A new right-wing coalition has formed to oppose the Equality Act, which the U.S. House of Representatives passed Thursday and sent on to the Senate.
The group, called Promise to America’s Children, “is a national movement of parents and lawmakers to oppose legislation that harms children, like the Equality Act, and to create and support laws that will protect children’s health, safety, and families — especially their relationships with their parents, who have the primary responsibility to love, protect, and educate them,” its website states.
It claims that “school curriculum is filled with graphic information about sex, abortion, and politicized ideas about sexual orientation and gender identity” and that the Equality Act would put children “in even greater danger.” “This dangerous Act would pave the way for sexualized curriculum across the nation while overriding the authority of parents and penalizing Americans who dare to disagree with its agenda,” the online statement continues.
Actually, what the Equality Act would do is make it illegal to discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, public accommodations, education, and a variety of other aspects of life across the nation. It would not dictate school curriculum but would assure that all students, including those who are LGBTQ+, are treated equally.
It clarifies that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, passed in the 1990s to assure freedom of religious practice, is not an excuse for discrimination. But it does include exemptions for religious institutions that wish to hire only people of their faith to perform work connected with their religious activities and for those that limit rentals of property to members. It would not regulate religious services in any way. There are also exemptions for small employers and small housing units.
The lead organizations behind it are the Heritage Foundation (where former Vice President Mike Pence recently became a distinguished visiting fellow), the Family Policy Alliance, and the Alliance Defending Freedom, the legal group that has brought many anti-LGBTQ+ lawsuits. Other partners include national groups such as Concerned Women for America, Eagle Forum, the Family Research Council, and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and a variety of state-level groups. The site also lists several state legislators as supporters.
“America’s children are our most precious gifts. Concerned Women for America believes that as parents and leaders, it is our duty to protect their minds, bodies, and souls — all of which are under attack by a radical sexual agenda,” Penny Young Nance, CEO and president of Concerned Women for America, says in an endorsement statement on the website. “Girls are especially endangered by the harms of a gender ideology that destroys fairness in sports and deprives them of privacy and safety in spaces like locker rooms, showers, and dormitories. CWA supports the Promise to America’s Children so that our daughters and granddaughters will be assured of fairness on the playing field and bodily privacy and dignity in intimate spaces.”
Nance’s statement reflects a strategy being used widely now, portraying transgender girls and women as a threat to other females, particularly in sports. But depicting LGBTQ+ equality as a danger to children is not new.
Speaking to NBC News, Bethany Moreton, a history professor at Dartmouth College, cited Anita Bryant’s “Save Our Children” campaign in the 1970s to repeal a gay-inclusive nondiscrimination law in Miami as an early example. Other arguments against LGBTQ+ rights have frequently failed in the past couple of decades, Moreton noted, so the religious right turns to the idea of harm to children.
“Their sort of arsenal of acceptable arguments have shrunk, and one of them is doubling down on child vulnerability,” she said.
The website invites parents and policymakers to sign up to receive copies of model legislation the coalition is proposing. NBC asked Emily Kao, an attorney at the Heritage Foundation, what the legislation consisted of, but she declined to provide details.
Some of the organizations in the coalition, however, have already written state legislation. The Alliance Defending Freedom, for instance, helped draft the anti-trans sports bill passed by Idaho last year, and some other states have modeled their legislation on it. Idaho is the only state where such a bill has become law, but it’s currently blocked while a lawsuit against it is heard. There are 45 anti-transgender bills pending in states this year, many of them focused either on sports or denying gender-affirming health care to minors.
“It’s no surprise that the ugly wave of state attacks on trans kids traces back to a few, very familiar national anti-LGBTQ groups,” Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of GLAAD, told NBC. “They have opposed LGBTQ equality for decades, fighting marriage equality and now targeting trans youth. Bills claiming to protect children or women’s rights do neither and put trans kids in further danger.”
“While extremist groups push copycat bills down to states, these state legislators should understand that their constituents — including a large majority of Republicans — believe transgender people should be allowed to live freely and openly,” Cathryn Oakley, state legislative director and senior counsel for the Human Rights Campaign, told the network. “The only thing these bills do is harm kids who are simply trying to navigate their adolescence.”