WASHINGTON — The House passed sweeping legislation on Friday that would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
The bill, passed 236-173, comes as departments across the Trump administration have dismantled policies friendly to gay, bisexual and transgender individuals, like barring transgender recruits from serving in the military or formally rejecting complaints filed by transgender students who are barred from restrooms that match their gender identity.
“The question before us is not whether the L.G.B.T.Q. community faces outrageous and immoral discrimination, for the record shows that it clearly does,” said Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee. “The question is whether we, as Congress, are willing to take action to do something about it. The answer goes straight to the heart of who we want to be as a country — and today, that answer must be a resounding ‘yes.’”
The legislation, which amends the Civil Rights Act of 1964, prohibits discrimination of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in both the public and private sectors, offering civil rights protections in businesses, hospitals and welfare services. It explicitly states that individuals cannot be denied access to a locker room or dressing room on the same basis.
The response from the Republican-controlled Senate and White House, however, is likely to be a resounding no.
Citing concern for “the safety of women and girls in intimate spaces” and “conscience protections” in place for medical professionals who decline to perform procedures they find morally objectionable, the administration opposes the measure, according to a draft statement of administration policy obtained by The New York Times. While affirming the administration’s “belief in the dignity of every person,” the draft also cited concerns that the bill could “force schools to teach and affirm sex education that includes self-identified gender identity.”
House Republicans mirrored those fears on Friday. Representative Doug Collins of Georgia, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, took to the floor to argue that the legislation would harm children and set back the civil rights gains won by women.
“I implore my colleagues to listen to the stories of every stakeholder here, including the transgender girls and boys this bill is meant to help — because we may be hurting them by allowing doctors to prescribe hormones and perform major surgeries on adolescents without parental consent or involvement,” Mr. Collins said.
Since taking office, President Trump’s administration has enacted a sweeping deconstruction of policies and rules intended to protect gay and transgender individuals. In 2017, the Justice Department sided with a cake shop owner who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple, filing legal briefs arguing that a landmark 1964 civil rights law did not ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Jeff Sessions, then the attorney general, also rescinded guidance for schools that was intended to protect transgender students in bathrooms and locker rooms.
Similar efforts have been undertaken by other cabinet members. The Department of Health and Human Services spearheaded an effort to establish a legal definition of sex as a biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth, The Times reported last year.
The administration has also appointed several judges who have advocated dismantling protections based on sexual orientation. Jeff Mateer, whose nomination to the district court was later dropped, described transgender children as evidence of “Satan’s plan.” Mr. Mateer and another district court nominee, Matthew J. Kacsmaryk, wrote a brief to the Department of Health and Human Services that sought to roll back civil rights protections for transgender people, citing a scientist at Johns Hopkins University who argued that the “sense of being transgendered constitutes a mental disorder.” Mr. Kacsmaryk is waiting for the full Senate to take up his nomination.
“Despite significant advances, L.G.B.T. people across the country remain vulnerable to discrimination on a daily basis and too often have little recourse,” said Representative David Cicilline, Democrat of Rhode Island, the lead sponsor of the bill. “It is past time for the Equality Act to be written into law.”