Dark Money, Bright Future: The Equality Act Takes on New Urgency During Pride Month

Dark Money, Bright Future: The Equality Act Takes on New Urgency During Pride Month
Members of Congress on June 1 in support of the Equality Act, which passed the House of Representatives on Feb. 25, and has unanimous backing from Democratic senators. (@RepMarieNewman / Twitter)

On Tuesday, June 1, President Biden signed an official proclamation recognizing Pride month and promised to fight for LGBTQ rights—a vast departure from the former occupant of the White House, who notably refused to acknowledge the celebration and rolled back protections for the LGTBQ community throughout his presidency. That same day, as well as throughout his presidential campaign, Biden also called for passage of the Equality Act, which he said is necessary to wholly support the rights of LGBTQ individuals.

Passed by the House in February, the Equality Act would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, gender identity and sexual orientation, particularly in employment, housing, education, public accommodations and federally-funded programs. Since the 1970s, similar versions of the bill have been proposed. In 2019, a version of the legislation passed in the U.S. House of Representatives with a bipartisan vote. However, the Senate didn’t act on the bill and President Trump signaled he would veto it. 

The Equality Act would provide explicit and consistent anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ Americans. With the current lack of federal protections, a patchwork of 22 different state-level non-discrimination laws stand in the place of comprehensive national policy. As such, an openly LGBTQ individual from Illinois driving into Indiana would find that their right to keep their job and home and engage in commerce would quickly disappear as they cross that state line.

In a new poll released on March 17, the Human Rights Campaign—an organization that strives to end the discrimination of LGBTQ people—found that approximately two-thirds of Americans support the Equality Act. Support for the act has even gained traction among celebrities, such as Taylor Swift. 

“In poll after poll, we see that Americans overwhelmingly believe that LGBTQ people should be able to live free from fear of harassment and discrimination by guaranteeing the same federal anti-discrimination protections that other Americans have enjoyed for decades,” said Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign.

And yet, despite widespread public support, the House’s contentious vote of 224–206 reveals the Equality Act isn’t certain to pass. (Three Republicans—Reps. John Katko, Tom Reed and Brian Fitzpatrick—joined Democrats in the House vote.) Republican senators, such as Utah’s Mitt Romney, have expressed opposition to the Equality Act, arguing the law would limit religious freedom. Without 60 votes in the Senate, the bill is likely to become yet another victim of the filibuster.

Dark Money and Coordinated Opposition to the Equality Act

Republican lawmakers like Romney aren’t the only ones opposed to the Equality Act. Organizations such as the National Christian Charitable Foundation (NCF), the sixth-largest charity in the nation, and the Alliance Defending Freedom are at the forefront of the fight against the bill—prompting one LGBTQ movement leader to call the opposition one of “the most sophisticated dark money operations” they’ve ever seen.

According to reporting from the Daily Beast, an extensive network of NCF-supporting foundations list NCF staff members as chairpersons, but in reality are fronts for outside donors to be explicit as to where their money goes. NCF’s grantees are “actually funding organizations that in Europe are advocating for the forced sterilization of transgender people,” said one person who analyzed tax filings from the NCF. “They’re doing hardcore extreme stuff, but they make it seem like it’s a bunch of soup kitchens.”

2021: A Record-Breaking Year for Anti-LGBTQ Legislation

2021 has been a record-breaking year for anti-LGBTQ bills enacted into law. So far this year, there have been 17 anti-LGBTQ bills enacted into law—two more than the record-breaking year of 2015. However, even these statistics don’t account for the 11 bills awaiting governor signature or veto or other proposed bills that haven’t made it to lawmakers’ desks. 

Take Action

With this history in mind, it is necessary that as we celebrate Pride month, we must not forget that our celebrated rights don’t exist for all, and that change rests on the backs of the Senate. 

Clearly, the fight is far from over. There are three things that you can do to help: become a community co-sponsor, call and email your Congress people, and share your story of discrimination. All of these actions can be done on the Human Rights Campaign’s website linked here. You can also sign GLAAD’s petition to pass the Equality Act here

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About and

Juliet Schulman-Hall is an editorial fellow for Ms. and a senior at Smith College. She is majoring in English language & literature, minoring in sociology, and concentrating in poetry. Her beats include America's health care system, disability, global politics and climate change, and criminal justice reform and abolition. Follow her @jschulmanhall
Marty Garbarini is an editorial fellow at Ms. A senior at Smith College, she studies government and public policy as well as the study of women and gender. Marty is particularly interested in the rights of incarcerated women and prison abolition, as well as election coverage and the workings of the U.S. Government. In her free time, Marty could sing you any Broadway ballad or make you a mean friendship bracelet.