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Say yes to the Equality Act

| Thursday, March 11, 2021

On Feb. 24, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 5, the Equality Act. Supported by President Biden, the bill seeks to amend current civil rights law to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. If passed, the Equality Act would be the most powerful piece of legislation in protection of basic rights for the LGBTQ+ community since 2015’s Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court ruling, which legalized marriage for same-sex couples in every state.

At the current moment in America, LGBTQ+ people are not protected as equals. They can be turned away from adoption agencies for their sexuality, they can be denied service at a hospital for their gender identity and their most recent legislation gain — Obergefell v. Hodges — has been stated by the GOP as one of the most crucial pieces of legislation to overturn. Hate crimes and homophobia are still rampant: Already in 2021, the Human Rights Campaign has reported 10 violent murders of transgender and gender non-conforming individuals. In 2020, there were 44 murders, mostly of transgender women of color, the highest rate since 2013.

Additionally, the mental health implications from discrimination LGBTQ+ youth face cannot be understated: Non-heterosexual youth are five times as likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual youth, and the rates are even higher for transgender and gender non-conforming kids. LGBTQ+ people need protection now. Passing the Equality Act would send a long overdue sign to LGBTQ+ Americans: America still cares about you and wants to protect you. 

Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 uses an expansive interpretation of Congress’s power to regulate interstate commerce to prohibit discrimination and segregation in places of public accommodation, such as hotels, restaurants, theatres and stadiums. The Equality Act would add protections for sexual orientation and gender identity, and would expand the list of covered facilities to include “any establishment that provides a good, service, or program.” The most important programs that LGBTQ+ people would regain access to are federal health and welfare programs.

In late January 2021, the Trump administration rolled back the language “sexual orientation and gender identity” from groups that could not be discriminated against. As a result, federal adoption agencies can deny same-sex couples from providing a child with a home. This policy only harms all parties involved; the parents who so desire a kid and the kid who so desires a home. The Equality Act would allow more families to blossom in America, helping Americans live freely and happily. 

The Equality Act’s proposed amendments to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 would also expand facility access to include all gender identities. Section 1101 of the bill makes its intention clear: “An individual shall not be denied access to a shared facility, including a restroom, a locker room and a dressing room, that is in accordance with the individual’s gender identity.” For transgender individuals, especially trans women, this is a huge relief.

As Karen Schilt and Laurel Westbrook found in their paper “Bathroom Battlegrounds and Penis Panics”, transgender people are at a much higher risk of being the victim of violence than they are to incite it. Furthermore, Schilt and Westbrook could find no evidence that any sexual assault occurring in a restroom after policies in favor of transgender people were put into place. The Equality Act would only protect more people from assault and discrimination as they use a restroom and other shared facilities. 

The Equality Act would also allow transgender athletes to participate in sports aligning with their gender identity. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 was passed to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex in educational institutions receiving federal financial assistance. Expanding these protections to gender identity, which the Equality Act does by amending Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, would require federally funded schools to allow trans men and women to finally be recognized on the teams they should play for based on their gender identity.

Some may argue that this legislation would hurt women’s sports by allowing biological men to participate. I would argue that no cisgender man would claim to be a transgender woman just to play on the women’s soccer team. The amount of discrimination and hate faced by transgender women — murders, assaults — would not be something one volunteers to do to merely play on a different gender soccer team.

Transgender people are at a discriminatory disadvantage; an individual chooses it for the freedom of living their best life, not for the ability to score more goals. Rather than reinforcing that sex has to be tied to gender through forcing transgender athletes to play on the team aligning with their birth sex, we can uplift who they really are and let them play on the team that aligns with their gender. The Equality Act allows for this liberation, which will lead to health benefits for transgender people, especially transgender youth.

As an LGBTQ+ student at Notre Dame for almost four years, I have faced my fair share of discrimination. It was harder for me to find friends because some people were uninterested once I told them I was gay. It was sometimes hard to find roommates because people didn’t want to live with a gay person out of fear of the repercussions on their life. I recall not being invited to dances or SYRs because of my sexuality. I have had people try to convince me that I should not support gay marriage — my own rights!

These homophobic instances continue to happen at Notre Dame. I have loved my time at Notre Dame and have found a group of friends that uplift me for who I am, but some days can be really hard. Reading yesterday’s “Say no to the Equality Act” was hard; I have not been as vocal as I would have liked for the past four years, and I could not continue to stay silent.

If this University wants to include all people, supporting this bill sends a message to its LGBTQ+ faculty, staff, alumni, students and prospective students: We value your place on this campus and want to uplift you as valued members of our community. You are not only tolerated but loved; God made you to be who you are, and we want to support you as you climb the ladder to equality in America.

As America’s premier institution of Catholic higher education, Notre Dame has an important obligation to defend their LGBTQ+ students in the public sphere. The Equality Act is a massive gain for LGBTQ+ people both within and outside of the Catholic Church because it comes closer to protecting their constitutional rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

In 2020, Pope Francis stated that LGBTQ+ people deserve to be recognized with civil unions — a baby step in the right direction to include LGBTQ+ Catholics. While the step wasn’t as far as some hoped, the Catholic Church is trending toward accepting gay “marriage” as just any other marriage, a place that legislation in America has reached. As the public debates over the merits of Congress’s new civil rights proposals, the University should similarly lend her voice on these important moral issues.

Margaret D’Auria

senior class vice president

Mar. 9

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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