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Point of View: Yes, in many states, people can still be fired for being gay

Mary Sanchez
Mary Sanchez

Religious conservatives are cleearly confused and agitated.

After all, they gave it their best effort, endlessly admonishing about “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” They were insistent that love is only love when it occurs between a man and a woman.

But despite decades of political campaigns, pulpit pounding and other fervent attempts to portray gays and lesbians as less deserving of God’s love, less deserving of societal recognition and certainly unfit for marriage, those battles have largely been lost. Thank God.

Now, they’re circling back to old tropes, dismissing science yet again and doubling down on a new target — transgender people — in a new attempt to torpedo the Equality Act.

What is the Equality Act?

A mishmash of state laws currently governs LGBTQ protections. The result is that in about half of the states, LGBTQ people can lose employment, or be denied an apartment, or the right to be in a public space, due to their sexual identity or gender orientation. But they’d need a state-by-state guidebook to know where they have rights, what sort and where they don’t.

It’s astounding. The nation protects gay marriage and has an openly gay Cabinet member, but Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg and his husband could be fired or denied a house in many states.

The Equality Act would end that.

The Equality Act passed in the House on Feb. 25, 224-206. But in the Senate, gaining enough votes to override a filibuster is threatened. The Act would amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity along with the categories of race, religion, national origin, etc.

The stall tactic

The current attempt to gut the legislation and muddy the waters is for statehouses to proclaim that their efforts are to protect vulnerable children, usually little girls. Little girls who want to use a girls’ only bathroom, no trans girls allowed. Little girls who want to run track or play high school volleyball, again, no trans girls allowed.

Admittedly, many straight, cisgender people may be honestly confounded by the debate surrounding trans people. Nonbinary and transgender issues and rights may be something many don’t or would rather not contemplate. It may be because they assume that the issue is primarily about sex acts and genitalia, bedrooms and bathrooms, instead of just human beings who are equally deserving of rights and respect.

People don’t understand gender dysphoria, which is the emotional distress of a person whose gender identity doesn’t conform with the sex they were assigned at birth, usually determined by a doctor’s assessment of external genitalia.

Underline this part: The confusion is not coming from those born with gender dysphoria.

The muddy waters

A lot of the pushback is framed around protecting girl’s participation in sports.

Unfortunately, that argument is further stirred by some high-profile athletes who weighed in via a campaign that sought to protect Title IX, the federal law that has been used to guarantee equal access to sports for girls and women.

The Women’s Sports Policy Working Group supported the Equality Act, but with asterisks to reaffirm Title IX. Others argue that the distinctions they made are completely unnecessary.

The group proposed standards that would ask schools to differentiate between youth who had reached the onset of puberty and those who hadn’t or were using hormone therapy, while still advocating for trans youth’s participation in competitive sports.

The pushback came swiftly, with advocates saying that acceptance, not sliding scales to determine hormone limits are best for the health of children.

Nevertheless, the controversy only fueled other, less well-meaning campaigns. States are considering bills that would completely ban trans children from sports other than their assigned-at-birth gender, would limit the type of medical attention they could gain as minors, criminalize doctors who offered it and prohibit people from updating their birth certificates by name and gender.

It’s a lot of effort to fight what science and the medical profession knows about gender dysphoria: It’s real, and society can inflict suffering by pretending otherwise.

Time to catch up

The general public needs to catch up and not be misled by politicians or religious leaders spouting bad science.

Trans athletes don’t have a lock on outperforming cisgender athletes. There is no rush of boys claiming to be trans, just so that they can swoop in and dominate on girls’ sports teams. The NCAA and the organizations governing international competitions have standards to monitor for fairness.

And criminals like pedophiles are not swarming to claim transgender status so they can lurk and attack girls in bathrooms.

Religious conservatives, just like religious liberals, can believe whatever they wish to uphold under the banner of faith.

They can decry that their God disdains homosexuality, or conversely that God’s love is all encompassing.

They can claim that trans people are simply “confused,” or accept what science and medical professionals say.

No one should be able to discriminate against someone in a public space and call it their faith, their religious right to do so.

The Equality Act simply seeks to codify this fairness into law.

Readers can reach Mary Sanchez at and follow her on Twitter @msanchezcolumn.