Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, New York’s senior senator, wants voters to put heat on lawmakers to pass the Equality Act, a bill that would solidify comprehensive nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ Americans.
“You don’t leave bigotry up to the states,” Schumer said on April 8 during a virtual town hall meeting on the Equality Act. “You try and stomp it out.”
The New Pride Agenda, a statewide LGBTQ advocacy group, and Freedom for All Americans, a bipartisan campaign advocating for LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections, hosted the virtual Zoom town hall meeting. Activist Cecilia Gentili, who serves as a project manager for New Pride Agenda, spoke with Senator Schumer about his plans to garner enough support to pass the legislation.
The Equality Act would build on the Supreme Court victory in the Bostock case last year by affirming discrimination protections for LGBTQ people across housing, healthcare, education, and other areas of public life. Out gay Representative David Cicilline of Rhode Island is the bill’s lead sponsor in the lower house, where it passed in February for the first time since 2019. The bill has been introduced in the Senate, but faces long odds in a divided upper chamber still saddled by the filibuster.
Still, advocates are expressing optimism after Democrats narrowly regained control of the Senate and ousted former President Donald Trump.
“We’ve been fighting for these kinds of protections forever,” Gentili said. “With your leadership and the leadership of Speaker Pelosi and having President Biden in the Whitehouse, we have never had a better chance.”
During the Q&A, Gentili questioned Schumer on his response to opponents of the legislation and about his plans to defeat the filibuster. Gentili acknowledged that overcoming the filibuster would be a challenge.
“In case the filibuster is still a thing, will you work with colleagues on the other side of the aisle to pass this bill? And get those 60 votes?” she asked.
“We have no choice,” Schumer responded. “I don’t want this to be a partisan issue; this should be an American issue… We are going to work very hard to get our Republican colleagues to join us.”
Schumer reassured viewers on the Zoom that he has the power to bring bills to the Senate floor as he noted that the Equality Act is “very popular with the American people.”
The senator also took a jab at Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, who stood in the way of legislation such as the Equality Act when he led the upper chamber. In the lower house this year, three Republicans — Tom Reed of New York’s Ithaca region, John Katko of Syracuse, and Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania — voted in favor of the bill, down from the eight GOP lawmakers who voted for it in 2019.
“McConnell didn’t want to force anybody to vote on it, but I will,” Schumer said.
He added, “The Equality Act will get a vote in the Senate. Every senator will be forced to show where they stand on this issue. They won’t be able to duck and hide.”
The Zoom event also touched on pressing issues beyond the Equality Act. With more than a dozen transgender people violently killed thus far in 2021, advocates asked about the senator’s plans to combat deadly attacks on the trans community. Schumer noted that Congress would take up a bill to address the rising anti-LGBTQ and anti-trans hate crimes, which he attributed in part to the homophobia and transphobia of the Trump administration.
“In America, there [has] always been, unfortunately, bigotry, but the better forces and the better souls always try to push it down,” Schumer said. “Trump encouraged it.”
Even with Trump out of the way, passing legislation like the Equality Act is still proving to be a difficult battle. The Supreme Court’s ruling in the Bostock case last year marked a step forward in the fight for nationwide protections, but LGBTQ rights vary at the state and local level — and Gentili underscored that point as she made her own case for swift passage of the Equality Act.
“Every time I go to another state, I have to look at how the laws look,” Gentili said. “Some of us have to think twice before visiting family or traveling or even if we want to move out of New York.”
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