BILOXI, Miss. (WLOX) - It’s now up to U.S. Senators to vote for or against amending civil rights laws to give legal protections to LGBTQ Americans.
House lawmakers passed the Equality Act on Feb. 25, which is a measure that would prevent businesses and institutions from discriminating against people based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
“What I don’t understand is, why do we need a bill to be treated equally like the Constitution says?” asked Gulf Coast Equity Council President Molly Kester. “(The Equality Act) is just more of an affirmation of equal rights for all humans.”
The bill passed by a vote of 224 to 206 with three House Republicans joining all Democrats in voting “yes.”
The measure will likely face an uphill battle in the Senate from most Republicans who argue that the bill would infringe upon religious liberties. The Equality Act needs 60 votes to advance, and there is uncertainty whether 10 or more Republican senators would support the legislation in an evenly divided chamber.
“One of the good things is it’s actually going to go up for a vote in the Senate, so we’ll get to see who is for and who is against it,” Kester said.
The Equality Act would extend protections for federally funded programs, employment, housing, loan applications, education and public accommodations.
However, the council advocates for more protections in lower levels of government, especially in Mississippi.
“We need these kind of bills at the state level. Non-discrimination bills have to happen at the state level,” Kester said. “We need city ordinances that also specify non-discrimination against the LGBTQ community so that we have it at every level of government.”
Kester said that Mississippi Coast businesses tend to be accepting of LGBTQ residents and cultures, but laws similar to the Equality Act could also affect other areas across the state.
“It’s going to make an impact on smaller communities in Mississippi,” Kester said. “On the Coast, I think it’s like the ‘silent acceptance.’ People live and let live and there’s not a lot of issues.”
While the council keeps their eyes on the Equality Act’s progress, they hope to see bigger changes and protections for LGBTQ Americans nationwide.
“The general population is in favor of anti-discrimination for LGBTQ (people). It’s just time for the governments to step up to it and catch up to the rest of the world,” Kester said.
In the meantime, the group is raising funds and renovating a Gulfport building along Pass Road as a space for LGBTQ services and outreach.
“We realized we didn’t have a community center or some building, a place to call our own,” Kester said. “Most LGBTQ people met each other through the bars and we wanted something where the youth can go and use the facility.”