The Equality Act: Explaining the Anti-Discrimination Protections That May Amend the Civil Rights Act

LGBTQ+ activists hold a "None of Us Are Free Until All of Us Are Free" sign outside of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, October 8, 2019. Photo Courtesy: Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg/Getty Images

In June 2020, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, LGBTQ+ workers are protected from workplace discrimination. For the 6-3 majority ruling, Justice Neil M. Gorsuch wrote, "An employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender defies the law." For those unfamiliar with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title VII’s language "bars employment discrimination based on race, religion, national origin and sex" — and, since 2020, that language has firmly applied to discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Landmark for many reasons, Bostock v. Clayton County (and its June 2020 ruling) marked the first major case that outrightly protected the rights of transgender Americans. Before, it was legal in more than half of the states to fire workers for being gay, bisexual, transgender or queer. That is, even though gay marriage has been the law of the land since 2015, LGBTQ+ folks in some states could get married over the weekend — and then fired on Monday, simply for living openly and truthfully with their same-sex spouse. Of course, at-will employment laws still pose issues. And, undoubtedly, the need for anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ+ Americans extends far beyond employment and marriage.

And that’s where the Equality Act comes into play. First introduced under this name in the House of Representatives on March 13, 2019, bill H.R.5, or the Equality Act, aims to increase federal protections for LGBTQ+ folks and women by amending current civil rights laws. Stalled in the Senate, the Equality Act is poised to become one of the most landmark pieces of civil rights legislation in decades — if it’s passed. With this in mind, we’re breaking down everything you need to know about the bill’s contents, history and future.