For Immediate Release: June 23, 2021
Office of The Attorney General
– Gurbir S. Grewal, Attorney General
For Further Information:
TRENTON – Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal today joined a coalition of Attorneys General in urging the U.S. Senate to pass the Equality Act, which would expand federal civil rights laws to protect individuals from discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. New Jersey and many other States already offer similar protections, but other States do not. The Equality Act would address this patchwork of state civil rights laws by establishing nationwide protections.
Passed by the House of Representatives in February but still pending before the Senate, the Equality Act would expand the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include new protections for LGBTQ+ individuals. Specifically, the law would prohibit discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, education, federally-funded programs, credit, federal jury service, and places of public accommodation.
Among other things, the law would bar businesses and others from denying a person access to a shared facility – including a restroom, locker room or dressing room – that corresponds to that person’s gender identity. It would also provide federal protections for people who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
“Here in New Jersey, we’ve been at the forefront of efforts to ensure the equal treatment of all our residents through legislation, public awareness and civil rights enforcement,” said Attorney General Grewal. “In keeping with that commitment, we staunchly support passage of the Equality Act. Our Law Against Discrimination already contains the key protections that the Equality Act will provide, and it is time for them to become the law of the land nationwide.”
Enacted in 1945, New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination (LAD) has been amended multiple times in the years since its enactment to include protections for individuals based on their sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and status as pregnant or breastfeeding, among other protected characteristics.
Many other states have also adopted laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, but 27 states still lack laws protecting LGBTQ+ individuals against discrimination. In today’s letter to the Senate’s majority and minority leadership, as well as to leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Attorney General Grewal and the other participating Attorneys General argue that the Equality Act would “fill the gap” while also expanding the “civil rights enforcement tool kit” of the states.
While the landmark Supreme Court decision Bostock v. Clayton County, issued in June 2020, held that discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation and transgender status violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, these protections do not necessarily extend to other sectors of society, such as housing and places of public accommodation. As a result, LGBTQ+ individuals currently have limited recourse under federal law when they face discrimination in many contexts.
Today’s letter notes that the Act is needed to address the long history of discrimination against LGBTQ+ individuals in the United States and provide critical civil rights protections for LGBTQ+ individuals who continue to face discrimination in their daily lives today.
In recent surveys, 44 percent of transgender Americans reported having been denied equal treatment or service at least once in a place of public accommodation; 25 percent of transgender Americans reported having experienced housing discrimination based on their gender identity; 71 percent of LGBTQ+ youth reported experiencing discrimination due to their sexual orientation or gender identity in 2019; and 36 percent of LGBTQ+ individuals reported experiencing harassment or discrimination in the workplace in 2020.
In addition to codifying protections from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, the Equality Act would modernize the definition of “public accommodations,” where Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 applies, to include places or establishments that provide (1) exhibitions, recreation, exercise, amusement, public gatherings or displays; (2) goods, services, or programs; and (3) transportation services.
The letter from the Attorneys General emphasizes that enacting these non-discrimination protections legislatively is critical to insulate them from changes in the courts or the executive branch that could undermine them if not secured through legislation.
New Jersey has a long-standing commitment to ensuring equal treatment of the LGBTQ+ community. Among other recent initiatives, Governor Murphy has signed multiple laws expanding state law protections for LGBTQ+ individuals, and Attorney General Grewal issued a statewide directive governing law enforcement interactions with transgender individuals.
Under Attorney General Grewal, New Jersey has joined a number of recent multi-state initiatives to protect the rights of LGBTQ+ individuals, including:
- A 2020 lawsuit challenging a federal rulemaking that rolled back civil rights protections in healthcare for LGBTQ+ individuals;
- A 2020 amicus brief supporting a constitutional challenge to a state ban on transgender females competing as females in student athletics;
- A 2019 amicus brief in Bostock v. Clayton County urging the U.S. Supreme Court to rule that a federal ban on sex discrimination in employment protects LGBTQ+ individuals from discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity;
- A 2019 amicus brief arguing that public schools cannot lawfully deny students access to the restrooms that are consistent with their gender identity; and
- A 2018 amicus brief challenging the federal ban on transgender military service.
More information on the New Jersey LAD’s protections, including its protections against discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and one’s status as pregnant or breastfeeding, can be found in fact sheets available on the website of the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights.