Standing Up for LGBTQ Rights

We live in a time of remarkable progress in the fight for LGBTQ civil rights.  Those gains were hard-fought, but the battle is far from over, and this is not the time to be complacent.  We must fight to keep our country moving forward, so that every child feels safe and supported in school, every employee is protected from discrimination, and everyone has equal access to all of the opportunities our country offers that will help them to achieve their dreams. 

When I was married in Bloomington in 2003, I was well aware that I was enjoying a right that was being denied to many of my closest friends and family. My husband and I shared a prayer with all of the guests in attendance at our wedding that one day the freedom to marry would be available to everyone. That day arrived at last in 2015, with a critically important win in the Supreme Court that finally legally recognized the self-evident principle that love is love.

And yet the school bullying of LGBTQ children and youth remains an epidemic today, with appalling consequences for their mental health and academic performance – including a shockingly high rate of attempted suicide. The open bigotry of President Trump and his administration has only strengthened and legitimated this epidemic, as it has so many other forms of hatred and prejudice. And the administration’s assault on the civil and human rights of transgender students and members of our armed forces is an outrageous betrayal of American values and a pressing challenge for all who care about them.

We know that demagogues who appeal to hatred and fear can find success in our polarized politics.  But history shows that when we stand together, and appeal to the core American values of equality and freedom, we will win, and we will build a more open and more caring society.

I am proud to be a participant in this struggle. When I worked in Congress for Democrats on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, I fought to include the federal Equality Act in my party’s Working Families Agenda. That bill would amend our country’s civil rights laws to provide non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people in employment, housing, credit, education, public accommodations, and more. As a representative for all Hoosiers, I would continue the fight to pass that bipartisan legislation, and establish once and for all that discrimination has no place in America.

More than two decades ago, Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to protect religious groups from undue interference by the government. That was a worthy goal. But in more recent years, the Supreme Court has allowed individuals and businesses to use this law as a license to discriminate against LGBTQ people. Even conservatives such as Justice Scalia have observed that such an exception is an unworkable incursion on neutrally applicable civil rights laws.  I support the Do No Harm Act, which would clarify that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act cannot be used to bypass federal protections for equal employment and non-discrimination.

We also must end discrimination against LGBTQ parents in our foster care and adoption system, which makes it harder or even impossible for these parents to adopt. That’s why I support the Every Child Deserves a Family Act, which would prohibit any child welfare agency receiving federal money from discriminating against potential adoptive families on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. We have to stop playing politics with children’s lives.

Congress must also act to stop the epidemic of school bullying faced by LGBTQ youth. I support the Safe Schools Improvement Act and the Student Non-Discrimination Act, which are two complementary ways of doing this. Together, these bills would forbid public schools to discriminate against LGBTQ students, and they would require federally funded schools to prohibit bullying and harassment – including on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. We have a clear-cut responsibility to make our schools safe and welcoming for all our students.

Finally, we are called upon to uphold our country’s highest values in our foreign and defense policy, both at home and abroad. That’s why I support bipartisan legislation put forward by Representatives Charlie Dent and Jackie Speier that would make it illegal to fire transgender members of the armed forces on the basis of their gender identity. It’s also why I back the Global Respect Act, which would help us to monitor foreign persons who have committed gross violations of the human rights of LGBTQ people – and then deny visas to anyone on the list. From Fort Bragg to Moscow, LGBTQ rights are human rights, and our laws and policies should reflect that.