First Amendment Defense Act is Anti-LGBTQIA+

Republicans aim to further limit freedom of expression

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There has never been protection for LGBTQIA+ people in the U.S. Yet, last month the GOP launched an attack on transgender and queer civil rights under the guise of religious freedom.

Sexual and gender identity are not protected classes under federal law. Unless outlawed at the state level, cases of discrimination against LGBTQIA+ people are up to interpretation of the law.

The First Amendment Defense Act (FADA), originally proposed by Sen. Mike Lee and Rep. Raúl Labrador in 2015 and given Trump’s blessing during his candidacy, was reintroduced on March 8.

Specifically, FADA states the government will not take punitive action against individuals and organizations that discriminate based on the belief that “marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman, or sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage.”

While not protected at the federal level, many states have their own legislative protections for LGBTQIA+ people. While these state laws have held up in court, the passage of FADA may open new avenues for these protections to be legally challenged and defeated. The passage would run roughshod over the basic rights and dignities of LGBTQIA+ people, as well as the same right of states to self-determination the GOP so professes to champion.

The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, intended to separate church and state, prohibits Congress from promoting one religion over another. The First Amendment also grants Americans freedom of expression. However, Congress has no problem continuously diminishing freedom of expression in the name of discriminating against transgender and queer people.

This doesn’t protect the First Amendment, but intentionally opens the door to  transgender and queer discrimination. Allowing federally-funded institutions and individuals to discriminate against transgender and queer people sends Americans a thumbs up from the White House to keep promoting bigotry, hate and cisgender and heterosexual normativity.

Yet again, GOP senators are meagerly covering hate for transgender and queer people under the cloak of religious freedom. The bill is an immense step backwards for a country that has only had marriage equality since 2015, not to mention “same sex conduct” has only been decriminalized since 2003.

Without FADA, American legislation is already majority anti-LGBTQIA+, which threatens the basic needs of transgender and queer people, including employment. Currently a transgender or LGB person could be fired from their job on the basis of their gender identity or sexual orientation in 30 and 28 states respectively.

Existing employment discrimination feeds the vicious cycle of housing and food insecurity that transgender and queer people disproportionately struggle with. LGBT youth make up 7 percent of the population but disproportionately represent 40 percent of houseless youth, according to True Colors Fund. In 2014, 1 in 4 LGBT adults struggled with food security. Beginning an era of federally-supported discrimination against LGBTQIA+ people is likely to massively increase these ratios.   

While the bill does not outline specifics, there are dangerous implications that could hinder housing, health and employment for transgender and queer people.

Shelters that receive grants under the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Violence Against Women Act currently have strict non-discrimination policies. If FADA passes, housing and domestic support non-profit organizations could turn away LGBTQIA+ couples or spouses by claiming religious conflict. LGBTQIA+ couples who are houseless or escaping a violent partner could be put on the street and right back into 2014, before marriage legislation included transgender and queer people as eligible for these resources. 

Mental health professionals with religious affiliation could refuse to work with transgender and queer people, who report disproportionately higher rates of mental health issues, and receive no backlash from the federal government.

College-aged transgender and queer people who are beginning their careers could enter a world of explicit employment discrimination, a workplace experience mirroring the 1990s.

In 2017, 1 in 4 LGBT people reported discrimination at their workplace, and the transgender unemployment rate was three times higher than the national average, according to Out and Equal Workplace Advocates. If this bill was to pass, the discrimination would be federally sanctioned and exacerbate the existing barriers faced by LGBTQIA+ people.

Currently it is unknown if the Senate will push the bill, but it is imperative the bill doesn’t move past proposal. U.S. residents must call their Congress representative so they can once again oppose this bill and preserve the basic human rights of transgender and queer people, who are systemically targeted by institutions. 

Additionally, the country needs grassroot and state action, as executive opposition cannot be relied upon. Transgender and queer people are consistently forced to adhere to gender binaries in this country built on religious hegemony.