Here in Nebraska, we believe in fairness. We believe in treating each other as we’d like to be treated and creating opportunities for our youth and families to thrive.
As the executive director of OutNebraska, I know that the 67,000 LGBTQ+ Nebraskans want what everybody wants: the freedom to create a good life for ourselves and our loved ones in a country that treats us equally.
With the election of Joe Biden, the country has shown that it’s ready for change. Equality is a winning issue. More than 80% of Americans support protecting LGBTQ+ people from discrimination.
I think it’s time we follow through on common sense public opinion by passing a common sense law. The Equality Act has bipartisan support in Congress. It would ensure that all LGBTQ+ Americans can live, work and access public spaces free from discrimination, no matter what state they call home.
This legislation is a priority for LGBTQ+ Nebraskans and a priority for the next administration. I urge Sens. Ben Sasse and Deb Fischer to stand for all Nebraskans and publicly voice their support of the Equality Act.
Momentum for LGBTQ+ equality has been building for years. Here in Nebraska, we have no state laws that expressly protect LGBTQ+ people, but we do have some protections from discrimination.
After the landmark Supreme Court ruling this summer that clarified existing employment protections for LGBTQ+ people, the Nebraska Equal Opportunity Commission announced it will accept LGBTQ-related employment and housing complaints. This means that our statewide human rights commission has followed the lead of the Supreme Court and determined that state laws that prohibit sex discrimination also protect all LGBTQ+ people.
This is a huge development. But what we really need are comprehensive laws at the state and federal level that provide concrete protection from harm. Discrimination in Nebraska is still commonplace, and it’s still legal under federal law for stores, restaurants, federally funded programs, including hospitals, colleges and adoption agencies, to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people. This can’t continue.
A recent survey found that more than one in three LGBTQ+ Americans faced discrimination of some kind in the past year, including more than three in five transgender Americans.
More than half of LGBTQ+ people said they experienced harassment or discrimination in a public place such as a store, transportation or a restroom.
Fifty percent of LGBTQ people live in the 29 states that lack comprehensive statewide laws explicitly prohibiting discrimination against LGBTQ+ people. While 21 states and over 350 cities have passed LGBTQ+ nondiscrimination protections, this patchwork of protections is unsustainable and leaves too many people behind.
We can all agree that Americans should be able to participate in all aspects of daily life with dignity and respect and without fear of discrimination. No one should be at risk of being denied housing or fired from a job simply because of who they are or who they love. And everyone should be free to go about their daily lives – go into a store, check into a hotel, go to the doctor, eat a meal at a restaurant – without fear of harassment or discrimination.
After all, equality is not a Democratic or Republican value; it’s an American value. And now that Americans are battling the COVID-19 crisis and the economic downturn, it’s more important than ever that all of us have a fighting shot at a good life and a healthy future.
It’s time for Nebraska lawmakers and members of Congress to do their jobs and pass legislation that protects us all. President-elect Biden has pledged to make ending discrimination against LGBTQ+ Americans a core feature of his administration and a top priority of his first 100 days in office. The U.S. House of Representatives has already passed the Equality Act with bipartisan support. Now it’s the Senate’s turn.
America is ready for Congress to pass clear, comprehensive and secure nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ+ Americans in all 50 states. I hope Senators Sasse and Fischer will stand up for all Nebraskans and join the next president in supporting this common sense legislation.
Abbi Swatsworth is the executive director of OutNebraska.