MEMBERS OF CONGRESS introduced sweeping legislation today that would outlaw discrimination against LGBT people under federal law, and the world’s most valuable company is throwing its support behind the bill.
The Equality Act of 2015 would ensure that people cannot be discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity when it comes to employment, housing, and other rights. The legislation would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlaws discrimination the basis of race, color, religion, and national origin. The Equality Act would extend these same rights to LGBT people, including in the 31 states that don’t already extend these protections to their LGBT citizens.
‘It’s relatively unprecedented to have businesses come out in support of a comprehensive piece of legislation like this right out of the gate.’
DEENA FIDAS, HUMAN RIGHTS CAMPAIGN
“I’ve said it in the past, and I’ll say it again,” said Congressman John Lewis, one of the original Freedom Riders of the 1960s, during the announcement of the bill.1 “We’ve fought too hard and too long against discrimination based on race and color not to stand up against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.”
The bill has 155 co-sponsors in Congress. It’s also backed by one of the most powerful businesses in the world: Apple. In a statement to Human Rights Campaign, Apple wrote, “At Apple we believe in equal treatment for everyone, regardless of where they come from, what they look like, how they worship or who they love. We fully support the expansion of legal protections as a matter of basic human dignity.”
Apple’s support of this type of legislation should come as no surprise. Apple CEO Tim Cook, the first openly gay CEO on the Fortune 500 list, has been outspoken on issues of discrimination throughout his tenure at Apple, most recently writing an op-ed in The Washington Post opposing a slew of so-called “religious freedom” laws introduced in several states. He’s also backed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would prohibit employers from discriminating against LGBT people.
The Equality Act is even more broad in the protections it offers, which is what makes this early support from tech leaders so significant, says Deena Fidas, director of the Human Rights Campaign’s workplace equality program.
Tech Leading the Way
Fidas says this is just the latest example of how the tech sector is establishing itself as a leader in LGBT rights. In April, prominent tech leaders, led by Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, threatened to take their business out of Indianaafter the state passed its “religious freedom” law. Around the same time, a coalition of more than 100 tech leaders, including PayPal founder Max Levchin, Jack Dorsey of Square, Dick Costolo of Twitter, and others, released a joint statement calling for nationwide LGBT protections.
Given such highly visible support, Fidas expects to see even more tech companies joining forces with Apple to back the Equality Act, which would, among other things, ensure that LGBT people aren’t discriminated against in public venues like schools, banks, retail stores, transportation, and healthcare systems.
Levchin, for one, has already praised the new legislation. “The Equality Act ensures no one will be at risk of being fired, evicted from their home, or denied services because of who they are or whom they love,” he said in a statement to WIRED.
“Leaders across all industries, not just technology, must speak out and demand fairness and equality for all their employees by supporting this bill. Whether it is a conversation with a legislator or political candidate, CEOs should speak up about how important this legislation is to their company and its employees.”
The largely Democratic coalition of members of Congress will, no doubt, need this support, given the opposition it’s likely to face from conservatives. But Fidas and the sponsors of the legislation believe that as the public increasingly pushes for LGBT rights, policy will follow, as evidenced by the recent Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage.
“After an historic Supreme Court decision on marriage equality,” said Senator Tammy Baldwin said during today’s announcement, “I believe America is ready, ready to take more steps forward.”