Yesterday, the Equality Act (HR5) was introduced in Congress. National ADAPT praises and thanks the members of Congress who are initial cosponsors of this important piece of civil rights legislation. It should no longer be legal to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the United States. Right now, less than half of U.S. states explicitly prohibit discrimination due to sexual orientation and gender identity. The Equality Act would update federal civil rights law to ban discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations, jury service, education, federal programs and credit on the basis of “race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, age, or disability.”
We recognize some in the civil rights community have expressed concerns that legislation to expand the protections under civil rights laws will open them up to opportunities to weaken these important protections. Given that a dozen Democrats voted with Republicans during the last Congress to weaken the Americans with Disabilities Act, we understand these concerns and urge House Democrats to ensure that existing civil rights laws will not be undercut.
National ADAPT also urges House leadership to recognize that the Equality Act and its provisions protecting equal access to public accommodations, employment, housing, and education will be meaningless to LGBTQ individuals with Long Term Service and Support (LTSS) disabilities who are locked away in nursing facilities and other institutions. Those individuals are not able to seek employment, live in their own home, pursue education, or enjoy public accommodations.
The issue of unwanted institutionalization and the forfeiture of the most basic rights to life, liberty and freedom are particularly relevant to the LGBTQ community for a number of reasons. First, individuals with AIDS may be forced into institutions because adequate community based services are not available to them, and elderly LGBTQ+ individuals are at increased risk of institutionalization because they may not have a primary caregiver or the same level of informal supports as other seniors (typically adult children). Additionally, studies have found that LGBTQ+ older adults experience higher rates of disability as compared to their heterosexual peers which suggests that the LGBTQ+ community would be disproportionately impacted by the tendency to institutionalize people with significant disabilities. And finally, same-sex households are more likely to foster or adopt children with disabilities.
This is a historic year and the House of Representatives should recognize that by taking action. It is the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots. It is also the 20th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Olmstead that affirmed community integration as a civil rights issue. We can think of no better time for the House to pass legislation protecting the rights of LGBTQ+ community, the Disability Community, and those who live in the intersection of both.
To ensure that the promise of full participation and legal protection in American society is afforded people with LTSS disabilities, the Disability Community has called on the House of Representatives to pass the Disability Integration Act (S117/HR555) by July 26, 2019. National ADAPT praises and thanks the cosponsors of the Equality Act for their commitment to civil rights and social justice, but we recognize that a significant number of Equality Act cosponsors are not yet cosponsors of the Disability Integration Act (DIA). We call on the cosponsors of the Equality Act – who have not yet signed on as cosponsors of DIA – to immediately cosponsor DIA because freedom and civil rights are the right of everyone in the United States, and all of us should have our rights protected under the law.