(Photo: Toni Smith, USGS.gov)

U.S. House Democrats introduced the Equality Act, which would prohibit anti-LGBT discrimination, this afternoon (Wednesday, March 13) and the three North Texas Democrats — Reps. Eddie Bernice Johnson, Marc Veasey and Colin Allred — have signed on as co-sponsors.

“The Equality Act is the next step in our journey to a government that is truly just and fair towards all,” Johnson said. “Even though discrimination exists in our country, we cannot allow our laws to discriminate against people because of their identity. The very thought of this contradicts the most fundamental principle on which our country was founded. This is legislation we must advance if we are to move closer to fulfilling our nation’s founding promise.”

According to Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus co-chair David Cicilline, D-R.I., only 21 states have explicit laws barring discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing, and public accommodations, and only 20 states have such protections for gender identity. Recent national surveys of LGBT people that show 42 percent of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people, and 78 percent of transgender people, have experienced discrimination or harassment on the job because of who they are.

The name Equality Act was chosen to emphasize that the bill supports equal rights, not special rights as its detractors argue.

The Equality Act includes strong protections and exemptions for private property owners and individuals renting a space in their own home. The Fair Housing Act includes exemptions for both owner-occupied rental housing, which has four or fewer units, as well as individual roommate arrangements.

The Equality Act preempts state bathroom bills by requiring that transgender men be permitted to use male facilities and that transgender women be permitted to use female facilities.

“Everyone — including transgender people — needs to be able to use the bathroom in safety and peace,” Cicilline wrote in a FAQ sheet.

The Equality Act adds sex, sexual orientation and gender identity to the Fair Housing Act to Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination in places of public accommodation. It doesn’t alter existing religious exemptions.

More than 160 corporations have endorsed the legislation.

— David Taffet