End the duopoly

Will the Equality Act reframe how we talk about LGBTQ Americans?

As the country trains its gaze on the 2020 presidential election, for LGBTQ Americans, there are similarly important political contests to keep an eye on: next year’s Senate elections.

That’s because, in May, the Democrat-led House of Representatives passed the Equality Act, an expansive bill that would protect against anti-LGBTQ discrimination in all aspects of commercial and public life. If the Democrats retain the House and win the Senate in 2020, many expect that they would have the votes to send the measure to the President’s desk.

CNN is set to host an LGBTQ town hall with 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, where the Equality Act is sure to be discussed, airing on Thursday from 7:30 p.m. to 12 a.m. ET.

The substantive value of the Equality Act isn’t tough to understand. It would, without religious exemption, “prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation,” including in regards to employment, housing, and private and public services. (Notably, the Supreme Court is grappling with a comparable set of issues this week.)

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But the legislation feels all the more powerful in light of its broader messaging potential: If it gains enough support in Congress, its explicit affirmation of LGBTQ rights and the lives they protect could help to fundamentally change the character of how America has traditionally portrayed LGBTQ people.

Recall the ways various governments and institutions have historically vilified queerness. The mid-century “lavender scare,” championed by then-Sen. Joseph McCarthy, set off purges of thousands of gay men and women from the national security apparatus. A 1953 executive order from then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower instructed federal agencies to investigate employees who might pose risks to their work (and to the country); this included people suspected of “sexual perversion” — aka of being homosexual — which could get you fired.


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