On the same day that the Equality Act passed in the House, Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky launched into a transphobic attack against Dr. Rachel Levine, a trans woman, during her Senate confirmation hearing.
Though the timing was a coincidence, it served to highlight the kind of irrational opposition a bill barring discrimination against LGBTQ people will probably face from Republicans when it gets to the Senate.
If Levine becomes assistant secretary of health, she would be the first openly transgender federal official to receive Senate approval, a landmark moment for the LGBTQ community. Yet few events would be as potent as passage of the Equality Act, which would extend existing civil rights protections to include sexual orientation and gender identity. It would prohibit discrimination in housing, employment, education, health care, public accommodations, and other areas.
The bill first received House approval in 2019 but languished during the Trump presidency, which until its last days pushed anti-LGBTQ policies. Now the bill has the enthusiastic backing of President Biden. With Democrats finally in charge of the Senate, this is the bill’s best chance to become law. Every effort should be made to get it done.
To be sure, this is a tall order. In the House, only three Republicans voted for the bill. To avoid a filibuster (one reason to dump this ugly relic of the Jim Crow era), the Equality Act needs 60 votes — that means every Democrat, plus 10 Republicans senators. Yet the GOP has shown little interest in what Biden calls “ensuring that America lives up to our foundational values of equality and freedom for all.”
The need for an equality bill is long overdue, and the absence of its protections never more crucial than during the past year. As with other marginalized groups, LGBTQ people have suffered disproportionately during the COVID-19 pandemic, and not just from the disease itself. According to a report from the Movement Advancement Project, a gender-equality-focused nonprofit think tank, more than 60 percent of LGBTQ households have lost a job in the past year, compared with less than half of the general population.
“COVID has revealed and exacerbated disparities that existed way before the pandemic started,” Logan Casey, coauthor of the report and a policy researcher at MAP, told ABC News. The LGBTQ community “more broadly experience higher rates of discrimination in the workplace, steep obstacles to housing, accessing medical care — and to the extent that LGBTQ people and LGBTQ people of color are experiencing the full force of this pandemic, it’s likely their recovery will take even longer.”
Public attitudes toward the LGBTQ community have evolved. Last year, a Pew Research study found that 72 percent of Americans believe homosexuality should be accepted. In a recent Gallup poll, 1 in 6 Generation Z adults identified as LGBTQ. More than 80 percent of Americans — including 68 percent of Republicans — support laws to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination, according to a Public Religion Research Institute American Values survey last year.
As law, the long-gestating Equality Act would align with greater social acceptance of sexual orientation and gender identity.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said last week, “The Civil Rights Act is a sacred pillar of freedom in our country. It is not amended lightly.” Nor should the Senate, especially its Democratic leadership, take lightly an opportunity to inch this nation closer to full communion with its own espoused values of fairness and equality for all.
Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us @GlobeOpinion.