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    March Gladness for the Equality Act 3.0

    By Andrea Shorter–

    The once “radical” notion that LGBT people should be protected by federal law against discrimination could be nearing its end. The awaited reintroduction of the Equality Act in the 116th Congress has at last come to pass.

    As promised under the returned Speakership of Nancy Pelosi, and with the continued championship of the house’s senior ranking openly LGBT leader, Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island, a renewed effort to finally pass a previously twice halted Equality Act is underway.

    With poll findings by the Public Religion Research Institute and other outfits indicating that 70% of the American public—Democrats, Republicans and Independents—constitute multi-partisan support of this Act of Congress to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, it would appear that the wind is at the back for passage of this historic bill.

    Of course, having massive support from 161 major corporate entities such as Google, Apple, Facebook and IBM also provides a major boon to the urgency of passage. At the initial introduction of the Equality Act in 2015, a much smaller coalition of the willing—including the San Francisco iconic Levi Strauss and Company, Apple and Dow Chemical—supported the bill. No matter your druthers about this intertwine of advancing civil rights with major corporate interests, within 4 years, that is a phenomenal surge in out corporate partnerships.

    Because various companies operate in multiple states, there is a haphazard matrix of laws protecting, or more likely not protecting, LGBT employees in the workplace from one state to another. These employees would gladly welcome federal intervention that provides unified, national policy to blanket more than the 20 states that do provide legal protections.

    Much thanks goes to those few initial companies that openly led the way, and to the combined nearly three decades of ongoing work of organizations such as Out & Equal Workplace Advocates and the Human Rights Campaign (and its bedrock Corporate Equality Index, aka CEI, which rates companies on their commitment and practices to LGBT inclusive workplaces) that have been engaging and organizing with and within these large private sector, multi-national, Fortune 1000 companies.

    Not to get too far ahead, but given that so many of these publicly traded companies operate internationally, passage of the Equality Act in the United States also stands to send a resounding message globally to progress LGBT anti-discrimination policies and practices in countries and regions with declared hostilities towards LGBT people. It is expected to be labeled as an export of a western, liberal value about equality, decriminalization and acceptance of LGBT people into illiberal, intolerant environments wanting, needing, and reliant upon U.S.-based corporate employers for regional economic stability.

    Moreover, this coupling of overwhelming majority support of Americans in all 50 states with the backing of major employers should make for a much stronger case and movement for passage.

    Even with majority support of the American people, and voters of both major political party persuasions, we can still expect a healthy dose of last gasped resistance from right wing factions to passage of the Equality Act. It is presidential primary election season, at least for the Democrats. Gauntlets will be thrown, fear mongering will abound about the takeover by “the gay agenda,” and the pitchforks will be sharpened in protest and detest.

    As debate ensues about how far to the left the left party (Democrats) has swung, is swinging, or thinks it must swing to recapture an anti-LGBT White House, oddly enough this burgeoning majority public support along with considerable corporate support actually and quite solidly positions the notion of federally protected rights and LGBT equality as mainstream—and not a radical, socialist far-left notion. Given such popular support, it should prove politically futile to aggressively dismiss, malign and derail the Equality Act.

    This third time around could be the charm.

    Andrea Shorter is a Commissioner and the former President of the historic San Francisco Commission on the Status of Women. She is a longtime advocate for criminal and juvenile justice reform, voter rights and marriage equality. A Co-founder of the Bayard Rustin LGBT Coalition, she was a 2009 David Bohnett LGBT Leadership Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.