The Equality Act – the landmark civil rights legislation that would provide comprehensive federal protections for the LGBTQ community in employment, housing, public accommodations, public education, and more – is closer than ever to becoming law. Last Thursday, the House of Representatives passed the Equality Act by a bipartisan vote of 224 to 206, making it only the second time a chamber of Congress has passed a comprehensive LGBTQ civil rights bill. We now need the Senate to pass the bill. When they do, President Biden has already pledged to sign it into law.
The Equality Act has been at the forefront of many of my conversations with companies, organizations, and other movement leaders for years. I listen to story after upsetting story of discrimination that LGBTQ people have gone through due to the lack of protections. I share my own fears of living in a country where, because of my sexual orientation, I could face the same. I share with them that as a CEO of a queer organization staffed largely by queer staff, I want to protect my employees and all that they can contribute to the world. As a mother of two daughters, I want to protect them from knowing a country that doesn’t extend civil rights to everyone. I want our country’s laws to protect me and everyone else in our community.
From a young age, we are taught in school that America was built on the foundation that everyone is created equal – but we all know equality in creation has not translated to equality under the law. The truth is that equality has never been a reality in America, but we are living in a time of change. Recent polls show that 7 in 10 Americans support nondiscrimination protections for the LGBTQ community – across party lines, religious affiliation, location, and more. Additionally, 83% of all voters support President Biden’s executive actions prohibiting workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
This support did not materialize overnight. It represents decades of work by activists, LGBTQ organizations, and America’s leading businesses.
The business community has risen to be one of the most vocal and powerful advocates for equality because the business case is so compelling. They know that inclusive workplaces – where employees are unencumbered by fears of discrimination – are proven leaders in innovation, retention, and performance. That means that companies who value LGBTQ workplace inclusion are positioned to be the most effective and competitive. When everyone can show up to work without fear of discrimination for who they are or who they love, it translates to a better bottom line.
In the last twenty years, major businesses have repeatedly pressed lawmakers to extend equality to LGBTQ people. While LGBTQ civil rights have lagged behind, the business community has spoken up and has worked to fill in the gaps. Major companies have implemented sexual orientation and gender identity nondiscrimination protections, offered equitable benefits for LGBTQ employees and families, and have adopted leading best practices to create cultures of inclusion and belonging.
The business community is often in a position to affirm its own values and practices in order to even the playing field for LGBTQ people’s rights. Business leaders know that they have a responsibility to their employees, their shareholders, and customers to advocate for fairness and equality. And in this next year – a year in which each mind, every voice and all talent will be required to pull the US out of and recover from the health and economic devastation the COVID-19 health pandemic – I can’t imagine a more critical time to optimize our workplaces.
It’s time for Congress to learn from the business community and pass the Equality Act to finally close the door on discrimination against the LGBTQ community.