Supporters of the bill insist it is designed to enshrine LGBTQ protections in the nation’s labor and civil rights laws.
It amends existing civil rights law to explicitly include sexual orientation and gender identification as protected characteristics, meaning that a person’s sexuality or gender identity cannot be used against them for employment, housing, loan applications, education, public accommodations and other areas.
Critics argue that, by removing the question of a person’s biological sex at birth, they are allowing transgender men to compete in women’s sport.
The bill does not mention sport, and yet the issue has been seized on by Republicans, and was picked up by Trump at CPAC.
Donald Trump on Sunday waded into the controversy surrounding the Equality Act
The bill was passed by the House 224-206 on Thursday and now moves to the Senate
‘Young girls and women are incensed that they are now being forced to compete against those who are biological males,’ Trump said.
‘It’s not good for women, it’s not good for women’s sports, which worked so long and so hard to get where they are.’
On Tuesday Inez Stepman, senior policy analyst at Independent Women’s Forum, claimed that the effects of removing sex from criteria had already been felt.
‘In Connecticut, two biologically male athletes won a combined 15 girls state championship races, allegedly taking opportunities for further competition and scholarships from female runners in June 2019,’ she wrote in The Wall Street Journal.
Trump on Sunday built on Stepman’s theme, stating: ‘The records that stood for years, even decades, are now being smashed with ease.
‘If this is not changed women’s sports as we know it will die.’
Trump’s CPAC speech in Orlando on Sunday marked his return to the political front lines
The House passed the Equality Act in the last Congress with unanimous Democratic support and the backing of eight Republicans, but Trump’s White House opposed the measure and it was not considered in the Senate, where 60 votes will be needed to overcome procedural hurdles.
Democrats are trying to revive it now that they have control of Congress and the White House, but passage still appears unlikely in the evenly divided Senate.
Trump insisted on Sunday that they had been right to block it.
‘You know, for years the weightlifting, every ounce is like a big deal for many years,’ Trump said. ‘All of a sudden somebody comes along and beats it by 100 pounds.’
Trump declared: ‘We must protect the integrity of women’s sports. So important.’
Many Republicans in the House agreed, with Lauren Boebert, representative for Colorado, tweeting: ‘Why are we changing the culture of the entire country around and wrecking sports for 0.42% of the population?’
But the ACLU said that those opposing the Equality Act were guilty of ‘transphobia’.
Tennis star Martina Navratilova and four-time Olympics gold medalist runner Sanya Richards-Ross argued in a 2019 op-ed that the bill, which passed 236-173 that year, would ensure ‘there will always be significant numbers of boys and men who would beat the best girls and women in head-to-head competition.’
They wrote: ‘We support transgender women and girls and their right to equality, and we recognize their personal struggle. We don’t worry that boys and men will feign transgender identity to gain an advantage.
‘But we do hope that lawmakers won’t make the unnecessary and ironic mistake of sacrificing the enormously valuable social good that is female sports in their effort to secure the rights of transgender women and girls.’
Biden made clear his support for the Equality Act in the lead-up to last year’s election, saying it would be one of his first priorities.
Mary Gay Scanlon, a Democrat representative for Pennsylvania, said the Equality Act is needed to end ‘the patchwork of state laws’ around gay rights and create ‘uniform nationwide protection.’
‘It’s been personal since my baby sister came out to me almost 40 years ago,’ Scanlon said.
‘For many people all across this country and across this House, that is when the fight hits home.’
The debate among lawmakers on Capitol Hill also become personal.
Marie Newman, a Democrat representative for Illinois, whose daughter is transgender, tweeted a video of herself placing a transgender flag outside her office.
Her office is across the hall from Georgia representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, an avowedly Trumpian firebrand.
‘Our neighbor, @RepMTG, tried to block the Equality Act because she believes prohibiting discrimination against trans Americans is ‘disgusting, immoral, and evil.’ Thought we’d put up our Transgender flag so she can look at it every time she opens her door.,’ Newman tweeted.
Greene responded with a video of her own in which she puts up a sign that reads: ‘There are Two genders: MALE and FEMALE. ‘Trust The Science!’
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi pointed to the exchange to advocate for the bill Thursday.
‘It breaks my heart that it is necessary, but the fact is, and in fact we had a sad event here even this morning, demonstrating the need for us to have respect,’ Pelosi said, at one point pausing and taking a deep sigh.
‘Not even just respect, but take pride, take pride in our LGBT community.’
Gay and lesbian members of Congress spoke about how meaningful the bill is for them.
‘Look, we’re not asking for anything that any other American doesn’t already enjoy,’ said Chris Pappas, a Democrat representative for New Hampshire.
‘We just want to be treated the same. We just want politicians in Washington to catch up with the times and the Constitution.’