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Nevada senator calls on Congress to pass LGBTQ protections

U.S. Sen. Jacky Rosen was flanked by a group of local LGBTQ community activists Tuesday when she called on Congress to pass the Equality Act, which she co-sponsors.

The act would pen federal protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, and it would apply to areas including employment, education, housing and health care.

“No individual should ever have to face discrimination because of who they love or how they self-identify,” the Nevada Democrat said at the press conference, which was held at The Center, a downtown Las Vegas organization that supports the Southern Nevada LGBTQ community.

The press conference came a day after the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear three separate LGBTQ workplace discrimination cases. Two cases ask whether federal law prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. One asks whether employment discrimination is prohibited on the basis of gender identity.

Rosen has long been described as an LGBTQ ally. She told the Las Vegas Review-Journal on Tuesday that her activism and outspokenness started in the 1970s while attending college, when she met two of her best friends, both named Michael.

“Early on in my young life, I have just been surrounded by the love and friendship of LGBTQ individuals,” Rosen said, “and so I know that they deserve the same freedoms as everybody else.”

In March, a version of the Equality Act was introduced in both the U.S. House and Senate. Similar nondiscrimination legislation has been introduced but never passed.

Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., sponsored the House version. Nevada Reps. Dina Titus, Steven Horsford and Susie Lee were among its 240 co-sponsors, along with three Republican representatives.

Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-OR, sponsored the Senate version, which was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Along with Rosen, Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto also co-sponsors the legislation, as do 43 other Democrats and one Republican, Susan Collins, of Maine.

A single Democratic senator has opposed the act since its introduction.

In a March statement, Sen. Joe Manchin, of West Virginia, said he supported “equality for all people” but was “not convinced that the Equality Act as written provides sufficient guidance to the local officials who will be responsible for implementing it, particularly with respect to students transitioning between genders in public schools.”

When it was heard in committee in early April, Republicans senators were united in their opposition, arguing it would hurt cisgender women by allowing transgender women to compete with them in sports and federal programs. Cisgender refers to people whose gender identity corresponds with their birth sex.

The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., has voted against similar nondiscrimination legislation.

‘Patchwork nature’ of current laws

At the press conference Tuesday, local transgender woman Danielle Brown shared a personal story in which she was denied a job because the company’s owner didn’t want to hire any “Caitlyn Jenners” even though a manager wanted to hire her.

“In the years since coming out as transgender, or at least dressing full-time, I’ve been bashed, ridiculed, and a family member has even threatened my life,” Brown said. “But by far the worst thing is people don’t take me seriously. No one gives me a chance.”

Nevada has had various LGBTQ protections in place for about a decade. But at least two dozen other states don’t share those protections, Briana Escamilla, Nevada state director of the Human Rights Campaign, said Tuesday.

“The patchwork nature of current laws leaves millions subject to uncertainty and potential discrimination that impacts their safety, their families and their day-to-day lives,” Escamilla said.

In an interview with the Review-Journal after the press conference, Rosen said she is proud to co-sponsor the act, which she called “long overdue.”

“All of us want to be able to live life to our fullest potential, doing things that we care about and being part of our communities, and that’s all that this community is asking for,” she said.

Contact Rachel Crosby at rcrosby@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3801. Follow @rachelacrosby on Twitter.

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