All people are equal, but under the Equality Act (H.R.5), which is being considered by Congress this week, some people will be more equal than others.
H.R. 5 redefines “sex” under our federal civil rights laws to include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity,” thus overriding our current understanding of the term as the two main biological categories (male and female) into which humans and most living things are divided.
This is not just a question of semantics. Nor is it merely an attempt to prohibit employment discrimination against sexual minorities. A 2020 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court already does that.
The Equality Act would go much further, making biology synonymous with identity, and thereby prioritizing transgender people over women. By erasing sex as a distinct legal category, the measure threatens to open up female-only spaces and opportunities designed to increase representation for girls to biological men, sometimes at the expense of female safety.
Should it pass, the Equality Act will threaten the existence of sex-segregated prisons, public school locker rooms, and women’s sports teams. It will limit freedom of speech, freedom of association, accurate data collection, and robust scientific inquiry. It will threaten the rights of parents and doctors who do not approve of performing life-changing, reproduction-limiting procedures on minors.
Hyperbole, this is not. Similar local laws have already resulted in such harm. In Alaska, the state’s Equal Rights Commission opened an investigation into a women’s shelter after it turned away a biological male. In California, Catholic hospitals have faced lawsuits for declining to perform life-altering, gender-affirmation surgery. And in Connecticut, two male-bodied athletes won a combined 15 girls state championship races, taking opportunities for further competition and scholarships from female runners. H.R. 5 threatens to extend the most extreme form of these types of laws to the whole country, leaving little room for nuance or compromise.
The bill is so broad that even some who support the measure in principle have called for Congress to carve out exceptions. Writing in the Washington Post in 2019, tennis legend and LGBTQ+ activist Martina Navratilova asked Congress to exempt athletic competitions.
“The reality,” Navratilova wrote, is that “putting male- and female-bodied athletes together is co-ed or open sport. And in open sport, females lose.” But women forced to compete against male-bodied athletes risk not only losing competitions, but also their safety. Just ask Erika Newsome, whose scull was cracked by transgender MMA fighter Fallon Fox in Fox’s first professional fight as a woman.
The reason that some contexts require separation of the sexes is obvious: women have unique physical vulnerabilities that men do not have. Female inmates are kept separate from male inmates for just this reason. How can we possibly try to reduce the number of sex crimes against women—the overwhelming victims of criminal assault—if the law does not recognize such basic differences?
Under the guise of fairness, the Equality Act will forbid policy-makers from ever taking into consideration the very real differences between men and women that are necessary in order to guarantee safety and true equality of the sexes. When it comes to the issue of gender identity, each context—employment, housing, education, etc.—poses its own unique set of challenges and requires a weighing of competing interests. Unfortunately, H.R. 5 makes no exceptions for context. It treats discrimination in financial lending the same as it treats sex-segregation in battered women’s shelters or competitive sports. It uses a sledge hammer when what is really needed is a scalpel.
Majorities of Americans support protecting sexual minorities from unfair discrimination. But the Equality Act isn’t about protecting people from discrimination; it’s about compelling adherence to gender ideology. Don’t let its name fool you.