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New Report Outlines Why the Equality Act is the Civil Rights Update Needed Now for Women, People of Color, and People of Faith, in Addition to LGBTQ People

Rebecca Farmer, Movement Advancement Project, | 303-578-4600 ext 122

(January 26, 2021)—A new report released today, “Why We All Need the Equality Act Now,” outlines the ways in which the Equality Act is vital legislation not just for LGBTQ people, but also for women, people of color, immigrants, and people of minority faiths.

The report highlights the urgency of adding such protections now, especially given the number of public places in which people of color experience discrimination, such as in retail shops and taxi cabs. This report is authored by the Movement Advancement Project and released in partnership with the Center for American Progress, Lawyers for Civil Rights, National Center for Transgender Equality, National Partnership for Women and Families, and the National Women’s Law Center.

The Equality Act would add new comprehensive and explicit protections to federal law for LGBTQ people, but it would also add and expand legal protections for women, people of color, and many other communities. The Equality Act would update existing civil rights law by filling critical gaps in public accommodation nondiscrimination law for everyone. It would also add nondiscrimination protections for women and LGBTQ people in public spaces and federally funded programs.

Fills Gaps in Nondiscrimination Protections in Public Places
The Equality Act builds on the legacy of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by expanding the public places where discrimination is explicitly prohibited to include retail stores, bars, taxis and ride sharing, small entertainment venues like bowling alleys, and personal services such as barbershops and salons.

Expanding where discrimination against people of color, immigrants, people of faith and others is prohibited to more of the places people visit daily is critical. Research consistently shows that people of color face unfair treatment while shopping and are more likely to face delays and cancellations in ride share services. For example, two in five shoppers in the U.S. ​reported experiencing unfair treatment in retail shops because of their race or skin color according to a 2020 survey conducted by Sephora.

Protects Against Sex Discrimination in Public Accommodations and Federally Funded Programs
Many people are surprised to learn that federal law does not currently prohibit discrimination based on sex in places of public accommodation or in federally funded programs. The Equality Act would make these important updates. It would protect against sex discrimination in public places including stopping pharmacies from refusing to fill prescriptions for birth control or preventing dry cleaners from charging women more than men. Additionally, because sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination, new legal protections in the Equality Act would prevent sexual harassment in restaurants, hotels, and in transportation. Under the Equality Act sex discrimination would be also prohibited in federally funded programs including food assistance, federal contracting, disaster assistance, and more.

Adds Explicit Nondiscrimination Protections for LGBTQ People
The Equality Act will explicitly add “sexual orientation and gender identity” to existing civil rights laws, meaning that LGBTQ people will be expressly protected in key areas of everyday life, including housing, health care, public accommodations, education, and more. Currently 29 states do not have laws that explicitly protect LGBTQ people from such discrimination. Without the Equality Act, LGBTQ Americans remain at risk from being evicted from their homes, kicked out of a business that is open to the public, denied health care or turned away from government services simply because of who they are.

“While the Equality Act is often understood as a bill to prohibit discrimination against LGBTQ people, it does so much more. For example, it’s truly shocking that in our day and age, federal law still doesn’t bar a retail store from kicking out a customer based on the color of their skin. No one should have to live in fear of discrimination simply because of who they are – that’s true for women and people of color, in addition to LGBTQ people. It’s time to update our nation’s laws to make sure everyone is protected as they go about their daily lives, especially during this tumultuous time,” said Ineke Mushovic, Executive Director of the Movement Advancement Project.

Winnie Stachelberg, Executive Vice President, External Affairs, Center for American Progress:
“We have an incredible opportunity to update our nondiscrimination laws to ensure they are responsive to people’s needs and lived experiences and reflect the will of the vast majority of Americans. A recent study found over half of Black shoppers reported personally experiencing unfair treatment because of their race or skin color. The Equality Act would modernize our laws to not only provide critical protections for LGBTQ people but also extend existing protections and ensure people of color, religious Americans, women, and immigrants can’t be refused service in retail stores and other public spaces. This move is supported by over 300 major companies as well as nearly 70% of small business owners.”

Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal, Executive Director of Lawyers for Civil Rights:
“In Massachusetts, we have seen firsthand that people of color and immigrants regularly experience discrimination in places of public accommodation, from museums to transit stations. We need robust, nationwide protections for these individuals so they can't be denied service and otherwise discriminated against. The Equality Act would extend these vital protections and ensure that LGBTQ people, people of color, women, immigrants, and people of minority faiths enjoy the right of equal access.”

Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, Deputy Executive Director for the National Center for Transgender Equality:
“The Equality Act is critical for the protection against discrimination that it would provide to LGBTQ people, but the positive impact is much broader. The Equality Act also modernizes the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to expand protections against discrimination in public spaces and for services. A lot has changed since 1964 and the Equality Act will close the gaps that have grown since this landmark civil rights law.”

Sunu Chandy, Legal Director of the National Women’s Law Center:
“As with our other civil rights laws, the Equality Act is an important piece of the on-going fight for the collective liberation of women and LGBTQ individuals. The National Women’s Law Center is proud to support this Act that will not only cement protections for LGBTQ individuals in key areas, but also finally include federal protections against sex discrimination that remains rampant in too many public spaces and federally funded programs -- including in the forms of gender-based pricing and sexual harassment.”

Debra L. Ness, President, National Partnership for Women & Families:
“The Capitol riot and the coronavirus pandemic have revealed the toll that racism and hatred have exacted on our nation. Part of our response must include the passage of the Equality Act. The Act strengthens civil rights protections for Black, indigenous, and people of color, women, immigrants, and people of minority faiths. The law bars denial of service or discrimination in retail stores and shopping malls. The Equality Act will also protect LGBTQ people and all women from discrimination in workplaces, housing, education, and public spaces. By advancing fairness and equality for all women, LGBTQ, and BIPOC people, the Equality Act will strengthen our democracy for all who live here.”

Calla Rongerude, Director of Open to All: 
“It’s shocking that federal law does not protect Black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC), women, immigrants and people of minority faiths from being denied service and discriminated against in retail stores, shopping malls and similar places. Sephora’s Racial Bias in Retail study found that Black retail shoppers are 2.5 times more likely than white shoppers to receive unfair treatment based on their skin color, while BIPOC shoppers are 2 times more likely than white shoppers to receive unfair treatment based on their ethnicity. Updating the law would both extend those vital protections and ensure that LGBTQ people are protected from discrimination in these and other areas.” Open to All is a public education campaign with 500,000 business members and 200 nonprofit partners that unites and galvanizes national leaders in business, civic engagement, and the nonprofit sector to support the shared American values of fairness and equality.

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Sexual Orientation Policy Tally

The term “sexual orientation” is loosely defined as a person’s pattern of romantic or sexual attraction to people of the opposite sex or gender, the same sex or gender, or more than one sex or gender. Laws that explicitly mention sexual orientation primarily protect or harm lesbian, gay, and bisexual people. That said, transgender people who are lesbian, gay or bisexual can be affected by laws that explicitly mention sexual orientation.

Gender Identity Policy Tally

“Gender identity” is a person’s deeply-felt inner sense of being male, female, or something else or in-between. “Gender expression” refers to a person’s characteristics and behaviors such as appearance, dress, mannerisms and speech patterns that can be described as masculine, feminine, or something else. Gender identity and expression are independent of sexual orientation, and transgender people may identify as heterosexual, lesbian, gay or bisexual. Laws that explicitly mention “gender identity” or “gender identity and expression” primarily protect or harm transgender people. These laws also can apply to people who are not transgender, but whose sense of gender or manner of dress does not adhere to gender stereotypes.

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