It was first introduced in to Congress in 1974
It’s been more than a year since LGBT Floridians celebrated marriage equality in the state, but the fight for equality still rages on.
It was also last year that the Equality Act was introduced in Congress, filled with eager goals for LGBT Americans to be able to live free from discrimination.
“The Equality Act is definitely historic, but not unprecedented,” pointed out Chris Rudisill, the new executive director at the Stonewall National Museum and Archives.
It all began on May 14, 1974, when Democratic Reps. Bella Abzug and Ed Koch brought forth the Equality Act of 1974 to the House of Representatives, which would make it illegal to discriminate against someone based on their sexual orientation.
“Hopes were actually high, even in a time prior to any previous pro-LGBT equality legislation,” Rudisill said, noting that the early ‘70s were a time of great civil rights fervor in the country, namely for gay rights.
The Stonewall Riots kicked up the movement in 1969 and various grassroots advocacy groups were hitting the streets in newsworthy protests and “zaps.” However, despite their efforts and the interest in gay rights nationally, the bill failed to make it past the committee. Various versions of the bill would be resurrected three more times in 1975, but still failed.
Twenty years later, in 1994, congressmen tried another angle to give equality to LGBT people through the Employment Non Discrimination Act. Every year it has been brought forward -- save for two years during President George W. Bush’s administration -- and every year it failed. Rudisill noted that it had the best chance of passing in 2007, but only if gender identity had been removed from the bill.
According to the Human Rights Campaign, 63 percent of LGBT Americans have experienced discrimination in the workplace, so ENDA would prove to be vital. Currently, only 19 states have protections for LGBT people in the workplace, namely states in the West and Northeast.
In July 2015, the Equality Act was resurrected from the history books by Democratic Rep. David Cicilline. After all, LGBT people deserve equality on all fronts, not just in the workplace. The new bill expands upon the famed Civil Rights Act of 1965 and guarantees protections for LGBT people, including housing, education, the workplace, and more.
“There’s a lot of very strong support for the bill,” said Brandon Lorenz, communications campaign director at the HRC.
“It’s a brand new bill, but we had a record number of cosponsors upon its introduction, and endorsement from Ted Olson and David Boies,” he added, referring to the two lawyers who fought against and ultimately won their lawsuit that overturned Proposition 8 in California.
However, Lorenz sees this as a long-term project for America, not an overnight guarantee. Throughout 2016, HRC plans to help build support for the bill in the business community and in Congress.
As for the American people? There’s an overwhelming percentage of support for equality for LGBT people, regardless of political affiliation. According to the HRC, 78 percent of Americans support nondiscrimination laws for LGBT people. Most Americans, in fact, would probably be surprised to learn that LGBT people don't already have these protections.
“One should have the opportunity to earn a living, to live free from fear of discrimination, and provide for their families, including people who are LGBT,” Lorenz said. “There are a number of states across the country where you can get married, maybe post a picture on your Facebook page, and you’re at risk when you go back to work ... because we don’t have explicit nondiscrimination protections.”