LGBT Equality Act Hearings Unravel in a Transphobic War of Words

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jerry nadler

Tuesday’s hearings for the Equality Act began on on a lofty note. From there, events spiraled out of proponents’ control.

In his opening remarks, Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) set the stage. “Nearly 50 years after the Stonewall uprising, there is still no federal law that explicitly prohibits millions of lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender Americans from being denied medical care, being fired from their jobs or thrown out of their homes simply because of who they are.”

Nadler argued “it is time Congress changes that. Today the judiciary considers H.R. 5, the Equality Act. This is long overdue legislation that will explicitly prohibit discrimination against LGBT and gender non-conforming Americans and will strengthen non-discrimination protections for women and others. Today’s hearing also affords us the opportunity to hear about the enduring nature and extent of continuing discrimination faced by LGBT people in various aspects of American life.”

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From there, the hearings quickly erupted into a war of words. Specifically, conservatives tried to paint trans rights as antithetical to the rights of women.

Additionally, Republicans characterized the nondiscrimination legislation as advancing a “radical gender ideology.”

Basically Georgia GOP Rep. Doug Collins claimed that “women, lesbians, and families become the collateral damage of identity politics.” He argued the Democrat-sponsored bill would codify “stereotypes and sexism,” adding, “If the Democrats are determined to move this legislation forward anyway, we must recognize that it prioritizes the rights of biological men over the rights of biological women.”

Actually the bill seeks to expand the Civil Rights Act of 1964. That law bans discrimination based on race, sex and includes sexual orientation and gender identity.

Collins and his colleagues tanked the proceedings by reframing the argument. Conservatives claim the proposal creates an arbitrary distinction allowing men pretend to be women. In so doing, the bill blurs the line between sexes. According to the GOP judiciary committee, the law would define gender by attire and mannerisms. In Collins’ view, the bill would erase “women and girls as coherent categories worthy of civil rights protection.”

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Unlikely allies

It was a clever move of political jiujitsu. Rather than trans Americans acknowledged as victims, they were scorned as perpetrators of discrimination. Their strategy also allowed the religious right and their allies to pose as civil rights defenders.

More often than not, liberals were caught flatfooted. Compounding progressives’ troubles: the willing participation of some feminists in an unholy alliance. Former Baltimore LGBTQ Commission cochair Julia Beck added her voice to the chorus. She told the committee, ““We’ve given a lot of testimony to show how this would affect women negatively.”

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What’s Next

As it stands, the bill has no chance in the GOP-controlled Senate. Still to see Democrats on their heels in the face of a conservative steamroller left proponents dispirited.

Actually, the Equality Act actually proposes new protections for all women. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 1965 largely addressed ethnic minorities. They did not offer protections against sex discrimination in places of public accommodation, like restaurants and hotels. The new proposal includes sex — in addition to gender identity and sexual orientation and to the roster of protected classes in public.

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Last modified: July 26, 2019