One Step Forward, Two Steps Back: The Equality Act is Anything But By Kaia Wright
The Equality Act recently passed by the House of Representatives enshrines into law the affirmation of regressive, sexist stereotypes; eradicates the sex-based protections of women and girls; and adversely affects the sex-based rights of lesbians and gay men. The sponsors of this bill have missed the mark. Gender identity must be removed from the Equality Act.
With its egalitarian title and the stated objective of expanding civil rights, the Equality Act appears to be a positive step towards strengthening one of our country’s foundational objectives—liberty and justice for all. The law as proposed amends several statutes, including the vaunted Civil Rights Act of 1964, to extend federal protection against discrimination to members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) community. The Equality Act does so by expanding the definition of “sex” to include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.” However, a critical analysis of the legislation’s content reveals that the inclusion of gender identity has devastating consequences for women, girls, lesbians, and gay men.
The Equality Act defines gender identity as “the gender-related identity, appearance, mannerisms, or other gender-related characteristics of an individual, regardless of the individual’s designated (sic) sex at birth.” Putting aside the tautology of including “gender-related identity” in the definition of “gender identity,” none of these items can be explained without resorting to sexist stereotypes. There is not a single “mannerism” “appearance,” or non-biological “characteristic” that is connected to a person’s sex. In fact, it is this very tethering of stereotypes to men and women that the Civil Rights Act, particularly regarding Title VII and employment discrimination, explicitly prohibits. Yet the Equality Act seeks to embed this regressive concept into federal law.
Males competing against women and girls in sports has dominated headlines regarding this bill; and while athletics and Title IX are important issues, this singular focus obscures the breadth and depth of the infinite ways gender identity’s presence in the Equality Act impacts women and girls’ sex-based rights and protections.
Though a detailed analysis of these items is beyond the scope of this piece, there are some that readily come to mind. Based on their purported “gender-related identity, mannerisms, appearances, or characteristics,” males will be able to enter female-only spaces such as showers, dressing rooms, locker rooms, and domestic violence shelters; apply for female only scholarships, awards, loans, and grants; perform intimate services for which a woman has been specifically requested; compete against and displace women and girls in female-only individual and team sports; and participate in any female only efforts to assemble, meet, organize, socialize, or conference around the unique issues inherent to being women or girls.
Thus, in an Orwellian twist, under penalty of law, the Equality Act will compel women and girls to cede their sex-based rights to males—the very group whose millennia of sex-based discrimination necessitated the creation of these protections—based upon these males’ adherence to, affinity for, or identification with the very stereotypes whose eradication form the core basis of feminism, and fundamental aspects of anti-discrimination law and policy.
Proponents of the Equality Act often charge that concerns raised about the gender-identity impact on women and girls amount to fearmongering. But this begs the question: what is the point of having sex-separated showers, locker-rooms, services, sports, awards, etc., for women and girls if males can avail themselves of these spaces, entities, and opportunities?
And it’s not just women and girls who are affected. The Equality Act also adversely impacts lesbians and gay men, individuals whose rights and protections are also inextricably connected to their sex. Gender identity will allow members of the opposite sex, including heterosexuals, to participate in any effort by lesbians or gay men to assemble, meet, organize, socialize, conference, etc., around the unique issues inherent to being lesbians or gay men; avail themselves of spaces set aside for lesbians or gay men, such as support groups and events; and apply for and access all programs and awards designated for lesbians or gay men, including scholarships, grants, loans, and set-asides.
These issues must be thoroughly and methodically analyzed given the magnitude of what’s at stake, not hand-waved in a partisan bid to score political points. It is this uncritical, blinded by specious equality rhetoric approach that has resulted in a statute being passed by the United States House of Representatives which contains the words “gender-related mannerisms.”
Gender identity must be removed from the Equality Act. In addition to being the embodiment of sexist, regressive stereotypes, it eliminates many of the hard-fought sex-based rights and protections of women, girls, lesbians, and gay men. No other major rights movement in American history has sought to achieve its objectives by eradicating the protections of marginalized communities. The sex-based spaces, services, and opportunities of women, girls, lesbians, and gay men cannot be sacrificed on the altar of gender identity.
Kaia Wright is an attorney, activist, and entrepreneur living in Tampa, Fla.