Several middle school classes this year have made timelines about the Civil Rights Movement, which supposedly ran from around 1954 to 1968. The Movement included the passage of nondiscrimination and desegregation acts, especially affecting African Americans. Civil Rights activists championed the final Civil Rights Act of 1968, also known as the Fair Housing Act, whose signing marked the end of the relentless efforts for desegregation of the African American population and foreshadowed a common ideology in which racism and discrimination are frowned upon.
However, some might say that one group of people is still fighting for its civil rights and is being largely ignored—the LGBTQ community.
It is still legal under federal law to discriminate against LGBTQ people however one chooses; note the common placard, “we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone.” Federal anti-discrimination laws prevent businesses from discriminating against people based on race or color, citizenship, religion, gender, age, disability, or veteran status, but organizations may still discriminate based on factors including sexual orientation and gender identity. People often cite religious reasons; one cake baker said that his Christian faith prevented him from baking a wedding cake for a gay couple. Furthermore, a pediatrician in Michigan refused to treat a baby “just because its parents were lesbians.” This is not just restricted to service, however. Representative David Cicilline (D-VT) remarked that “in most states, a gay couple can get married on Saturday, post photos of their wedding on Sunday, and get fired from their job or get thrown out of their apartment on Monday, just because of who they are.”
Although several states do extend civil rights to the LGBTQ community, over thirty do not. The Washington Post even published an article titled “Arkansas wants to attract businesses by allowing them to discriminate against gay people,” citing an Arkansas ordinance that “[prevents] any city or county from extending civil rights protections to gay people.” Thus, as it did in the bulk of the Civil Rights Movement, relying on states to grant civil liberties to the LGBTQ will not advance our nation’s civil rights. Instead, we must do something much greater—we must pass a federal bill to end discrimination and promote tolerance and inclusion. We must amend the Fair Housing Act and other Civil Rights Acts and extend protections to the LGBTQ community.
Such a bill was attempted to be passed in 1974, in a measure known as the Equality Act. Unfortunately, given the ideological environment where LGBTQ rights were not a fundamental aspect of social culture, the bill quickly failed in a House committee. However, the bill was revived on May 2, 2017, and we can make a difference now. The Human Rights Campaign, one of the major proponents of the Equality Act, stated that “decades of civil rights history show that civil rights laws are effective in decreasing discrimination because they provide strong federal remedies targeted to specific vulnerable groups. By explicitly including sexual orientation and gender identity in these fundamental laws, LGBTQ people will finally be afforded the exact same protections as other covered characteristics under federal law.”
Political analysts have also drawn attention to the increasing momentum of the bill in both the House and the Senate as Republicans have begun to co-sponsor the act. The Equality Act also has numerous corporate sponsors, including Apple, The Dow Chemical Company, Microsoft, Levi Strauss & Co., American Airlines, Facebook, General Mills, Google, and Nike. Now is the best time to capitalize on this new shift in opinions, and we must make every effort to keep the momentum going and pass the bill because we cannot foresee the future of LGBTQ rights under the new administration. You must call your state’s congressional representatives now and let them know that you, one of their constituents, care about rights for LGBTQ and do not want to see them discriminated against further. Donate to the Human Rights Campaign to sponsor protests and grassroots movements, and let your voice be heard. Go to town halls and do whatever you can to move along this bill. With your support, we can finally end discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Intrigued? Watch this video to learn more about the campaign for LGBTQ rights (contains profanity).