LGBT Flag in front of congress

Historic Bill to End LGBT Discrimination Introduced

When I came out to my parents in high school as gay, I was fortunate enough to have their full acceptance and love. However, I remember my mom saying early on that she was saddened to know the difficulties I would now have to face because of my identity. But I was already aware of some of those challenges: bullying and homophobia, the inability to get married in most states and a ban on serving in the military.

While I was definitely concerned about bullying and homophobia generally, the latter two challenges seemed irrelevant to me at the time. What I didn’t know then was the rampant amount of discrimination I could face as a gay man and the lack of guaranteed protections I would have under federal law, which so many other vulnerable or marginalized communities have.

Over five years later, we’ve made significant progress: the ban on openly gay and lesbian service members was repealed and marriage equality is now the law of the land. Yet, a majority of states, as well as the federal government, still do not have explicit protections barring discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity and reports show that LGBT people face high levels of discrimination in many areas.

Soon, however, this could change dramatically.

Today, Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Representative David Cicilline (D-RI) introduced a historic bill, the Equality Act, which would explicitly ban discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations, federal funding, education, credit and jury selection based on actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity. By amending existing civil rights laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity, this bill will provide the same protections to LGBT people that are provided to other protected groups under federal law. In addition, it will strengthen existing civil rights laws by expanding the definition of public accommodations and ensuring that people are protected from discrimination based on their sex in public accommodations and federal funding.

Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, celebrated the bill’s introduction, stating:

“We applaud today’s introduction of the Equality Act, a long overdue, much-needed bill that would explicitly ban discrimination on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, public accommodations, education, federal funding, credit and jury selection. Since 1977, both the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis have been leaders in the faithful call for LGBT equality. Our LGBT congregants, neighbors and community members have lived without these critical, guaranteed protections for too long.”

Rabbi Pesner’s statement, which can be read in full here, reflects the historic role the Reform Movement has played in advocating for LGBT rights. 38 years ago, the Reform Movement called for an end to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and since then the Reform Movement has been a leading voice in advocating for an end to discrimination both based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the public sphere, as well as within our own Movement.

As Jews, we are taught that all human beings are created b’tzelem Elohim, in the Divine image (Genesis 1:27), and therefore deserve to live their lives free of discrimination. We are further taught that we have an obligation to speak out against injustice and these core principles have guided our LGBT advocacy over the decades. We are excited to continue playing a leading role in supporting LGBT equality by advocating for this new civil rights legislation and need your help to urge Congress to support this bill. Take action here to support the Equality Act!

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Jordan Dashow

About Jordan Dashow

Jordan Dashow is a 2014-2015 Eisendrath Legislative Assistant at the RAC. He graduated in 2014 from Tufts University and is originally from Plainview, NY where he is a member of Manetto Hill Jewish Center.


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