The Equality Act Would Give Trans People Legal Protection That's More Crucial Than Ever Now

ByMonica Busch
Mark Makela/Getty Images News/Getty Images

The Trump administration is considering legally defining gender in purely biological terms, according to a memo recently obtained by The New York Times, a move widely regarded by LGBTQ advocacy groups as an attack on trans rights. While officials push that re-definition forward, there are also proposals in Congress which aim to protect the LGBTQ community, and one of those is a bill known as the Equality Act. What it is, essentially, is a piece of legislation that would make it illegal to discriminate against people on the basis of their gender identity.

“Discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity is commonplace in our nation’s schools, workplaces, when people apply for housing, or are seeking medical treatment, as well as in simple day-to-day activities that many of us take for granted," Brenda Barron, Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) director of public policy, tells Bustle in a statement. Passing the Equality Act, she says, would make that type of discrimination illegal.

The Equality Act was introduced in May 2017 by Rep. David Cicilline, who said in a statement at the time that the "bill ensures that every LGBT person can live their lives free from the fear of discrimination." Cicilline introduced a similar piece of legislation in 2015, though it never moved forward.

The bill would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to make discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity illegal, particularly as they pertain to education, employment, housing, credit, federal jury service, public accommodations, and the use of federal funds, according to Cicilline and the bill's congressional summary.

Defining ‘sex’ in this narrow language tailored to the talking points of anti-equality extremists is part of a deliberate strategy to eliminate federal protections for LGBTQ people," Human Rights Council President Chad Griffin said in a statement. "This is a direct attack on the fundamental equality of LGBTQ people and, if this administration refuses to reverse course, Congress must immediately take action by advancing the Equality Act to ensure that LGBTQ people are explicitly protected by our nation’s civil rights laws."

The memo obtained by The Times came from the Department of Health and Human Services. The proposed definition would limit gender to a male/female binary, and under its limitations, a person's gender would determined by the genitals they have at birth.

“Sex means a person’s status as male or female based on immutable biological traits identifiable by or before birth,” the department wrote in the memo, according to The Times. “The sex listed on a person’s birth certificate, as originally issued, shall constitute definitive proof of a person’s sex unless rebutted by reliable genetic evidence.”

It's not immediately clear when the administration would formally present the proposed changes, but it has sent LGBTQ advocates reeling. The Equality Act could feasibly be one way to combat or prevent the proposed changes, writer Parker Malloy explained on Twitter on Sunday.

As it stands, the bill has 198 co-sponsors, though only two of those co-sponsors are Republicans. It will not feasibly move forward while Republicans continue to have a majority in the House, as trans issues do not have much support among Republicans, in general, relative to Democrats. This could potentially change after the upcoming November midterms, if Republicans lose their majority.

But whether or not this will happen is currently unclear, as so much depends on voter turnout, which can be difficult to predict. The fastest way to pass the Equality Act would be to not only call your representative, but to, as always, show up at the polls.