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  • Bella Guerra

The Volatile Partisan Divide Surrounding the Equality Act

Updated: Mar 19, 2021

One of the latest pieces of legislation surrounding women is the Equality Act, an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other civil rights legislation such as the Fair Housing Act and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act.

The Equality Act aims to holistically prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity by providing consistent and explicit non-discrimination protections, especially given that there are only 22 states in the United States that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Although there have been a number of recent attempts to provide similar non-discrimination practices, such as the June 2020 Supreme Court Ruling on Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia that provided various anti-discrimination laws in individual states, the act attempts to be a more all-encompassing solution to preventing discrimination based on sex and gender identity.

The Equality Act was passed by the House of Representatives in 2019 and has been endorsed by big names like Taylor Swift. Research by the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute in 2019 found that a majority of Americans support legislation like the Equality Act.

The act died in committee in the Senate but was brought back into the limelight recently when President Joe Biden pledged to make passing the act a “top priority” for his first 100 days. Biden has also taken action with a slew of executive orders, requiring the enforcement of the Bostock v. Clayton County and applying the decision to prevent the discrimination of transgender athletes.

Many of the Equality Act's critics portray it as an explicitly “anti-woman act," claiming that the act is an outright attack on the rights that women have fought for.

"If the law passes … then every right that women have fought for will cease to exist," said Julia Beck, policy chairwoman of Baltimore’s LGBTQ Commision, during the House Committee in 2019. Beck and other Equality Act critics believe that the idea of gender identity undermines the female identity and gives transgender women an unfair advantage in athletics.

During the 2019 House Committee meeting, Dorian Coleman, a law professor at Duke University, stated that physical and hormonal differences in men give them a distinct advantage in athletics, which attacks the freedoms offered in Title IX of the Education Amendment of 1972. The amendment protects people from discrimination on the basis of sex in education or programs that receive federal assistance.

There is also a common argument among Republicans that opening up facilities like bathrooms and locker rooms to members of the opposite sex will increase risk of sexual assault by inviting men to “pretend” to be a woman to use the woman’s bathroom and prey on women.

Although many Republicans seem to desire to portray Equality Act as an attack on women’s rights and inherently anti-femenist, many Democrats have pointed to these arguments as deliberately villainizing transgender people and denying their gender identity on the basis of their personal beliefs."It just strains credulity to think that an individual who is undergoing such a deeply personal transformation as transitioning away from the gender assigned at birth would do so opportunistically simply because they wanted a gold medal in some track meet," said Kenji Yoshin, a constitutional law professor at New York University, during the first 2015 hearing of the Equality Act.

Additionally, many healthcare and human rights groups have cited that discriminatory practices in sports has dangerous mental health consequences that is illustrated through the disturbingly high rate of attempted suicide, with the American Academy of Pediatrics reporting that over half of transgender male teens and 29.9 percent of transgender female teens reported attempting suicide.

As for the accusation that somehow predators will “weaponize” anti-discriminatory laws to sexually assault women, there is much proof that this idea is a fear-mongering tactic not altogether rooted in fact. Dozens of states and cities have enacted similar non-discrimination laws and have not reported upticks in sexual assault. Sexual Assault is a crime no matter where the crime takes place and the perpertrators gender identity has no bearing on the criminality of the act.

Moreover, not only is this characterization of legislation like the Equality Act completely inaccurate, it legitimizes the characterization of transgender people as dangerous (a la Silence of the Lambs). This characterization has troubling implications, such as the 44 transgender or gender non-conforming people who were killed in 2020 alone, with many of the cases involving clear anti-transgender bias. .

Many supporters of the Equality Act seem to be in consensus that arguments by their Republican colleagues have minimized and villanized the identities of transgender people, an already marginalized group, and reduced them to calculated and predatory individuals.

Despite the importance of spirited debate, the continued partisan divide over this topic has pinned transgender and cisgender women against each other in a way that is neither fruitful nor productive. Rather, it is inciting anger and hate in a way that hinders the possibility of productive, bipartisan conversations surrounding pro-women legislation.

Even if President Biden’s continued push for the passing of the Equality Act proves to be successful and the legislation is put into law, transgender people will continue to be marginalized and overlooked in the feminist movement for fear of partisanship unless citizens begin to recognize the validity of transgender people.

It is therefore vital to continuously involve transgender women in feminist conversations. We must encourage intersectionality and provide a productive space where all women’s voices are heard.

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