The Equality Act, as it's called, expands workplace, education and public accommodation protections that currently prohibit discrimination based on race, gender and disability to include sexual preference and gender identity.
The federal law would nationalise legal safeguards that are currently afforded to varying extent in only 22 states and the District of Columbia. In the remaining states, it is legal for individuals to be refused employment, housing or business services because of their sexual preference or gender identity.
The Human Rights Campaign, which has been a champion of the bill, points to the story of Carter Brown, who was outed as transgender at his workplace. He was harassed by co-workers and subsequently fired. Because he lives in Texas, which does not have protections for sexual identity, he had no legal recourse.
"If the Equality Act had been in place during my employment, it would have been illegal for my employer to engage in harassment and fire me because I was transgender," Brown told a congressional committee. "My family would not have had to shoulder the burden of my loss of income and worry about my emotional health."
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