Following on the heels of our National victory with the Supreme Court making marriage equality law across the country, we stand proud. Knowing that we are able to marry our partner, or marry the person we haven’t even met yet, is a delightful thing. But are Americans ready to support ALL of us? To quote Congressman Cicilline, “Today, in most states, an LGBT person can get married on Saturday, post photos of their wedding on Sunday, and then get fired from their job or thrown out of their apartment on Monday just because of who they are.” Discrimination has plagued many for centuries, and even as I write this, someone you know is losing their job, or being denied credit because they are gay, transgender or bisexual. It is the twenty first century, and liberty and justice should be for all.
I had the chance to speak with David Cicilline about the Equality Act, which would protect “all” from discrimination in housing, employment, federal funding and a number of other things which, in over 30 states across this proud country we can still be denied many of the things we take for granted.
GET: Good Morning, tell us why this act is important, and why this is such a passion for you.
SDC: The reality is that there is a tremendous amount of work to do because in the majority of states you can still be discriminated against in housing, employment, credit, public accommodations and education, which most people find surprising. So many of us felt that approaching this in a comprehensive way, to prevent discrimination in all contexts, rather than come up with a single bill for each individual problem. To expand upon the existing Civil Rights bill seemed to be the best way.
GET: Noting that this expands on the Civil Rights bill, does this also apply to those people using discrimination as part of their own religious beliefs? As in the recent news of state and county clerks refusing marriage licenses based on their own religious views?
SDC: First of all, nothing in this legislation prohibits any individual from exercising their own religious views or teaching them, but what it will NOT permit is those individuals imposing those beliefs on another person. Nor can you use your religion as a means to discriminate. As far as people refusing marriage licenses, it’s the law of the land.
GET: This would also be a milestone for women, can you speak to that and what it means?
SDC: There are sections of the (Civil Rights Bill) where gender is not currently included with regards to public accommodations, which has also been expanded to include gender as well as race. Public accommodation has a limited definition, the ADA (American Discrimination Act) has a much more detailed description, and by adding gender or sex makes it a stronger bill.
GET: What does this mean to those people who may have already lost their job based on sexual orientation or gender identification?
SDC: I don’t know that this will help those people, but it will mean that this can never happen again, I mean that one cannot fire a qualified person for doing their job. The important thing to remember is that not only does discrimination hurt those people but also the community as a whole, and we’re cheating the entire country out of the contribution that these individuals can make.
GET: Obviously passing Marriage Equality was a huge accomplishment. What do you see as the next big hurdle for this particular cause going forward?
SDC: I think getting the bill passed will be on the minds and agendas of the Co-sponsors across the country.
GET: Can you talk about how being an openly gay political figure has affected your experience?
SDC: Well I mean we have seven openly gay members of Congress, and people are realizing that members of their family, congregation, are, and we are more visible. People are understanding the importance of Equality and that this isn’t just a fundamental idea, and that real people are being hurt by discrimination in much more visible ways.
GET: I’m glad that this bill would prohibit instances of harassment and violence based on sexual identity. How do you think this will change the current trend of individuals being harassed on social media or attacked in public?
SDC: I think we have to work very hard to prevent and check bullying in this community. I think that we all need to pull together, I don’t think there’s any question that this law will pass, and we will be on the right side of history when it does. It is just a matter of time, and it’s my job to ensure that it passes very quickly.
GET: What can we do to help further this process?
SDC: Make certain that all of us, and members of our family, reach out to members of Congress across the country to ensure their support of legislation.
So the fight continues. And whether you are LGBT or a supporter, it’s vital to raise your voice. After all, it’s always time to be heard, and if you’ve ever met me, you know I can be. Let’s be on the right side of history, kids. Peace and victory.
David Cicilline is the former Mayor of the city of Providence, and also the first openly gay mayor of a state capitol. He is a member of the Democratic party, and a current member of the House of Representatives.