An estimated 6.7 million LGBTQ Americans live in one of the 29 states without comprehensive laws that explicitly protect them from discrimination. Someone’s ZIP code determines whether or not they’re protected from discrimination in the workplace, housing and public spaces where we all go about our daily lives.
As LGBTQ leaders in our respective states — Tennessee, where there are no laws protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination; and Iowa, where we do have a nondiscrimination law — we know firsthand how urgent it is to enact a uniform, nationwide law that protects all LGBTQ people, no matter what state they call home.
The degree to which you’re protected from discrimination shouldn’t vary from state to state or even community to community. Treating everyone fairly and ensuring every person has the opportunity to succeed is a fundamentally American value. But the patchwork of protections for LGBTQ Americans denies too many of us that core value.
Luckily, there’s a bill in Congress that would address this: the Equality Act. An overwhelming majority of Americans support provisions in the bill, which passed the House with bipartisan support and President Joe Biden has vowed to sign. Now, the Senate must act.
We’re emerging from the most virulently anti-LGBTQ nationwide legislative session in recent memory. Hundreds of bills that would undermine the dignity and humanity of LGBTQ people — particularly transgender youth — were introduced and advanced in state capitals this past year. Eight states enacted dangerous bans on trans kids participating in school sports. This wave of hostile bills isn’t in step with our nation’s values. (In fact, recent polling illustrates that an overwhelming majority of Americans in every single state support nondiscrimination measures, including a majority of conservatives.) But that doesn’t lessen the harm of their impact.
Let’s be clear: Protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination is not a partisan issue.
Iowa, a state with a Republican governor and a Republican-led state legislature, twice voted for Donald Trump and sends two Republican senators to Washington. And yet, Iowa provides its residents with strong nondiscrimination protections because we believe treating everyone fairly and equally is the right thing to do — full stop. When we fought for our nondiscrimination law here well over a decade ago, we heard many of the same scare tactics that opponents of LGBTQ equality are using today. None of those threats ever materialized here — or in any other state that has passed nondiscrimination laws.
While no harm has ever come to anyone simply from enacting nondiscrimination protections, Tennessee paints a clear picture of why the Equality Act is so urgently needed. This year alone, the state enacted a slew of anti-LGBTQ measures, many targeting transgender youth. It even enacted an unprecedented law that requires businesses to post a sign if they allow trans customers to use restrooms that align with their gender identity.
Just imagine the message these laws send and their impact on LGBTQ people. They do not represent American or even conservative principles. Arkansas’ Republican governor, Asa Hutchinson, understood the potential harm. In vetoing an anti-transgender health care bill, he noted that the legislation “really puts a very vulnerable population in a more difficult position. It sends the wrong signal to them. But also in my veto, I wanted to say to my Republican friends and colleagues that we’ve got to rethink our engagement in every aspect of the cultural wars.”
As leaders in these two red states, we know that the vast majority of our fellow Iowans and Tennesseans support nondiscrimination protections for their LGBTQ neighbors. Too many of us have just lived through another legislative session in which our humanity and dignity were debated on the floors of state capitals; and we held our collective breath — once again — as the Supreme Court took up issues related to our families and lives.
When so many Americans support nondiscrimination protections, we cannot and should not wait one minute longer. The Senate should act now to get the Equality Act over the finish line and on to the president’s desk.
Courtney Reyes is the executive director of One Iowa.
Chris Sanders is the executive director of the Tennessee Equality Project.
One Iowa and the Tennessee Equality Project recently joined 166 other organizations in calling on the Senate to pass the Equality Act.