Top 5 Legislators Working On LGBTQ Issues
As we slowly start to make our descent toward the Mad Max: Fury Road-esque dystopia that will be Donald Trump’s America, we, as LGBT people, must begin to get a lay of the land in order to fully grasp our means of survival moving forward.
Now that we have been reassured by both the incoming president and his proposed Cabinet that marriage equality is settled (even though the federal Defense of Marriage Act is still technically on the books despite a U.S. Supreme Court victory invalidating a section of the law), there are a host of issues currently before Congress that not only need OUR attention but that of our legislators. And with an anti-gay vice-president waiting in the wings, it behooves us to assist our senators and representatives to continue fighting for our equality in various realms. In fact, here are five that are doing just that.
U.S. Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI)
Cicilline is one of a handful of queer representatives in the House (having assumed office in 2011), and he certainly used that capital to introduce the Equality Act, which is a comprehensive bill designed to protect LGBT people in areas like housing, employment, public accommodations, credit, jury service, and education. Its predecessor, the more-specific Employment Non-Discrimination Act, never received a full vote in Congress and was subsequently replaced by Cicilline’s measure. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) notes that the Equality Act has received more congressional support than any other piece of pro-LGBT legislation. Cicilline, who previously served as mayor of Providence, RI, is poised to reintroduce it in the coming weeks.
U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI)
As the only openly gay person serving in the U.S. Senate today, Sen. Baldwin (who was formerly a U.S. Representative) is keeping busy by backing legislation that would specifically help members of her community. Baldwin, who’s regarded as one of the most liberal members of Congress, most recently introduced the LGBT Elder Americans Act and the Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act. The former seeks to ensure that LGBT seniors (there are more than a million nationwide) receive proper care free of anti-LGBT bias, while the latter (named after a queer student who committed suicide in 2010) would require institutions receiving federal student aid funding to enact anti-harassment policies to protect queer attendees. Baldwin is oftentimes seen as one of the senators “to watch.”
U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-MN)
The former comedian and ‘Saturday Night Live’ performer is an ardent supporter of ours and has been since he first entered the U.S. Senate back in 2009. The junior senator from Minnesota first sponsored the Student Non-Discrimination Act, which would prohibit public schools from discriminating against children based on their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, in 2015. Later that year, in an attempt to secure its passage, Franken added the measure as an amendment to the existing Every Child Achieves Act. Though it failed in that particular capacity, Franken has been extremely vocal about making sure he secures this specific victory in order to protect LGBT kids, who disproportionately fall victim to bullying.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL)
Not only did Rep. Ros-Lehtinen co-sponsor Sen. Franken’s legislation in the House, but she also backed the Every Child Deserves a Family Act. The latter measure would bar any federally-funded child welfare agency from exhibiting anti-LGBT bias against any prospective adoptive or foster family. It would also protect LGBT foster youth, who most certainly account for a good portion of the roughly 100,000 kids that HRC reports living in the foster care system today. Ros-Lehtinen, the first Latina ever elected to Congress in 1989, was also the first Republican House member to explicitly announce her support for same-sex marriage. Oh, and she’s the proud parent of a transgender son named Rodrigo.
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA)
Aside from serving on the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus, Rep. Lee is also the co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on HIV/AIDS. Her position there must have guided her into sponsoring REPEAL, or the Repeal Existing Policies that Encourage and Allow Legal HIV Discrimination Act, which, if passed during the upcoming congressional session, would require a host of entities to review existing laws imposing criminal liability on HIV-positive individuals. The Human Rights Campaign says 32 states criminalize perceived HIV exposure, and the organization argues that these types of statutes discourage gay and bisexual men, particularly those of color, from getting tested. Rep. Lee, a Black Panther Party volunteer while in college, is viewed by many within the anti-war movement as a hero for her opposition to the use of force following the Sept. 11th attacks.