Imagine being a homeless transgender youth. You’ve slept outside for the last few nights because there’s been no room at any of the nearby shelters. Despite your better judgment, you decide tonight to try to get a bed at a local church. When you get to the church, the volunteer initially tells you there is a bed available, but after asking for your name they pause. The volunteer has made a mistake actually, and there are no beds available. Clearing their throat, they tell you “I’m sorry, you’ll have to leave.”
This is not a work of fiction. It has happened in my backyard. Put mildly, it is not right. This is why we desperately need the Equality Act. The actions and opinions of Republicans regarding the Equality Act are indelibly ironic given historic conservative opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment; but there is nothing comedic about this situation. Equal rights for others does not mean fewer rights for anyone. This is a message many conservatives fail to understand.
The use of the term “biological male” is an incorrect, offensive, and unacceptable way to describe a trans woman. Trans women are women. No one can feign tolerance of any portion of the LGBTQ+ community while still using that kind of language. Yet, this is exactly what Republicans and their witnesses did during the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing for the Equality Act on March 17th.
Republicans are making our transgender brothers and sisters the target of a bigoted attack campaign designed to undermine the chances of passing the Equality Act. The testimony given at last week’s meeting was straight out of the Phyllis Schlafly playbook. If Schlafly were still living she may well have testified against the Equality Act herself.
In the 60s and 70s, the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was supported by those arguing for equal rights of all Americans, regardless of their sex. The ERA had bipartisan support in Congress and from several Presidents. Nearly at the point of ratification, Phyllis Schlafly, an attorney and activist, constructed a blockade of conservative women in opposition. Their primary argument was the ERA would help working career women but would actually harm America’s housewives. Playing on the inherently misogynistic notion that women are weaker than men, Schlafly’s conservatives contended women shouldn’t be drafted into the military. They spread misinformation about the elimination of alimony benefits in divorce proceedings, and the inability for women to successfully win custody of their children if the ERA passed. Simply, Schlafly made the case that housewives across America would be disadvantaged if equality of the sexes were granted. Her fear campaign worked.
The ERA passed Congress in 1972 and needed to be ratified by 38 of 50 states to officially amend the Constitution. That did not happen before the deadline of June 30, 1982. In 2020, Virginia became the 38th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. However, Congress must remove the original deadline in order for the ERA to become official. As of this writing, Congress has not eliminated the deadline.
Similarities between the arguments against the ERA and the Equality Act are eerie. The Equality Act first passed the House of Representatives in 2019 in a bipartisan vote, but the Republican controlled Senate failed to vote on the legislation. After recently passing the House again, on a slimmer bipartisan margin, the Equality Act is currently moving through the Senate. Republican opposition focuses on the vulnerability of women in sports. Testimony provided to the Judiciary Committee last week cited “biological males” competing with “disadvantaged” and “weaker” females. They alleged lower ranked male athletes would suddenly “self-identify as female” just so they could switch sports teams and be number one. These arguments are baseless.
Just as they did in the 60s and 70s, conservatives are using the patriarchal notions of a male-dominated society to intentionally weaken and demean women, weaponizing an entire gender in an attempt to deny quality for all. After all, classics never die. The Equality Act does not pose a threat to women or to anyone’s religious beliefs. The Act intends the basics of human decency to be required by law. Too many people don’t realize how severely the LGBTQ+ community can still be legally discriminated against today in the United States. In 27 states we can be denied access to housing, financial institutions, education, public spaces, services and accommodations, programs receiving federal funds (like adoption agencies); fired from our jobs without cause; and excluded from jury service.
Quoting the Bible and making proclamations that we are all God’s children does not change the fact that 11 trans women have been killed already in 2021, with 44 transgender and gender nonconfirming people killed last year. What could really help to change those numbers is the Equality Act and the Equal Rights Amendment becoming law.
If nothing else, the storied history of the Equal Rights Amendment should serve as a warning. America has a bad habit of repeating the same mistakes, fighting the same battles for decades, for centuries, when it would be infinitely easier to grant not only equality, but equity to all. What would our world look like right now if the Equal Rights Amendment were ratified 40 years ago? How many legal precedents may have been set that would now have morphed into laws of equality for marginalized communities across the nation?
We cannot afford to continue wasting time. It is time to demand our representatives take action to pass The Equality Act (HR 5) and to finally allow the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA).
Contact your Senator and tell them to support HR5 and eliminate the deadline for the ERA.