Equality NC Executive Director Chris Sgro addresses the newly introduced Equality Act at a July 23 press event during the national Equality Federation summer meeting in Charlotte.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Leaders representing LGBT state-based equality groups across the country and other national LGBT civil rights leaders today endorsed landmark, comprehensive federal legislation designed to prohibit anti-LGBT discrimination in a wide range of areas.

The Equality Act, introduced in Congress today — and sponsored by U.S. Senate are Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ). House sponsors are Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) and Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) — would ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in housing, credit, education, public accommodations, federal funding, jury services and employment.

As a strategy, national leaders have said their focus will shift from the long-sought Employment Non-Discrimination Act to pushing for swift passage of the new Equality Act, the most comprehensive anti-LGBT non-discrimination legislation introduced in Congress.

“It’s a very exciting time, as we know from the freedom to marry,” Equality Federation Executive Director Rebecca Isaacs told reporters at a press conference in Charlotte, where 200 state and national LGBT leaders have met for her organization’s annual summer meeting.

“It’s time to pass the Equality Act right now,” Isaacs declared.

Chris Sgro, executive director of Equality North Carolina, also endorsed the legislation.

“Congress must act swiftly for the passage of the Equality Act,” he said.

Sgro called on North Carolina’s House and Senate delegations to sign on as co-sponsors of the bill, including the state’s U.S. Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, both Republicans.

“I call on Senators Tillis and Burr to stand up for these commonsense non-discrimination measures,” Sgro said. “Fairness is not a Republican or Democratic issue.”

Other national leaders at the presser also spoke out forcefully for passage.

“The Equality Act will provide comprehensive and clear protections for LGBT people across the country,” said Sasha Booker, staff attorney for the National Transgender Law Center. “Transgender people specifically face enormous rates of discrimination,” she added, citing higher unemployment rates and risks for homelessness.

Booker called the legislation an “enormous step forward for our communities.”

She added, “But the work isn’t done. This is part of a strategy that includes passing protections … along with other work to be done, including ending the violence targeting transgender women of color and issues faced by immigrant transgender people in detention.”

Earlier this week, the Washington Blade reported that some national LGBT leaders were questioning the strategy behind the Equality Act. The bill will achieve new non-discrimination measures by amending portions of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Some leaders, according to unnamed sources reported by the Blade, fear opening the Civil Rights Act up for debate could result in harmful amendments to the landmark legislation.

But state and national leaders stressed Thursday that the legislation has broad support.

“A broad array of civil rights leaders, including Congressman John Lewis, are standing firmly behind this,” Sgro said in response to a question from qnotes.

Isaacs also added, “This legislation is a long, long time coming. There is a huge swell of support throughout the civil rights community, the women’s community, the LGBT community and many, many other communities. It is a process for some folks to look at what will happen as you do amend various parts of civil rights law, but this really is the best way and only way to do it.”

Cathryn Oakley, senior legislative counsel for the Human Rights Campaign, said that while some might have questions, the legislation is largely backed by a broad coalition.

“Any piece of legislation which is as ambitious and as large and sweeping as this, certainly people will be nervous about moving forward, particularly with a landmark bill like the Civil Rights Act,” Oakley said. “Any movement will require thoughtful action. … There is a groundswell of support, really incredible coalition leadership and lots of people working for this bill [with] thoughtfulness.”

The Equality Act’s introduction comes as the Equality Federation hosts their annual summer meeting in Charlotte, where City Council in March rejected ordinances that would have offered similar LGBT-inclusive protections in public accommodations and other areas.

Equality NC’s Sgro said his organization will continue to work with local organizations in seeking local protections while the Equality Act is debated.

“While we look for passage of this federal legislation, we will not stop pushing for the City of Charlotte to reconsider that vital ordinance as soon as possible,” Sgro said. “LGBT people in the Queen City need these protections and we are working to make sure they are, in fact, won.

Over 200 state and national LGBT leaders are attending the Equality Federation’s summer meeting. Stay tuned for a reports on the conference tomorrow and through the weekend.

Matt Comer

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.