This post has been updated on 2/19/21 after Congressman David Cicilline and Senator Jeff Merkley reintroduced the Equality Act (H.R. 5) to the 117th Congress. The House of Representatives is expected to vote on the Equality Act next week.
On January 21, I breathed just a hair more freely than I have for the entirety of the past four years. In the face of rampant voter suppression, thanks to the relentless dedication of countless organizers and activists, Democrats ousted the Trump-Pence administration from the presidency and took back control of the Senate with a razor-thin margin.
As any activist will tell you, though, now the real work begins.
In the devastation left in the wake of the 2016 election, many of us — myself included — turned to political action in ways we never had before. I started calling my elected officials diligently in 2017, but after a few months gave up on that effort. With Republicans controlling Congress and the presidency, it didn’t matter how often I told my Democratic senators and representative that I wanted them to push back against the Trump agenda: Republicans were going to barrel through their plans one way or another and the fights that did happen — most notably the attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act — happened in Republican-held jurisdictions. I was left feeling powerless and like my voice didn’t matter and, for the most part, that was true. Trump and McConnell did as they pleased, and every other Republican pretty much always fell right in line behind them.
But things are different now. The 2020 election isn’t what so many of us wanted. Biden wasn’t who most of us supported in the primary, and the Democratic majorities in Congress are incredibly slim. Joe Manchin has far more power than I realistically trust him with. I know that his priorities are not our community’s priorities, and his insistence on holding onto the filibuster reflects that. But this is all the more reason why the time to call your elected officials is now — regardless of where you live, who represents you or your eligibility to vote in U.S. elections.
So we’re starting a new column where Autostraddle writers intermittently share an issue near and dear to our hearts that we would love this community to organize behind. We’ll share what’s at stake, what Congress can do and a brief script you can use to call your representatives.
Today I’m here to talk to you about the Equality Act.
In 2019, the House of Representatives passed the Equality Act to expand federal civil rights laws so that, regardless of the state where they live, people can’t be discriminated against on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation in, you know, life. The Republican-controlled Senate let it die in committee over the course of the next two years.
Last summer, in a surprise 6-3 ruling with Trump-appointee Neil Gorsuch (of all people) writing the majority opinion, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of LGBTQ+ employment protections in the case Bostock v. Clayton County. Gorsuch explicitly wrote: “An employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender defies the law.” Gorsuch’s logic even opened the door to anti-discrimination protections beyond employment because he reasoned that anti-discrimination protections on the basis of sex necessarily included protections for gender identity and sexual orientation.
And then… the Trump administration flagrantly defied the rule of law. Mere days after the landmark Bostock ruling, HHS eliminated anti-discrimination protections for trans people in health care, and a month later HUD followed suit with homeless shelters and federally-funded housing.
Last week, Biden made waves by signing an executive order to enforce the Supreme Court’s ruling for LGBTQ+ protections from last summer’s case. The headlines rolled in: “The Most Substantive, Wide-Ranging LGBTQ+ Executive Order in U.S. History” the Human Rights Campaign wrote. Slate called it “The Biggest Expansion of LGBTQ Equality in American History.” An op-ed in CNN described this executive order, along with Biden’s appointments of Dr. Rachel Levine and Pete Buttigieg, as “restoring hope” to the LGBTQ+ community.
But over in Autostraddle’s Slack channel, Natalie was keeping it real: “I mean, he’s literally just affirming a commitment to the law, but, you know, the bar’s in hell these days.”
Personally, when I heard news of the executive order, I was, of course, pleased. But mostly, my mind started counting the days until the pendulum swings back — as it invariably seems to, in American politics — and all these executive orders get wiped out by a new administration hell-bent on securing white Christian patriarchal rule. And the Trump administration has already proven that Supreme Court rulings only matter in so far as someone with power cares enough to enforce them.
Which is why we need the Equality Act to be the law of the land. Because trans rights can’t be here one day, gone the next every time there’s an election.
Here’s your script:
Hi! My name is //your name//, and I’m a constituent of Senator/Representative //name of official//. I’m calling about the Equality Act, which ensures anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ+ people in employment, housing, education, credit and public spaces. Across the Obama, Trump and Biden presidencies, protections for LGBTQ+ people have flipped back and forth through executive orders. President Trump, in particular, took away several life-saving protections for trans people. Trans rights can’t be here one day, gone the next. We need the Equality Act passed by Congress so that LGBTQ+ people are protected under federal civil rights law regardless of who’s in the White House. I urge the Senator/Representative to vote in favor of the Equality Act, H.R. 5. Thanks for your time.
Pro-tips for your call:
+ Practice saying the script before you call. Adjust the phrasing to what feels natural to you.
+ Make it personal. In 1 or 2 sentences, explain why LGBTQ+ civil rights matter to you, personally.
+ Make sure you say you are a “constituent.” If you live in the jurisdiction that the representative or senator represents in Congress, you are their constituent, even if you can’t vote. They may ask for your zip code or the name of the county or town/city you live in.
In addition to the Equality Act, which would change federal law, there’s a whole host of bills under consideration in state legislatures across the country that affect LGBTQ+ rights (see this list compiled by the ACLU). These range from a number of anti-trans bills targeting youth healthcare and athletics to bills that ensure anti-discrimination protections and make it possible to update gender markers on state IDs. Call your state elected officials about these bills to make sure LGBTQ+ rights are secured at the state level.
Pro-tips for calling your state officials:
+ Find your state legislators at OpenStates.com.
+ Clearly state your name and that you are a constituent.
+ Describe the issue, why you care and what you want the official to do. Since you’re calling about specific legislation, give the number of the bill and whether you want the official to vote for or against. For example, if you’re calling about the bill in Texas barring trans youths from athletics you would say, “I urge official so-and-so to vote against HB 68.”
I know there are many big issues at stake. The Trump administration left A LOT of destruction in its wake, and maybe the Equality Act isn’t your top Congressional priority. We’ll be back with other topics, but in the meanwhile share the top issues you want folks to call Congress about in the comments. And if there are any state or local priorities you’d like to highlight, drop those in the comments as well.
Live outside the U.S.? Any issues in your country you want to call attention to and have others in your area organize around? Share that in the comments too!
Oh, and do let us know how those calls went!