By George Kevin Jordan, AFRO Staff Writer

Last week the House Judiciary Committee convened their first ever Congressional hearing on the Equality Act, a piece of legislation that would expand existing civil rights protections to encompass sexual orientation and gender identity, and also expand protection on the basis of sex.

The legislation was introduced by a cross section of key politicians including: Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR., Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ).  

The Equality Act hopes to bring attention to the need for an expansion of rights and protections for Black and Black queer people.
Carter Brown, founder of Black Transmen, Inc., speaks Monday, April 1, 2019 in Washington. (Eric Kayne/AP Images for Human Rights Campaign)

The bill would buoy up some of the protections afforded to citizens by the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The bill says in part:

“Numerous provisions of Federal law expressly prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, and Federal agencies and courts have correctly interpreted these prohibitions on sex discrimination to include discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and sex stereotypes. In particular, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission correctly interpreted title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in Macy v. Holder, Baldwin v. Foxx, and Lusardi v. McHugh.

“The absence of explicit prohibitions of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity under Federal statutory law, as well as the existence of legislative proposals that would have provided such explicit prohibitions, has led some courts to conclude incorrectly that current Federal laws prohibiting sex discrimination do not prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. It has also created uncertainty for employers and other entities covered by Federal nondiscrimination laws and caused unnecessary hardships for LGBT individuals.”

David J. Johns, executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition wants to ensure that the issue of civil rights protections and how they impact Black and Black and queer communities is not forgotten in the conversation.

“At present, based on existing civil rights, all Black LGBTQIA+ and same gender loving (SGL) people are not covered or considered,” Johns said. “So when most of us think about the foundational rights that are traditionally associated with activities of the 60s, visa vie the Voting Rights Act of ‘64 or the Fair Housing Rights Act shortly thereafter, a lot of the benefits and privileges that many people, White people in particular, but also Black heterosexual people, take for granted, have never been provided or belong to Black LGBTQ people,” he said.

“And that is because there is a patchwork of federal laws, many of which especially in the south where Black LGBTQ / SGL people are disproportionately concentrated, either do not cover sexual identity or gender orientation explicitly, and /or they do the opposite. There are eight states throughout the country, primarily in the south, that make it legal to discriminate legally on the basis of sexual identity and gender orientation.”

According to their site, The National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC) is a civil rights organization dedicated to the empowerment of Black lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and same gender loving (LGBTQ/SGL) people, including people living with HIV/AIDS, with a mission to end racism, homophobia, and LGBTQ/SGL bias and stigma.  

Police brutality and excessive force is another issue that the Equality Act would cover. Chikesia Clemons was assaulted by having her breast exposed by three police officers in an Alabama Waffle House. Even though the altercation was caught on video and she was seen asking the officers why they were treating her that way as they pulled her to the ground, she was the one arrested on charges of resisting arrest and disorderly conduct.

Not really an activist per se prior to the incident, Clemons said “I see stuff differently now.”

“Its rough, I really didn’t realize racism exists and it’s really the backbone of how America works.” Even though Clemons legally can’t discuss the ongoing case, she did say that there have been three appeals since last year. Also, since there is an impending charge on her official record, it has made it difficult to find work.

So what is her hope for the future? “I would like for Black women to get the same equal rights as White women, if not White men,” Clemons said.

While the bill has some bipartisan support, it is unlikely to pass through a majority Repubication Senate or Republican president. For information on the bill go to H.R. 5.