In the midst of COVID vaccination shots having taken the top slot on many national newscasts, it might be easy to understand how many Americans missed a significant action taken earlier this year by the House of Representatives. The Equality Act was passed in February, and though it has a steep climb for passage in the Senate it has again made news this week.
The bill would amend federal law, including the 1964 Civil Rights Act and Fair Housing Act, to explicitly include anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ Americans. If you are gay, or have ever talked to anyone who is, it will come as no surprise as to why this legislation was crafted, or why it needs to be passed. The same holds true for transgender people. Without doubt, this bill would provide the strongest legal protections for LGBTQ Americans in history.
Why does this matter? Lets us take just one example which made for a newspaper report this week.
Elizabeth Hunter says she became suicidal after Bob Jones University administrators grilled the former student about her sexuality for tweeting “happy Pride” and writing a book with lesbian characters. She was fined, sent to anti-gay counseling and removed from her job at the campus TV station. Veronica Penales says she’s told officials at Baylor University, where she is a sophomore, that people leave anti-gay notes on her door, but they don’t investigate. Lucas Wilson said he graduated from Liberty University with “a profound sense of shame” after being encouraged to go to conversion therapy.
This would not be allowed to happen to any other minority student. As such, it is more stark examples of the lack of safety and justice for the full LGBTQ community. And this type of outlandish activity occurs continuously, without a remedy.
The bill has gained steam in the past years with 70% of Americans supporting the Equality Act as of Dec. 2020. The polling data comes from GQR and the Human Rights Campaign. That poll shows support up from 65% of voters who supported the legislation in 2018.
The bill passed largely on a party-line vote, with President Biden expressly stating he would sign it if it made its way to his desk. But first, it needs to get past the political party in the Senate that still can not understand gay people are in every family–Blue ones and Red ones. The usual religious organizations have chimed in with their ‘one-note Charlie’ arguments and that is where things have stood since last month.
Until this week.
It was reported that students from 25 religiously-affiliated colleges and universities have filed a class-action lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Education, claiming the schools are unconstitutionally discriminating against students in the LGBTQ community, It lists 33 students as plaintiffs.
The lawsuit specifically takes aim at a religious exemption clause in Title IX schools have used to continue with discriminatory practices. The schools, which receive government funding, have been using the exemption clause to evade an executive order Biden signed on his first day in office, which was aimed at “preventing and combating discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation.”
The political calculators are watching now how religious groups are talking with civil rights groups and gay rights groups to lobby for a religious exemption to be explicitly included in the Equality Act. But there is no way to pretend that deep concerns are not most evident and proving as to all why a remedy must be obtained.
The suit injects dozens of personal experiences into a debate about religious liberty and LGBTQ rights that’s often been more legalistic. It seeks to put individual faces and names on an aspect of Equality Act debate that doesn’t get much attention — students at conservative Christian schools.
It cites a gay ICU nurse who said he was admitted to a graduate nursing program, sold his car, left his old job and was days away from starting school when he was allegedly told his admission was rescinded because he is engaged to a man. “A grown man with a successful career, loving family and fiancé, [he] went into his closet, curled up in a ball and cried,” the suit says. It cites a queer student who recalls being regularly called slurs on a Christian school’s campus and is afraid to walk at night alone. According to the suit, that person is often subject to disciplinary action for wearing feminine-style clothing. Another said he was fired as a resident assistant and then kicked out of school for being openly bisexual.
I look at my calendar and it reads 2021. It should not only read that way, but feel like that, too. It is imperative this bill become law.