Floor Speech on the Equality Act

February 25, 2021
Press Release

Washington, D.C. – Speaker Nancy Pelosi delivered remarks on the Floor of the House of Representatives in support of H.R. 5, the Equality Act, which will extend federal anti-discrimination protections for sexual orientation and gender identity.  Below are the Speaker’s remarks:

Speaker Pelosi.  Thank you, Mr. Speaker.  I thank the gentlelady for yielding and for her leadership on this important issue.  Mr. Speaker, I rise to join our entire Caucus in saluting Congressman David Cicilline, our long-time champion of the Equality Act, who has been courageous, relentless and persistent in his leadership on this legislation. 

We are proud to bring this important legislation to the House Floor under the leadership of the most diverse House Democratic Majority, nearly 70 percent women, people of color and LGBTQ, with 224 co-sponsors on this legislation.  Mr. Speaker, many of us were gathered together nearly five years ago to first introduce the Equality Act.  That day in the LBJ Room on the Senate side, named after the President who fought for and signed the Civil Rights Act, we stood with an icon of the civil rights struggle, our colleague, John Lewis, the Conscience of the Congress. 

The Civil Rights Act is a sacred pillar of freedom in our country.  It is not amended lightly.  So, how proud were we to be with our beloved John Lewis and the Congressional Black Caucus, many of whom are here now, Maxine Waters and others, Mr. Green, thank you, as they gave their imprimatur to the opening of the Civil Rights Act to end discrimination against LGBTQ Americans.

As we remember John Lewis's life, we remember his words, spoken at the Pride parade in Atlanta shortly before being diagnosed with cancer.  He said, ‘We are one people and one family.  We all live in the same house.’ 

As we prepare to pass this landmark legislation, we must salute the countless advocates, activists, outside organizers and mobilizers who have, for decades, demanded the full rights of all Americans. 

Personally, my thoughts are with my friends, the late Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, who shared their lives together for decades.  I have spoken of them with their photo here on the Floor year in and year out.  They were mentors of so many of us in San Francisco who for decades were engaged in civic engagement on many issues, including those issues related to LGBTQ rights.  They were an inspiration, teaching us to take pride, and I say that with pride. 

When people say to me, ‘It's easy for you to support LGBTQ equality because you're from San Francisco where people are so tolerant.’  Tolerant, to me, that's a condescending word.  This is not about tolerance.  This is about respect.  This is about taking pride.  For Phyllis and Del and the older LGBTQ couples, for them, for LGBTQ workers striving to provide for their families, and for LGBTQ youth struggling to find their place, this is an historic, transformative moment of pride. 

Here in the House, this pride goes – this pride goes back for many years.  When we first got the Majority in 2006 and 2007, as we took office, House Democrats had four goals relating to equality.  Passing a comprehensive hate crimes bill, and when I say comprehensive, I mean LGBTQ, T.  People said to us at the time, ‘Take out the “T” and you can pass this bill in a minute.’  I said take — ‘If we take out the “T” we are not going to pass this bill in 100 years, because we are not bringing it up without the word transgender in the bill.’  We passed the bill with the help of – the lead of Barney Frank, our former colleague, and the family of Matthew Shepard, who came here, touched our hearts, got the votes to help us pass the legislation. 

Then, we had ‘Don't Ask, Don't Tell’ and under the leadership of President Obama and the courage of so many Members, Patrick Murphy, our former colleague, an Iraq combat vet leading the way here, we repealed ‘Don't Ask, Don't Tell.’  Thank you, President Obama. 

Securing marriage equality was done for us by the courts.  I took great pride in attending the oral arguments that day when that was argued in the courts and what a victory it was for liberty and justice in our country when that decision came down. 

Next on the agenda was something called ENDA, ending discrimination in the workplace.  Well, it's really called Employment Non-Discrimination Act, hence the ENDA.  But then, with the successes that we had, it was why are we just talking about the workplace?  Why aren't we talking about every place in our society?  And hence came forth – ENDA became the Equality Act, finally, fully ending anti-LGBTQ discrimination on employment, education, housing, credit, jury service and public accommodations.  It removes all doubt that sexual orientation and gender identity warrant civil rights protection in every arena of American life, codifying the recent decision made by the U.S. Supreme Court Bostock case.  It takes a momentous step towards full equality that brings our nation closer to the founding promise of liberty and justice for all, enshrined in the Preamble of our Constitution by our Founders in their great wisdom, also in our pledge to the flag. 

And it is sadly necessary.  I wish that it weren't.  Sometimes I just wonder why it is, but it is sadly necessary because many members of the national LGBTQ community live in states where, though they have the right to marry, they have no state-level non-discrimination protections in other areas of life.  In more than 20 states, Mr. Speaker, LGBTQ Americans do not have specific protections against being denied housing because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and over 30 states lack protections regarding access to education.  And nearly 40 states lack protections regarding jury service.

Passing the Equality Act in the last Congress was historic, a day of hope and happiness for millions.  Now, with a Democratic Senate Majority and President Biden in the White House and Vice President Harris there as well, we will pass it once more and we will not stop fighting until it becomes law.  We will never stop fighting until the Equality Act becomes law. 

Let me conclude by returning to John Lewis and recalling his words spoken on this House Floor on the passage of the Equality Act the first time.  John Lewis said, ‘We have a decision to end discrimination and set all of our people free,’ and set all of our people free.  Today, with this legislation, we have an opportunity to set all of our people free and to advance the future of justice, equality and dignity for all.

With that, I urge a strong bipartisan vote for the Equality Act, salute Mr. Cicilline and Senator Merkley on the Senate side for their leadership, commend the distinguished Chair of the Judiciary Committee for, once again, bringing this to the Floor.  Thank you, Congresswoman, for your leadership on this issue as well. 

And with that I urge an aye vote and yield back the balance of my time.  Thank you, Mr. Speaker.