A Plan to Fight for LGBTQ Equality - John Hickenlooper for U.S. Senate

A Plan to Fight for LGBTQ Equality

I believe in an America where who you love or how you identify has no impact on your physical safety or ability to succeed. We will not achieve true equality in this country until that is the reality in which we all live. The Trump administration rolled back years of hard work with its regressive policies and targeted attacks on the basic civil rights of LGBTQ Americans. Senator Gardner is complicit by voting to appoint anti-LGBTQ judges to the bench and failing to support the Equality Act.

Coloradans deserve a senator who will fight for them. I have been a staunch supporter of the LGBTQ community my entire adult life. As Governor, I was proud to sign a law to expand the Family and Medical Leave Act in Colorado to include same-sex partners. And before marriage equality was the law of the land, I called a special session of the General Assembly to pass civil unions here in Colorado. Republicans stonewalled that effort, but we passed civil unions a year later. We also updated the state’s prohibition on profiling for law enforcement to include sexual orientation and gender identity and implemented new rules in the Colorado Civil Rights Division to include additional protections for the LGBTQ community.

I am proud of what we accomplished in Colorado, but we have a long way to go to achieve full equality. As recently as June 12, 2020, the Trump Administration finalized a rule to remove nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ individuals, which puts transgender Americans particularly at risk. And despite this, Senator Gardner is silent in pushing back against President Trump’s relentless attacks on our LGBTQ communities. As one of One Colorado’s Pro-Equality candidates, I am committed to supporting a policy agenda that fully reflects today’s inclusive, intersectional movement for LGBTQ rights. If elected, I will advocate for legislation that protects LGBTQ individuals against discrimination and furthers the cause of equal rights for every American. Embracing different identities is what makes our society stronger. 

Pass the Equality Act — The Equality Act (H.R.5) is a commonsense proposal to update civil rights law and bring the existing patchwork of state regulations up to par. The legislation would strengthen non-discrimination protections in education, health care, housing, public services, and so much more. Sixty business associations and 70% of the American public support Congressional action on the Equality Act. While the House of Representatives passed the legislation on May 17, 2019, Mitch McConnell and Cory Gardner’s Senate has shown no intention of making this bill a law. As Senator, I will be a strong supporter of the Equality Act, because I believe that LGBTQ equality can’t wait another day.

Strengthen Civil Rights Protections — Civil rights laws offer critical safeguards for individuals at higher risk of discrimination in society. It is unacceptable that in 2020, we still live in a country where Black trans women are brutally murdered and some school districts allow LGBTQ students to be bullied with impunity. As Senator, I will support funding for the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, which prosecutes hate crimes and enforces anti-discrimination statutes that provide LGBTQ Americans an avenue for justice. I will vote to appoint judges who have a demonstrated record of upholding LGBTQ protections, to ensure that we can build on the legal progress we have made. I will support the Do No Harm Act, which will ensure no one can be denied services or health care based on who they are or whom they love. And I will push for rapid and consistent implementation of the Supreme Court’s landmark June 15 decision to ensure that LGBTQ Americans can enjoy the protections that Title VII provides them under the law. 

Boost Economic Security for LGBTQ Workers and Business Owners — As a former small business owner, I know how quickly employees become family. At the Wynkoop, our work family had no tolerance for harassment, but I realize this is not the case across the country. It is time to pass stronger workplace protections into law, so that no one can be discriminated against because of their identity. Current wage disparities for LGBTQ workers make it more difficult to cover rent or the cost of groceries, and 22% of LGBTQ Americans live in poverty, compared to 16% of cisgender straight Americans. We must raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour and strengthen social safety net programs to level this uneven playing field. I am also an enthusiastic supporter of apprenticeship programs, which help all workers gain critical work experience and professional opportunities. And I support increasing access to capital for underrepresented entrepreneurs — including LGBTQ small business owners — because everyone deserves the opportunity to succeed.

Protect Transgender Rights — Transgender Americans, particularly transgender individuals of color, suffer disproportionate levels of discrimination and harassment in this country. From housing to employment, transgender people are more likely to be marginalized, victimized, and have their needs disregarded. We are witnessing a human rights crisis in our own communities and Congress has a responsibility to act. The government, by lifting the ban on transgender people serving in the military and permitting transgender employees to use the restroom of their gender identity at federal offices, has demonstrated that progress is possible. These Obama-era decisions affirmed basic civil rights and improved the safety and economic future of untold numbers of Americans. But with President Trump using his office to undermine many of these hard-won protections, moral leadership from Congress is imperative. Furthermore, past progress belies how much farther we have yet to go. Inequality in the legal system, for example, is persistent and shocking. According to the 2015 Transgender Survey, transgender individuals are incarcerated at more than twice the rate of the general population, and nearly ten times more likely to be sexually assaulted while in prison. The abuse and mistreatment can be exacerbated in situations where individuals are housed according to the anatomy of their birth, rather than their gender identity, and denied gender-affirming health care, clothing, or other support. If elected to the U.S. Senate, I will stand with the transgender community in fighting these practices, as well as promoting legislation that upholds vital anti-discrimination protections for all transgender Americans.

Address Discrimination Against LGBTQ Individuals of Color — In 2019, at least 27 transgender or gender non-conforming individuals were murdered. The majority were Black. The deadly intersection of racism, transphobia, and homophobia persists in our nation today, but no federal data set currently tracks the frequency and circumstances of these murders. Furthermore, in police reports, officers often dishonor the individual by using their deadname, rather than their real name, further complicating our understanding of the scope of these hate crimes and denying victims the justice they deserve. Congress should act by passing the LGBTQ Essential Data Act, which uses the CDC’s National Violent Death Reporting System to track gender identity in violent deaths. As Senator, I will also support funding for culturally-competent trauma support for all LGBTQ individuals recovering from violence. Blatant racism is blinding us to the value of the lives being lost, the outrage we should all feel at a lack of justice, and the importance of acknowledging that Black lives matter includes Black trans lives. Congress needs to start acting like it.

Expand Access to Inclusive Health Care Health care is a human right. Yet even after the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), LGBTQ Americans are more likely to be uninsured than non-LGBTQ Americans. The numbers are even higher for transgender individuals and queer people of color. Introducing a public option to the insurance marketplace is an important step to expand coverage and increase affordability. But when 55 percent of LGBTQ Coloradans fear being treated differently by their provider, it is clear that insurance access is only a part of the problem. LGBTQ individuals deserve to receive gender-affirming and inclusive care, and Congress should expand competency training for physicians to address internal biases regarding gender and sexual orientation. Transgender Americans suffer inconsistent coverage for hormone replacement therapy and gender reassignment surgery, and refusal of care from providers or insurers as recently announced by the Trump administration. Congress can step in to equalize access to medically necessary treatments and discrimination-free care. Finally, I support ending the FDA’s restriction on blood donations from men who have sex with men. It is an antiquated policy that embodies the legacy of discrimination against LGBTQ individuals in the medical community. We can further public health by shifting our focus to science-based blood donation standards. By focusing on these standards, we can not only ensure the highest level of safety for blood donations from every donor, but also help to reduce any stigma associated with blood donation from LGBTQ individuals.

Fund HIV/AIDS Prevention and Research — HIV is an epidemic that has claimed 700,000 lives since 1981 and continues to infect new Americans today. More than 1,100,000 people currently live with HIV, and new infections disproportionately impact communities of color. Federal programs such as Ryan White and the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) have helped make significant progress against this disease, both at home and abroad, and should have the full support of Congress. The development of drugs that reduce rates of transmission was a watershed moment in the fight against HIV. Congress can make pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) more available and affordable through legislation such as the PrEP Access and Coverage Act, as well as by funding grants to nonprofits in Colorado working to improve community health. Finally, we must continue to protect the ACA, which expanded coverage and treatment options for HIV-positive Americans, and is under attack by President Trump and the Republican-led Senate.

Support LGBTQ Youth — LGBTQ youth are twice as likely as their peers to experience physical assault and 92% report hearing negative societal messages about their identity. Those who experience victimization are 2.5 times more likely to attempt self-harm. This is unacceptable. All children and young adults deserve to grow up in safe, accepting communities. We know which interventions work — we simply must find the political will to act. Doing so can save many young lives. First, we should start by banning conversion therapy — like we did here in Colorado — across the nation. Second, we must adequately fund mental health, counseling, and suicide prevention efforts. Third, Congress should support housing vouchers and community-based temporary shelter programs to address homelessness, as LGBTQ individuals account for up to 40% of the homeless youth population. Fourth, we can make it easier to change legal identification documents for individuals who are transitioning. Fifth and finally, the Department of Education should be a leader in protecting the rights of LGBTQ youth and funding LGBTQ training for educators. It has shirked its duty to support and protect students under Secretary Betsy DeVos. Since 2017, for example, Secretary DeVos dismissed every Title IX case presented to the department on behalf of transgender students and their right to use the restroom associated with their gender identity. Such discrimination can make school a traumatizing environment, and children can’t learn when they don’t feel safe. The Department has a responsibility to hold school districts accountable for incidences of bullying, exclusion, and harassment against LGBTQ students. 

Reverse President Trump’s Discriminatory Agenda — President Trump and his administration have spent the past four years systematically undermining the civil rights of the LGBTQ community. The president’s resume is one discriminatory policy after another: a ban against transgender individuals serving in the military, declining to appoint an LGBTQ liaison at the White House, failing to pursue discrimination complaints filed by transgender students, and so many others. In June, his administration announced the intention to redefine “sex discrimination” to exclude gender identity, reversing the Obama-era protection included in section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act. The atrocious policy decisions of this president and his allies in Congress must not be allowed to stand. But it is not enough to just go back to where we were before. If elected Senator, in addition to reversing Trump’s agenda of hate, I vow to work with activists and allies to pass proactive legislation that truly advances the cause of equality for the entire LBGTQ community.

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