A Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the Equality Act March 17 was dominated by Republican lawmakers who remained fixated on false narratives surrounding transgender athletes and painted the bill as one that attacks women across the country.
The hearing also featured transgender youth and other witnesses who outlined the urgent need to pass the legislation, which would amend Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act to broadly implement protections for people on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The bill recently passed the House of Representatives, but faces long odds in a divided Senate.
Despite polling numbers showing wide support for the inclusion of transgender athletes in sports, Republicans barreled ahead with their strategy of elevating their nationwide campaign to ban transgender individuals from playing sports in accordance with their gender identity.
Mississippi Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith, an established foe of LGBTQ rights, said she played sports in her youth but fears that the Equality Act “would totally undermine girls’ sports.” Hyde-Smith’s home state recently became the first in the nation this year to impose a ban on transgender athletes after passing a law that will undoubtedly face legal resistance one year after Idaho’s ban on trans athletes was blocked by a federal judge.
Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, like some others, turned to offensive language, labeling transgender girls as “biological males” while misrepresenting Title IX by saying the Equality Act “effectively” repeals Title IX — which protects transgender student-athletes on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity — by saying the bill is about “effectively repealing Title IX”
“This bill is about power and this bill is dangerous,” Cruz said.
GOP lawmakers also invoked the epicenter of the attacks on trans athletes: Connecticut. The state, which allows athletes to participate in accordance with their gender identity, has been targeted by the Alliance Defending Freedom, an anti-LGBTQ legal group, and the Trump administration also railed against that state’s policy.
Republicans also cited other reasons for their opposition to the bill. They framed it as an impediment to religious freedom and warned that transgender individuals would be invading homeless shelters — an issue that emerged in the wake of the Trump administration’s efforts to allow transgender folks to be banned from shelters.
In the middle of the hearing, Senator Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee echoed that point on Twitter, writing, “We don’t want biological males in women’s shelters.”
Some lawmakers opposed to the Equality Act took an approach of prefacing their criticism of the bill with language insisting that they do not approve of discrimination — except in this case.
“We don’t oppose equality but we do oppose legislation where you take the rights of one and oppose the rights of others,” said Republican Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma.
Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, also voiced similar comments when he said, “We all agree that everyone should be treated with dignity and respect.” He later said he suspects the bill “actually would dictate what women, girls, schools, churches, doctors, and others must believe.”
Abigail Shrier, author of a controversial book called “Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters,” was among those brought forward as a witness by Republicans, while Democrats’ witnesses included Stella Keating, a 16-year old transgender girl who lives in Washington state, and Human Rights Campaign president Alphonso David.
David discussed his own refugee experience and his identity as a Black gay man before emphasizing the importance of passing the Equality Act at a time when transgender women of color face deadly violence nationwide. He further pointed to the wide support of the bill among hundreds of major companies perched across all 50 states.
“This must change,” David said to the committee. “And you have the power to deliver the change that our communities need by making the Equality Act the law of the land.”
Keating spoke about the national implications of the Equality Act as she laid out the urgency surrounding the legislation.
“What happens if I want to attend a college in a state that doesn’t protect me?” she asked. “Right now I could be denied medical care or be evicted simply for being transgender in many states.”
The Equality Act’s passage in the House of Representatives late last month marked the first time it cleared the lower house since 2019. While Democrats narrowly hold control of the Senate, the filibuster will almost certainly prevent the Equality Act from passing this year.
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