Republicans and Democrats should unite to protect LGBTQ Americans

Many LGBTQ Americans across the country are still facing discrimination because of who they are and/or who they love.

In 29 US states, LGBTQ individuals must live every day without any legal protections for their sexual orientation and gender identity - and this is unacceptable, writes Williams [Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images]

Many Americans have long been fighting to ensure that all their compatriots, regardless of race, religion, sex or any other intrinsic characteristic, have the right to strive and prosper without discrimination. In our country’s nearly 250 years of existence we have come a long way towards achieving this goal, but the fight is far from over.

Today, many LGBTQ Americans across the country are still facing discrimination in many areas, such as healthcare, housing and employment, because of who they are and/or who they love. Current federal laws do not offer comprehensive protections from discrimination to LGBTQ Americans, and only 21 states do so via state laws. As a Republican, and an American woman who happens to be transgender, I want all LGBTQ Americans to enjoy all the rights and protections afforded to other Americans, no matter which part of the country they choose to live in.

To achieve this goal, we need protections for LGBTQ Americans, which clearly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity to be enshrined in federal law. Such protections can only be passed at the federal level with bipartisan support. While Republicans and Democrats uniting to protect LGBTQ rights may seem unlikely, especially in the highly polarised political environment of today, it is not impossible – or without precedent.

In 1978, when the Briggs Initiative (California Proposition 6) sought to ban gays and lesbians from working in California’s schools through a ballot referendum, prominent Democrats and Republicans joined forces to defeat it. Newly elected Democratic San Francisco city supervisor and LGBTQ activist Harvey Milk, with support from other prominent Democratic activists and officials, swiftly started a grassroots, hard-charging campaign to defeat the initiative, but without Republican support, victory appeared elusive.

As the referendum day neared, an unlikely force entered the fight –  former California Governor, and rising Conservative superstar, Ronald Reagan. At the time, Reagan was already working to win the GOP nomination for president in the coming 1980 election, and he had much to lose from joining any “fight for the gays”. However, he realised removing LGBTQ teachers from the Golden State’s schools would harm not only the LGBTQ community and the education system but also the greater society, and decided to bravely take a stance. He penned an op-ed for the Los Angeles Tribune encouraging – mostly Republican – voters to say no to the Briggs initiative.

Just days later, thanks to Milk’s unyielding work, and a high-profile Republican like Reagan’s support, the anti-LGBTQ initiative was defeated. Reagan chose to help people who were unlikely to ever vote for him because he felt lifting other Americans up, whoever they may be, was the right thing – the Republican thing – to do.

Back then, Republicans and Democrats came together to prevent LGBTQ Americans in California from facing further discrimination. Today, we need them to come together once again to help end discrimination against LGBTQ Americans for good. We need new Reagans in our Senate to step forward and help lift LGBTQ Americans up so people like me can have equal protections under our nation’s civil rights laws.

Currently, for example, there are no federal laws that prevent medical professionals from denying LGBTQ individuals care based on who we are or who we love. Moreover, many of us still face significant barriers when we try to access public education, life insurance, nursing homes, car loans, mortgages, rental accommodations, jobs and promotions. In states without any LGBTQ non-discrimination measures, LGBTQ individuals always walk on eggshells, knowing that barbers, hairdressers, mail carriers, garage mechanics, grocery cashiers, bank tellers, plumbers and even government employees can outright deny them services on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

After I transitioned, I worried whether my usual doctors would continue to keep me or my children as their patient. I worried whether I would be able to hire tradespeople to do necessary repairs in our family home. And a few times we had tradespeople not come back after an estimate because they were “too busy” – though they had no problem taking on new work from non-LGBTQ households we knew.

Passed by a bi-partisan majority in the House of Representatives In February 2021, the Equality Act is a comprehensive federal bill that aims to protect LGBTQ people by prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation and gender identity in all areas of their daily life – including housing, public spaces, and access to federal funded programs and services. Currently, the US Senate is considering the bill for a vote and while almost all Democratic Senators support the Equality Act, more Republican support is needed for it to pass the Senate Filibuster threshold of 60 votes.

As an LGBTQ American, I have a vested interest in a comprehensive Civil Rights bill such as the Equality Act passing. However, as a conservative person of faith, I also understand the concerns about the effect such a bill could have on religious liberties. I believe it is not in our nation’s best interest to force religious organisations to choose between following their beliefs or closing their doors. That said, I know that we as a nation can find a practical, moral way for such freedoms to coexist with laws such as the proposed Equality Act. It is imperative that we find a way to codify federal LGBTQ non-discrimination measures with bi-partisan support, because without them many Americans like me cannot live their lives freely and safely in every state.

Fortunately, my experiences as an LGBTQ person in the US have been better than those of many other LGBTQ people living across America  – for the pure reason of geography. I live in New Jersey, a state that has full non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people. This is great for me as long as I do not leave my home state. But once I do leave and head westward to Pennsylvania and beyond, I do not have all the same rights and liberties that non-LGBTQ Americans in those states have. Crossing the border into a different state, for example, may mean that I will have to worry whether a waiter or a shop clerk would refuse me service based on my gender identity.

In 29 US states, LGBTQ individuals must live every day without any legal protections for their sexual orientation and gender identity – and this is unacceptable. Our rights should not and cannot remain dependent on where we happen to be in America. We are all Americans and we should all be treated the same anywhere in our country. Such equality will need bipartisan support and I believe that New Jersey, like California did long ago, can show us the way.

New Jersey’s existing LGBTQ protections were passed into law with votes from both Republican and Democratic legislators and they were signed into law by governors from both parties. One of the proudest moments of my life occurred in 2017, when the state’s Republican governor Chris Christie signed not one, but two bills in one day to protect transgender New Jerseyans. I and many other LGBTQ people reached out to him to explain how these bills would tangibly improve our lives, and Governor Christie listened. We now need Republicans in the Senate to also listen to us and help us expand such protections to every corner of America.

There are some Republican elected officials who are trying to remove rights and liberties from LGBTQ Americans. But I do not believe that they represent our party. I am a lifelong Republican and I have never personally met any Republican who wants our party to be known as the party of discrimination. Thus, Senate Republicans who, like Reagan, truly believe all Americans deserve liberty and equality should step up and show what our party really stands for.

As the 18th-century “Father of Conservatism”, Edmund Burke, said, “Whenever a separation is made between liberty and justice, neither, in my opinion, is safe.” Let’s close the remaining separation between liberty and justice for LGBTQ Americans throughout our nation by passing the Equality Act. To do so will save lives, build a stronger citizenry and help millions of our fellow Americans to achieve their American Dream.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.