During Taylor Swift’s appearance at the annual MTV Video Music Awards, she called out President Donald Trump for ignoring a petition she began circulating in May in support of the Equality Act. The sweeping nondiscrimination bill would expand protections for the LGBTQ community in employment, housing, education, public accommodations, credit and lending.
The Equality Act passed the House of Representatives despite 173 Republicans voting against it. Eight Republicans voted in favor and seven Democrats did not vote on the bill. The Senate has not taken up the legislation. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has blocked many of the bills the House has passed this year from being considered in the Senate. A senior White House official told The Washington Blade that the president opposes it.
Swift said of the petition, “It now has half a million signatures, which is five times the amount that it would need to warrant a response from the White House.”
In June, Swift released a pride-themed song, “You Need to Calm Down.” The video featured LGBTQ celebrities, including Laverne Cox, Hayley Kiyoko, Jonathan Van Ness, and Hannah Hart. The lyrics included, “You just need to take several seats and then try to restore the peace and control your urges to scream about all the people you hate.” It won Video of the Year on Monday night.
Swift said, “In this video several points were made, so you voting for this video means that you want a world where we’re all treated equally under the law.”
LGBTQ people, and trans women of color in particular face discrimination in housing and employment as well as in restaurants and bars. Last weekend, a group of trans women were thrown out of a Los Angeles bar, Las Perlas, after a straight couple began hurling transphobic and threatening statements at them, such as “You are all dudes” and “We will come back and kill you.”
A male patron slapped one of the women in the bar and the couple became aggressive, the women said. The bar staff chose to remove the couple and the trans women being attacked. This incident of security dragging trans patrons out of the bar was caught on film.
Video showed one man wrapping his arm around the neck of one of the women to lead her out. Another can be seen repeatedly grabbing the shoulders and arms of one woman as she told him to take his hands off of her. The incident between the trans patrons and the couple is being investigated by the Los Angeles Police Department as a possible hate crime.
On Saturday, protesters went to Las Perlas to protest the staff’s treatment of the group. Las Perlas initially attempted to defend its actions. But on Sunday, it released a revised statement which read, “Our first and primary concern, and has been from day one, is to operate a safe place for all people. Period, no exceptions. We regret that didn’t happen Friday night, and want to apologize to all of our guests including the Transgender community, a community who has come to our bar as well as works there.”
Another incident involving poor treatment of a trans women by staff at an establishment occurred last year when Charlotte Clymer, a trans woman, was stopped by a male attendant when she tried to use the bathroom at the Cuba Libre Restaurant in Washington, D.C. The restaurant’s manager threatened to call the police and ultimately asked her to leave. The restaurant ultimately had to pay a $7,000 penalty as part of a settlement for violating D.C.’s nondiscrimination provisions.
Right now, LGBTQ people have to rely on a patchwork of state protections to protect them against discrimination in public accommodations such as restaurants and bars. The Equality Act would change that. At present, protections under Title II of the Civil Rights act of 1964 cover race, color, religion and national origin.
Jenny Pizer, law and policy director for Lambda Legal, said Las Perlas is “exactly the kind of establishment” the framers of the law had in mind when they took on racial segregation in hotels and motels, restaurants and bars, and public transportation.
Although the trans women who were thrown out of the restaurant have protections in their state, there are many trans women across the country who don’t. The Equality Act would include sex under the current definition of public accommodations. It would also expand the definition of public accommodations to cover retail businesses, professional services and some other types of businesses.
“They understood that everyone needs equal access to these businesses in order to move freely and participate fully in public life,” Pizer said of the authors of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
“But they didn’t set out to address the many types of discrimination against women in these public spaces, which means we have not been able to make the legal arguments about sex discrimination against LGBTQ people in public spaces that we make about employment, healthcare, housing, credit and education.”
She added, “This is one of the reasons the Equality Act is needed with great urgency in the many states that lack this protection in state law. The trans women ejected from Las Perlas in Los Angeles have legal recourse against that business because California does forbid gender identity discrimination by places of public accommodation. Everyone, everywhere needs that same protection.”
Only 21 states, two territories, and the District of Columbia have passed laws explicitly prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, according to the Movement Advancement Project. Twenty-one states and D.C. have laws explicitly prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in housing, and 20 states and D.C. explicitly prohibit discrimination in public accommodations. Fifteen states have non-discrimination laws covering credit discrimination.
In October, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments about whether LGBTQ workers are protected by the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Many LGBTQ advocates and legal experts argue that case law establishes these protections already exist under the law. If the Court rules against LGBTQ workers, it would make the Equality Act even more critical for Congress to pass.