Congresswoman Lizzie Fletcher (D-Houston) promised to support LGBTQ equality when she was elected to office last November.
Fletcher, who was sworn in last January, kept her word by becoming an original co-sponsor of the Equality Act. On March 13, she joined a joined a bipartisan group of nearly 240 lawmakers at a press conference on Capitol Hill to introduce the bill, which would modify existing civil-rights legislation to include protections for LGBTQ people across the U.S.
“It is a privilege to be able to support the Equality Act,” Fletcher told OutSmart. “Every person deserves to be protected under law. This important piece of legislation will codify nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ Americans.”
The Equality Act, which was first introduced in 2015, is a version of a bill from 1974. In addition to adding gender identity and sexual orientation to the classes protected from discrimination by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the new bill would outlaw discrimination in all public accommodations.
If the bill becomes a law, it would be the first nationwide law to protect LGBTQ Americans.
In 30 states, including Texas, people can be discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Only five Texas cities––Austin, Dallas, El Paso, Fort Worth, Plano, and San Antonio––have nondiscrimination policies to ensure that queer citizens are protected in employment, housing, public accomodations, jury service, education, federal programs, and credit.
“The Equality Act would be a win for states like Texas, and cities like Houston, because it provides clarity and consistency,” Fletcher tells OutSmart. “Protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity will be addressed through nationwide legislation that ensures full equality for every American.”
The Equality Act also clarifies that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which allows those claiming “religious liberty” to deny service to LGBTQ citizens, cannot be used in civil-rights contexts. Conservative groups fear that the Equality Act would infringe on their religious freedoms, but Fletcher believes otherwise.
“The freedom of religion, and the right to freely exercise [your religion], are the cornerstones of our society,” Fletcher says. “The Equality Act does not infringe on the right to do those things, and we are not asking anyone to change their beliefs. Instead, it just ensures that, in public accomodations, everyone would be treated equally under the law.”
More than 280 members of Congress, 165 leading businesses, and 288 organizations from across the country support the Equality Act, according to the Human Rights Campaign. And a recent poll from the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) shows that majorities of Americans in every religion, party, and U.S. state––including 66 percent of Texans––want nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people.
Congressional hearings for the Equality Act are scheduled in April and May, followed by a vote on the House floor this summer, to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots.
“The Equality Act is a priority to the new Congress,” Fletcher says. “This is why we were able to bring this bill so quickly. I am so glad to have partners who are committed and working hard on these issues.”
Fletcher says that the best way folks can support the Equality Act is by contacting their state representatives.
“We pay attention when our constituents let us know what they feel passionately about,” Fletcher says. “We appreciate the time that they take to share what they want. I hope [whoever reads] this knows that their voice matters.”