Since its passage in the U.S. House of Representatives, U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., has been outspoken about her disdain for the Equality Act. Her statements about the act have worried some in her district, particularly those in the LGBTQ community.
The Equality Act was reintroduced by U.S. Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., at the beginning of the congressional term. It passed in the House on Feb. 25 with 224 representatives voting for it, including three Republicans, and 206 voting against it.
When the representatives were discussing the bill on the House floor, Boebert made it clear she was staunchly opposed to it.
“The Equality Act. Equality for who, Madam Speaker?” Boebert said in her speech. “Where is the equality in this legislation for the young girls across America who have to look behind their backs as they change in their school locker rooms just to make sure there isn’t a confused man trying to catch a peek?”
The Equality Act would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation and gender identity in areas such as public facilities, and places of education and employment. It would make several amendments to civil rights legislation, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, that protect people on the basis of race, religion, color and national identity to also provide protections for people on the basis of sex, sexual orientation and gender identity.
It would also guarantee an individual access to a shared facility, such as a bathroom or a locker room, that is in accordance with the person’s gender identity, which is one of the many reasons why Boebert opposes it.
In her speech on the House floor, and in subsequent tweets and public appearances, Boebert has called the Equality Act the “Inequality Act.” She has said it is government overreach and it presents significant disadvantages to young women.
“Is Kamala Harris going to apologize to the girl who will lose her athletic scholarship to the boy who outplays her? … Will Nancy Pelosi please explain to our daughters why boys pretending to be girls are leering at them in the girls’ locker room?” Boebert said in a House Freedom Caucus news conference. “When we say the left is unhinged, this is exactly what we are talking about. This is a sad day for women’s rights here in the United States of America.”
Boebert’s opposition to the act has caused concern among some of her constituents.
“The larger question here is about homophobia and hate and transphobia,” said Sandra Haley, a resident of Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District. “If people have problems with particular tenets of this act, it’s most likely an outgrowth of ignorant transphobia. That’s my personal opinion.”
Haley is a temporary part-time teacher in Montezuma County who identifies as nonbinary and queer. As one of Boebert’s constituents, Haley is concerned Boebert’s rhetoric will encourage hateful actions toward young people in their community.
“Statistically and factually, the students most endangered and most marginalized and most bullied and most likely to have violence committed against them in the schools are trans students,” Haley said. “So while we’re talking about student safety, I think we definitely need to better support and protect students who are typically marginalized.”
Heidi Hess, a community organizer for the LGBTQ advocacy organization One Colorado and a resident of Mesa County, said she supports the Equality Act “100%.” She also said Boebert’s comments in reference to the Equality Act, such as when she said the act will put young women in jeopardy by allowing “boys pretending to be girls” to use the same locker rooms, show that Boebert is “wildly uninformed.”
“These are talking points of issues that don’t happen,” Hess said. “They just don’t happen.”
The Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in Colorado. However, at the federal level, “the LGBTQ community has been at the mercy of executive orders for protections,” Hess said.
Haley said some of Boebert’s comments have raised personal safety concerns.
“On a personal level, I worry about my safety,” Haley said. “But I also don’t give into terrorism, and that’s what that kind of stuff is is terrorism. It’s meant to make us afraid. It’s meant to make us silent. It’s meant to make us conform.”
Frustration and fear are common feelings among the LGBTQ community when it comes to what Boebert has said about LGBTQ rights in general and the Equality Act specifically, Hess said. Some of the young students who she works with are afraid to go to school, she said.
“Rep. Boebert making inflammatory, uneducated comments like that inflame a situation and cause harm, particularly to LGBTQ youth – specifically to LGBTQ youth,” Hess said. “They hear her ... and when our representative is making inflammatory remarks like that, that are uneducated and have no substantial basis in fact, it puts a target on LGBTQ youth.”
President Joe Biden has previously stated his intent to pass the Equality Act during his first 100 days in office, but it is unclear when the act will make it to the Senate floor. In 2015, when the act was first introduced, it went nowhere. In 2019, it was passed in the House but did not make it to the Senate floor.
If the act does pass this year, it will reap greater benefits for the LGBTQ community than only granting them protections from discrimination, Hess said.
“LGBTQ youth have a higher rate of suicide, and a higher rate of drug and substance abuse and a much higher rate of homelessness,” Hess said. “And what we also know is that, statistically, protections and acceptance and support, particularly for youth in the school system, decreases those statistics around suicide and homelessness and substance abuse.”
Grace George is an intern for The Durango Herald and The Journal in Cortez and a student at American University in Washington, D.C.