by Rianna Mukherjee
The passage The Equality Act is a proposed bill that prioritizes mental health outcomes for LGBTQ+ individuals by prohibiting discrimination in health care and employment. This bill also addresses youth by updating the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to desegregate public school education based on sexual orientation and gender identity. This provision would help address the harassment and violence LGBTQ+ youth often face in school. This bill also has the potential to decrease health disparities between LGBTQ+ youth and their heterosexual counterparts. Lastly, Supreme Court precedent protects religious institutions with concerns of employment discrimination through religious exemptions in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the “ministerial exemption” outlined in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Many people face discrimination in the United States based off their sexual orientation or gender identity. This discrimination can be experienced in areas of housing, workplaces healthcare, and more. However, there are many gaps in researching the outcomes of these incidents of discrimination that have larger consequences for LGBTQ+ people. Dr. Logan S. Casey, an independent researcher, conducted a study in 2019 to examine these gaps. The study finds that discrimination and harassment have detrimental effects on mental and physical health, similar to previous studies conducted on the outcomes of racial and sex-based discrimination. Furthermore, discrimination bars access to critical necessities in “healthcare, employment and public safety.” Having access to affordable healthcare, a living wage, and safety should be resources that all Americans enjoy. Those discriminated against in the healthcare system are more likely to avoid receiving urgent care as compared to those who haven’t been discriminated against. “This leads to worse health outcomes, including higher likelihood of depression and suicidal ideation or attempts” the study concludes.
Employment discrimination may result in lack of insurance, which makes getting insurance independently difficult due to cost if one does not meet eligibility requirements for Medicaid coverage. In the United States, 15% of the LGBTQ+ population is underinsured compared to 12% of non-LGBTQ+ people, showing that LGBTQ+ people are disproportionately affected. It is important to note, however, that research on the LGBTQ+ group lacks in the number of respondents, so in reality, many more LGBTQ+ people could be underinsured.
The Equality Act updates the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in which it explicitly states that discrimination and segregation regarding public accommodations are prohibited. These public accommodations include any “establishment that provides healthcare.” The bill also states that discrimination because of someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity “in employment, housing, and public accommodations” violates “the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment”. These provisions could have positive results for the above mentioned disparities that LGBTQ+ people face.
This bill has incredible potential to help the LGBTQ+ community by successfully addressing needs. The American Psychological Association explains that the bill serves as a solution to public health issues, such as how stress created by discriminatory policies results in poor mental health outcomes; this is often referred to as ‘minority stress’. An alarming result from a study on LGBTQ+ populations and mental health showed that the “implementation of state-level bans on marriage for same-sex couples…” LGBTQ+ people “in these states experienced an increase in psychological and alcohol use disorders, including a 248% increase in Generalized Anxiety Disorder”. The Equality Act, if passed, would provide financial and social support for LGBTQ+ people by explicitly prohibiting discrimination from public accommodations to employment. The bill goes as far as to define ‘sex’ to include marginalized groups within the LGBTQ+ community, such as people with intersex variations. Moreover, helping LGBTQ+ adults will also have positive effects on their children. Research has shown that support for parents that reduces stress and discrimination has positive effects for their loved ones.
As mentioned previously, this bill could have important outcomes for young people. LGBTQ+ youth are one of the most vulnerable populations in the United States. According to the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), cited by the CDC, 34% of participants, who were lesbian, gay, and bisexual experienced bullying on school property. Many participants also experience sexual and dating violence. These traumas that occur at a young age can have detrimental effects for the rest of a person’s life. Regarding mental health, YRBS found that 63% of LGB youth have experienced sadness or feelings of hopelessness compared to 28% of their heterosexual counterparts. Even worse, 48% of LGB youth seriously considered suicide compared to 13% of their heterosexual counterparts. These statistics are alarming and exhibit the need for anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ+ youth. The Equality Act helps LGBTQ+ youth by updating the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include sexual orientation and gender identity under ‘sex’ to prohibit segregation in public education. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 has expanded educational opportunities for other marginalized groups in the United States from improved test scores to the attainment of higher education. Recognizing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity may help LGBTQ+ youth have better educational and mental health outcomes.
Some legislators may hesitate to vote in favor of The Equality Act due to concerns for employers who would like to discriminate in the hiring process for religious reasons. Yet, in Bostock v. Clayton County, the Supreme Court ruled in a 6-3 decision that sex-based discrimination inherently includes sexual orientation and gender identity. Furthermore, Congress wrote the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include religious exemptions to address these exact concerns. The Supreme Court has held that religious institutions may decide whether an employee is eligible based on their own conclusions. This allows the government to avoid “entanglement” with interpreting whether someone is “religious enough” or complies with the religious beliefs of an institution. Furthermore, the Court respects the “ministerial exception” first recognized in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. This exception also strengthens protections for religious institutions by allowing anyone deemed a ‘minister’, which includes those who teach at religious schools, to be discriminated against based on the religious institution’s understanding. “In a unanimous decision for the Court, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. indicated that circuit courts of appeals had been utilizing the ministerial exception as a way of shielding church decisions about its leadership from improper governmental influence which the First Amendment prohibited”.
Finally, The Equality Act has the potential to pass in the Senate if it reaches the floor. It is a powerful bill that passed in the House with votes from every Democrat and 8 Republicans. Despite how Congress in recent times has voted on partisan lines, this bill has shown true promises for success as our culture becomes more accepting of LGBTQ+ friendly policies. The Senate is gridlocked and few bills reach the floor due to Mitch McConnell’s tight control over his agenda. Regardless, this bill has attracted wide public support and covers a vast portion of areas where discrimination needs to be addressed. It would have important outcomes for the lives of LGBTQ+ Americans, who deserve the same liberties and protections as us all.
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Casey, Reisner, et al. Discrimination in the United States: Experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Americans. U.S. National Library of Medicine, 28 Sept. 2019, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31659745/.
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