Oregon’s members of Congress kept busy this week by introducing two new bills to protect LGBTQ people.
In the Senate, Sen. Jeff Merkley was one of four senators to introduce the Equality Act of 2019, which would ban discrimination against LGBTQ people on the federal level, on Wednesday. While Oregon already includes LGBTQ people in its nondiscrimination law, the majority of US states do not.
If the Equality Act passes and is signed into law, sexual orientation and gender identity will become federally protected classes, like race, religion, and age. That means it would be illegal to deny someone housing, a job, a private loan, or federal funding because they identify as LGBTQ.
“Today, the bell of freedom does not ring for LGBTQ Americans, who still face discrimination in 29 states,” Merkley said in a press release. “It is way past time to fully open the doors of opportunity for every American. Let’s pass the Equality Act. Let’s do it this year."
Merkley first introduced a version of the Equality Act to Congress in 2015, but it has so far failed to pass.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi introduced a version of the Equality Act to the House of Representatives on Wednesday as well, with the support of Oregon Rep. Earl Blumenauer.
In the House, Rep. Suzanne Bonamici joined two other representatives in introducing legislation Thursday that would improve public services for LGBTQ seniors. According to a study from the Gerontological Society of America, LGBTQ seniors tend to be more isolated and face more financial and health risks than the general US senior population.
Bonamici’s bill is titled the Ruthie and Connie LGBT Elder Americans Act, named after couple Ruthie Berman and Connie Kurtz. Before passing away last year, Kurtz was an advocate for LGBTQ equality; her partner, Berman, continues to fight for queer seniors.
Connie Kurtz, who died last year, dedicated her life to fighting for #LGBT equality with her wife Ruthie. I’m honored to continue their work by introducing the Ruthie and Connie LGBT Elder Americans Act with @RepTedDeutch & @RepCharlieCrist. pic.twitter.com/Yv6EiCN3v9
— Suzanne Bonamici (@RepBonamici) March 14, 2019
The bill would establish a National Resource Center on LGBT Aging, and direct a study to further determine the needs of LGBTQ seniors.
“Unfortunately, too many seniors in the LGBT community face isolation and significant barriers to accessing programs and resources,” Bonamici said in a press release. “I’m honored to continue Connie’s work to fight for the rights of LGBT seniors.”
There's no guarantee either bill will pass through both houses, or be signed into law. But introducing them keeps these issues in the national conversation—and forces Republicans to go on the record as for or against them.
Meanwhile, on the state, a bill to remove outdated language about transgender people from Oregon law passed a house vote in Salem yesterday. It is now moving through the Oregon senate.