Democrats ban LGBT employment discrimination in the House of Representatives

The United States Capitol in Washington, D.C.
The United States Capitol in Washington, D.C. | (PHOTO: UNSPLASH.COM/Andy Feliciotti)

The newly-elected Democrat majority in the U.S. House of Representatives wasted no time in adopting rule changes that ban employment discrimination against LGBT people in the lower chamber and requires House members to take ethics training.

The House last week voted and adopted a rules package that will govern the House’s operations for the entirety of the 116th Congress.

Included in the rules package were three proposals authored by openly gay Rep. David Cicilline, D-RI, who co-chairs the LGBT Equality Caucus.

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The package includes “anti-discrimination protections” that Cicilline’s office says will “ensure LGBT House employees are treated equally in the workplace.” The provision bans employment discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation.

“The new requirements closely mirror employment protections that Cicilline has introduced as part of the Equality Act – his bipartisan, comprehensive bill to extend anti-discrimination protections to all LGBT Americans,” a press release reads.  

Among other things, the Equality Act would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to sexual orientation and gender identity among the social categories that are protected from discrimination under the law.

The bill defines “sex” to include things like sex stereotypes, sexual orientation, pregnancy, childbirth, and gender identity.

The bill also expands the definition of public accommodation. Under the law, the Department of Justice could bring a civil action on the basis of things like being denied equal used of a public facility (like a bathroom or locker room) owned and operated by the state. However, public schools and colleges seem to be exempt from that part of the bill.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has vowed to pass the Equality Act in the new Congress. However, the legislation is likely to face opposition in the Republican-controlled Senate. “[P]rotecting the rights of LGBT employees is just the right thing to do,” Cicilline said in a statement. “After years of Republican mismanagement, Democrats are going to get Congress working again.”

The bill comes as employment discrimination against LGBT people is not explicitly banned under federal law. However, LGBT employment discrimination is banned under Washington, D.C., law.  

The rules package will also force members of Congress to take an annual ethics training course that Cicilline says “makes it clear that we are serious about rooting out corruption wherever and whenever it occurs.” Among the changes is a provision that bans members from serving on the boards of corporations.

“Government at its best works for the benefit of all Americans, not just the powerful and privileged,” Cicilline said. “I am pleased that the House wasted no time today moving forward on these commonsense ideas.”

The rules package has been praised by LGBT activists. David Stacy, government affairs director at the pro-LGBT Human Rights Campaign, called the passing of the provisions a “historic moment for our country.”

“For the first time ever, discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity will be banned in the House of Representatives,” he said in a statement. “This action to protect LGBTQ congressional employees from discrimination is the result of millions of Equality Voters going to the polls in November to ensure their voices were heard and demanding a Congress that looks like America.”

The LGBT Congressional Staff Association also praised the rules package.

“This historic addition to the House rules will provide crucial job security for LGBTQ staff in the House of Representatives,” the association expressed in a press release. “This  move also sends a powerful message about the importance of diversity within   the institution we serve, saying that LGBTQ individuals are welcome on Capitol Hill and that the House of Representatives values and respects the   identity and dignity of all LGBTQ people.”

Many Christian conservatives have spoken out in the past against attempts to codify sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes under the law.

The Family Research Council, an evangelical Washington, D.C.-based social conservative advocacy group, published an issue brief last month stating that SOGI (sexual orientation and gender identity) laws are “invasive and cause tangible harms.”

“In the case of public employers, such laws at the local and state level have led to large settlements being paid at taxpayers’ expense,” FRC Senior Fellow Peter Sprigg wrote in the brief.  

In his brief, Sprigg also stated that “SOGI laws are not justified in principle.”

“The federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, for example, bars discrimination based on ‘race, color, national origin, sex, and religion,’ Sprigg wrote. “The first four of these are clearly part of a person’s innate identity, with ‘race, color,’ and ‘sex’ being biological factors identifiable at birth. A large part of the reason why discrimination on these bases is considered unjust is because these characteristics are indisputably inborn, involuntary, and immutable.”

“Religion is different in that it is voluntary and involves both beliefs and behaviors,” he added. “However, freedom of religion is explicitly protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution — which is silent on issues of ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity.’ ‘Sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity’ are considerably more complex than these other characteristics and involve a combination of feelings, sense of identity, and outward behaviors.”

Sprigg concluded that gender identity laws “violate the privacy of others.”

“Such laws allow biological males (who claim to be female) to access private spaces like showers, locker rooms, and bathrooms designated for women, allowing them to be nude or in various states of undress even if they have never altered their bodies through gender reassignment surgery,” he contended. “This could be, and has been, very disturbing to those (especially sexual assault victims, or residents of battered women’s shelters) who are coerced into situations where they are exposed to, or find their own bodies exposed before, such individuals.”

Follow Samuel Smith on Twitter: @IamSamSmith

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