alliance, Family Research Council, Heritage Foundation, and others in the ‘Promise to America’s Children’ coalition) claim to be concerned about religious freedom, the safety of children, and girls’ access to sports—but in fact these groups have spent years (and millions of dollars) fighting LGBTQ equality. Several of the organizations are classified as anti-LGBTQ hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center, including Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).

Why we need The Equality Act

LGBTQ Americans are not fully protected from discrimination in 29 states. 50% percent of all LGBTQ Americans live in the 29 states.

Research shows more than 1 in 3 LGBTQ Americans faced discrimination of some kind in the past year. 3 in 10 LGBTQ Americans faced difficulties last year accessing necessary medical care due to cost issues, including more than half of transgender Americans.

  • 51% LGBTQ people say they experienced harassment or discrimination in a public place such as a store, public transportation, or a restroom

  • 36% faced harassment or discrimination in the workplace

  • 21% at school

LGBTQ people face increased risk of violence. Allowing discrimination, for any reason, further threatens LGBTQ people, and wrongly normalizes and encourages unequal treatment, as violators face no consequences under the law. 

Best practices for the hearing re: transgender sports participation

FACTS:

  • Claims that trans participants would ruin girls’ sports are false. There is no evidence to support claims that trans athletes “destroy girls’ sports.”

  • 16 states, the NCAA (since 2011), the Olympics (since 2004), and several professional and recreational leagues including USA Gymnastics, U.S. Soccer, and the National Women’s Hockey League all have policies allowing transgender participation in sports. 

  • Participation in girls’ sports declined in states with outright bans or policies that exclude trans girls, while participation remained steady among girls in states with policies that include transgender girls. 

  • On March 10th, more than 545 college student-athletes sent a letter to the NCAA Board of Governors calling for the NCAA to uphold its nondiscrimination policy and publicly refuse to host championships in states with bans against trans athletes.

  • More than 25 bills are pending in states across the country to ban transgender participation in sports. Lawmakers proposing the bills could not cite a single instance of trans participation being an issue in their states, when asked by the AP.

  • Several bills, including one signed into law last week in Mississippi, enforce bans with screening of “internal and external reproductive anatomy,” endangering all girls.

  • Advantages in sport are closely correlated to money, access to coaches and facilities, and time devoted to training, not testosterone levels. Trans people have been participating in sports for years, with no evidence of taking over women’s sports.

  • Discrimination and exclusion inflicts stigma and causes long-lasting harm to trans people. Many trans and nonbinary students already face bullying, harassment, violence and risks of self-harm. 

  • All students benefit when transgender and nonbinary students are included:

More than a quarter of transgender and nonbinary youth (27%) who participated in sports reported mostly A grades compared to 19% who did not participate in sports

 

Best practices for the hearing re: transgender medical care:

FACTS:

  • The Equality Act would not “force doctors to perform transgender surgeries.”

  • There are many steps to gender affirming care, the first and easiest being recognizing a trans youth’s authentic pronouns and name.

  • Trans girls and women are girls and women, not “biological boys” - using this term is inaccurate and offensive. 

  • Science shows that sex and gender are not the same thing, and there can be more than two genders and more than two sexes.

  • The American Academy of Pediatrics condemned the state bills banning gender affirming care and trans sports participation: “The American Academy of Pediatrics has long been on the record in support of affirmative care for transgender children through our clinical policy… These bills are dangerous... Youth who identify as transgender [must] have access to comprehensive, gender-affirming, and developmentally appropriate health care that is provided in a safe and inclusive clinical space. We also recommend that playing on sports teams helps youth develop self-esteem, correlates positively with overall mental health, and appears to have a protective effect against suicide...Politics has no place here. Transgender children, like all children, just want to belong. We will fight state by state, in the courts and on the national stage to make sure they know they do.”

Best practices for the hearing re: religious exemptions:

FACTS:

  • Religious freedom is already enshrined in federal law and in the Bill of Rights. Also, religion is one of the protected classes in the Civil Rights Act, and discriminating against someone based on their religious beliefs is illegal under that federal law. The Equality Act would not remove any of these existing protections—it would simply add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected categories alongside race, color, religion, sex, and national origin.

  • Those using religious belief as a reason to discriminate against LGBTQ people do not represent all people of faith.
     
  • LGBTQ people are people of faith (47% consider themselves religious). And majorities of all faith groups support LGBTQ anti-discrimination laws.
     
  • Claims that The Equality Act would “crush religious freedom” are not supported by evidence. Similar false claims have been used unsuccessfully to argue against marriage equality, which has been law of the land for nearly six years, with no negative consequences for straight couples or society.
  • Major religious organizations are already serving LGBTQ people, recognizing there is no conflict with religious beliefs, and no need for a religious exemption to avoid following laws prohibiting discrimination.

The Equality Act has support from:

CIVIL RIGHTS LEADERS:  including the American Civil Liberties Union, NAACP LDF, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, National Center for Lesbian Rights, GLBTQ Legal Advocates and defenders, Asian Americans Advancing Justice.

EDUCATORS: The American Federation of Teachers; the American School Counselor Association; the National Education Association; Service Employees International Union; and the National Association of Social Workers).

CORPORATIONS: The Equality Act has and has been endorsed by more than 350 major companies, including dozens of Fortune 500 companies such as The Coca-Cola Co., Dow Chemical Co., Gap Inc., IBM, Johnson & Johnson, Kellogg Co., Marriott International Inc., Microsoft Corp., and Target Corp.

MEDICAL COMMUNITY: Major medical associations including American Academy of Pediatrics, American Psychological Association, American Heart Association, among others.

FAITH LEADERS: More than 120 leaders across all denominations, backgrounds and organizations such as the Religious Institute, Interfaith Coalition and Faith in Public Life.

THE AMERICAN PUBLIC: Majorities of Americans of every faith and political affiliation support laws protecting LGBTQ people. GLAAD’s Accelerating Acceptance study found up to 91% of non-LGBTQ Americans believe it should be illegal to discriminate against LGBTQ people. A significant majority of Americans are not aware that LGBTQ people are not federally protected from discrimination in many areas of life.

Anti-LGBTQ Records of Judiciary Committee senators:

Minority Leader Chuck Grassley of Iowa spoke out against the landmark Supreme Court marriage equality ruling in 2015, wrongly claiming, “I expect we will be debating marriage for years to come.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina has repeatedly and falsely compared marriage equality to polygamy.

Sen. Mike Lee of Utah sponsored a bill in this current session against transgender students participating in sports. There is no evidence of transgender participation ruining girls’ sports. He has also proposed numerous failed bills targeting marriage equality and signed Supreme Court amicus briefs defending the right of religious employers to discriminate. 

Sen. John Cornyn of Texas signed an amicus brief defending employers’ right to discriminate against LGBTQ workers. He has spoken out against marriage equality and endorsed the candidacy of former judge and accused child predator Roy Moore, who said the Supreme Court decision legalizing marriage equality was “worse than” the decision defending slavery.

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas has introduced constitutional amendments against marriage equality. He cosponsored Sen. Lee’s anti-transgender bill, days after voting to object to the Electoral College results in Arizona and Pennsylvania in support of lies about who won the 2020 election that led to the deadly siege at the U.S. Capitol. He also endorsed Judge Roy Moore for Senate, who was credibly accused of pursuing underage girls.

Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska spoke out against marriage equality and falsely claimed that children are better off with parents of opposite genders. The evidence shows children raised by same-sex parents fare equally well if not better than those raised by straight couples.

Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri signed a Supreme Court amicus brief defending a taxpayer-funded foster care agency’s right to discriminate against qualified same-sex couples. Sen. Hawley also voted to object to the Electoral College count and cheered on rioters before the deadly siege inside the Capitol. 

Sen. Tom Cotton claimed that LGBTQ people in the U.S. should “get perspective” about a restrictive religious exemption bill in Indiana for its potential to discriminate because in Iran, “they hang you” for being gay. He also cosponsored a bill to ban transgender students from sports participation.

Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana falsely called transgender girls “biological boys” in a question to Attorney General nominee Merrick Garland. 

Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina supported his state’s ban on same-sex marriage, voted against anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ public school students and for LGBTQ youth seeking housing.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, who is also presenting at the hearing and represents the only woman of the 10 members of the Judiciary Committee minority party, signed an amicus brief defending a taxpayer-funded agency's right to discriminate against same-sex couples seeking to foster a child, as well as a brief to support a florist who refused service to a same-sex couple. She has falsely claimed "gender specificity" would be "eliminated" if Democrats win the Georgia senate runoff elections.

GLAAD will be monitoring the hearing and the coverage for accurate and respectful representation of LGBTQ issues and people.