A North Carolina leader in women's rights explains why the Equality Act isn't just about LGBTQ people. It's about protecting all women. (Image via Shutterstock) The Equality Act
A North Carolina leader in women's rights explains why the Equality Act isn't just about LGBTQ people. It's about protecting all women. (Image via Shutterstock)

On Women’s Equality Day, a North Carolina leader in women’s rights talks about the need for federal protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

[Editor’s Note: Today is Women’s Equality Day, a national holiday celebrating the passage of the 19th Amendment barring gender discrimination in voting. The following is an exclusive op-ed from the North Carolina chapter of the American Association of University Woman, which advocates for women’s equality.}

As a woman and a leader at the American Association of University Women here in North Carolina, I strongly support the passage of the Equality Act, which would update our federal laws to ensure that no one is left vulnerable to discrimination based on sex, including sexual orientation and gender identity.

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The bill would not only mark a vital step forward for LGBTQ people – but it would also finally secure important and long overdue legal protections for all women.

I believe that no one should be refused a place to live, turned away from public spaces, denied medical care, or fired from a job because of who they are – but right now, LGBTQ people in many states, including NC, still need clear and consistent protections under our laws. The Equality Act would provide explicit nondiscrimination protections across all of these areas of life for LGBTQ people. 

The Equality Act would also provide federal protections from discrimination based on sex in places of public accommodation and federally-funded programs. Advocates for women’s equality have long pushed for these important protections, because we know that their absence harms women in insidious ways. 

These protections are especially vital in North Carolina, one of just a few states without any public accommodations laws at all covering sex, race, or national origin discrimination.

For example, unless someone lives in one of our nine municipalities that have passed protections at the local level, retail stores and services like hair salons and ride shares can openly discriminate against women – including turning them away or charging them more.

Even in 2021, many stores and businesses legally can – and do – charge women higher prices than they charge men for the same services; studies show that businesses like car repair shops, dry-cleaning businesses, and salons consistently charge women more.

Under the Equality Act, this clear discrimination against women would not be allowed.

Codifying federal sex discrimination protections into law would make clear that such discrimination against women would not be allowed. It would also protect breastfeeding parents from discrimination and harassment in public spaces and provide clear legal protections nationwide from sexual harassment in places like hotels, public transportation, and restaurants, requiring these establishments to address sexual harassment.

The Equality Act would close another big gap by protecting women from discrimination based on sex in federally funded programs – programs supported with federal taxpayer-dollars, including food assistance, rural utility programs, disaster assistance, weatherization assistance programs, job training programs, and more. 

Common-sense federal nondiscrimination protections like the Equality Act have broad and deep supermajority support across lines of political party, religion, demographics, and geography, including here in North Carolina.

The vast majority of people in this nation – and a majority of North Carolinians (67%) – agree that it’s time to pass these protections. We urge Senators Richard Burr and Thom Tillis to meet with leaders who support the Equality Act and work to overcome existing obstacles and make the vision expressed in the legislation a reality for all.

AAUW of North Carolina has sixteen branches located throughout the state. Our mission is to advance gender equity for women and girls through research, education and advocacy.  Our AAUW Board of Directors and state branches strongly endorse the Equality Act, and we join the majority of North Carolina in seeking the passage of the Equality Act now. North Carolina voters are 51% women – your continued position in the U.S. Senate demands your attention to our needs.

All women should be able to live free from discrimination. All women should be guaranteed protection from sexual harassment and discrimination in every area of life – from school to the workplace to the public square. The Equality Act would at last provide these fundamental, basic protections – and the U.S. Senate must take action now to ensure that it becomes law.