The Senate should pass the Equality Act

The Florida Commission on Human Relations recently announced its intention to enforce the Supreme Court ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County and extend protections to LGBTQ+ Floridians, not only in employment but in other critical areas of daily life as well. The commission will now hear claims from people who allege they are being discriminated against due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

This is a sure sign of how momentum for LGBTQ+ equality is gaining in the United States. But this state-by-state approach based on state law and the recent Supreme Court ruling has emerged across the country in the absence of federal action by Congress. While progress continues, the patchwork of laws creates uncertainty and unpredictability for community leaders such as Seasons Hospice and Palliative care and for our 3,000 employees in Florida and nationwide.

We commend the extension of protections at the state level, but their varied nature underscores why we need a federal law like the Equality Act, which was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on Feb. 25. That proposed law would provide the same level of protections for LGBTQ+ Americans across the country. It is now in the Senate, and we are calling on our Florida senators, Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, to support this historic legislation.

To be clear, protecting all Americans from discrimination is not a partisan issue. A majority of Floridians — 72 percent — support LGBTQ+ nondiscrimination protections. Most people recognize that America is strong and our economy stronger when everyone is free to live their lives free from discrimination. It’s time for Congress to act.

Currently, critical gaps in federal law leave LGBTQ+ Americans vulnerable to discrimination in public spaces and services, housing, education, credit and federally funded programs. Legislation such as the Equality Act would update existing civil rights law to protect people from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

At Seasons, one of the nation’s largest hospice providers, we’re always seeking to provide creative solutions that add quality to end-of-life care. As the Baby Boomer generation ages, the need for home health, personal, palliative and hospice care is growing exponentially, including among our LGBTQ+ elders. More companies like ours realize how important it is to have a nationwide standard that treats all Americans equally, no matter who they are, where they live or whom they love.

From our perspective, LGBTQ+ equality is an issue of fairness and compassion. All people deserve health care free from discrimination. In an effort to fulfill our mission of providing inclusive workplaces and equitable end-of-life care for all people, our sites have undergone training and formal certification in LGBTQ+ cultural competency through SAGE, a nonprofit that supports services and advocacy for LGBTQ+ elders.

Together, our combined organization operates over 31 sites of care across 19 states. On the business side, the absence of a federal nondiscrimination law makes it difficult for us to navigate the different standards in cities and states. It makes recruiting, training and moving workers across our operations challenging. It costs us time and money and hinders our ability to serve eligible patients in our communities.

We need to be able to offer our services effectively in a national economy. A federal standard on nondiscrimination that clearly communicates to businesses what our responsibilities are to employees and consumers will help us achieve that.

We know that discrimination ultimately hurts business and the communities we serve. Keeping doors open to all is the right thing to do. And ‚we’re not alone in recognizing that diversity and inclusion are good for business. That’s why 94% of the nation’s largest companies have adopted comprehensive nondiscrimination policies that include sexual orientation and gender identity.

Now more than ever, as we are living through an unprecedented pandemic, we need Congress to step in and pass the Equality Act.

This article was originally published in Sun Sentinel on March 9, 2021.