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Opinion: What America really thinks of the Equality Act

Despite Americans’ desire to expand rights to LGBTQ individuals, we do not approve of undermining women’s rights in the process

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Photo Illustration by Zoë Petersen

The Equality Act, which passed the House in February and is currently under consideration by the Senate, boasts widespread public support. In March, Gallup reported on Americans viewing LGBTQ civil rights more favorably. Another survey conducted by Hart Research for the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ advocacy group, indicated 70% of Americans support the Equality Act. And, finally, a Public Religion Research Institute survey found 82% of Americans approve of “laws that would protect gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people against discrimination in jobs, public accommodations and housing.”

But a recent national survey organized by Big Ocean Women, United Families International, of which I’m a board member, and feminist thinker Natasha Chart now calls into question the meaning of that widespread support.

As with the Gallup survey, our National Survey on Women’s Right to Privacy and Safety found strong support for the Equality Act, with 57% approval. However, our survey also asked Americans about specific outcomes of the Equality Act regarding the rights of women and religion. We learned there is a sizable disparity between the public’s endorsement for the perceived benefits of the Equality Act and its actual outcomes for women, girls and religious adherents should the act become law.

It is well documented that the Equality Act advances transgender rights — including the rights of biological men who identify as women — at the expense of biological women in areas such as sports and safe spaces like women’s shelters. Correctional facilities, too, could encounter problems if female inmates are forced to live with transgender women. Under the Equality Act, “sex” is interpreted as “gender identity,” greatly changing the meaning of the civil rights for which women have fought long and hard.

Our survey reveals that despite Americans’ desire to expand rights to LGBTQ individuals, Americans do not approve of undermining women’s rights in the process. When asked about bans on female-only accommodations affected by the passage of the Equality Act, survey participants find themselves at odds with the integration of biological males into all-female prisons, homeless and domestic violence shelters, and changing rooms and group showers.

Additionally, respondents disagreed that women should be banned from requesting biologically female health care providers when undergoing intimate medical examinations or procedures, as well as banning female-only athletic competition for biological women and girls. A May 2021 survey from Arizona State University’s Global Sport Institute and OH Predictive Insights likewise found that in the area of athletic competition, the majority of respondents are against athletes “born with externally male sexual characteristics” competing “as a woman.”

Passage of the Equality Act is a major legislative priority for the Bidenadministration. If the president is successful in persuading the Senate to pass the bill, each of these issues that could negatively impact the privacy and safety of women would be codified into federal law.

Our survey makes it clear that the American people are fair-minded. They want to preserve women’s rights to privacy and safety, as well as opportunity in athletics. They also desire the fair treatment of LGBTQ individuals. However, as Natasha Chart warns, “The current Equality Act claims to uphold these values, while posing a serious threat to all of them.”

The Equality Act merely substitutes one marginalized group for another. University of Virginia law professor Douglas Laycock says, “It protects the rights of one side, but attempts to destroy the rights of the other side. … We ought to protect the liberty of both sides to live their own lives by their own identities and their own values.”

And as Chart points out, “Elected officials should look past surface support for equality as a concept, and think ahead to how people are going to react to the effects of these policies.”

The reality is when biological males who identify as female are allowed, by law, into female-only spaces and sports, those facilities and activities then become mixed-sex or co-ed. It is perhaps the greatest irony of the Equality Act: federally sanctioned misogyny that dismantles the standing of biological women and the meaning of womanhood.

We need lawmakers to provide alternative federal legislation that balances the rights of LGBTQ individuals with women’s rights to privacy and safety and the protection of women’s athletics. It is time for people on each side of this challenging issue to seek the common good and secure a mutual promise of true equality and fairness. Doing so can and will include the advancement of civil rights for LGBTQ individuals as well as protection of the hard-fought rights of biological women. The Equality Act needs to be rejected as an artfully named bait and switch. Should it pass, our buyer’s remorse will be exquisite as our nation becomes a harsher place for women and girls.

Tori Black is a member of the board of United Families International. See the results of the National Survey on Women’s Right to Privacy and Safety here