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Rights Advocates See New Hope for Equality Act

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Thursday, January 28, 2021   

NEW YORK -- A new report suggests a bill often promoted as expanding rights for LGBTQ people could benefit a wide spectrum of racial and religious minorities as well.

The Equality Act passed in the U.S. House in 2019 with broad bipartisan support, but never came up for a vote in the Senate.

Civil rights advocates hope this year, it could become law. The bill would add new, comprehensive federal protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Naomi Goldberg, deputy director and LGBTQ Program Director at the Movement Advancement Project, said it would expand existing federal laws that leave many people vulnerable to discrimination based on a variety of other factors.

"Right now, for example, retail stores are actually not covered under federal law and public-accommodations protections for people of color or people of faith, or immigrants," Goldberg observed.

Opponents of the bill have said it would infringe on the religious freedom of those who feel that homosexuality, same-sex marriage or transgender identities violate their beliefs.

But Goldberg pointed out that 21 states, including New York, already have LGBT rights laws on the books, so someone can lose civil-rights protections simply by crossing a state line. The Equality Act would change that.

"It would put into place consistent and explicit protections into federal law that would, in many ways, serve as an umbrella over all 50 states, D.C. and the territories," Goldberg explained.

She added under a U.S. Supreme Court ruling issued last June, federal law already protects against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment.

Goldberg emphasized the bill would make anti-discrimination protections consistent across the board. She pointed to a 2020 survey by Sephora, which found 40% of shoppers had experienced discrimination based on their race or skin color.

"I think that really underscores the challenges of access in places of public accommodation aren't just for LGBTQ people, but this is really a broad problem and needs a federal solution," Goldberg contended.

The bill has yet to be reintroduced in the House this year, but Goldberg hopes with changes in Senate leadership, it will get a hearing and a vote there, as well.


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