Community leaders gathered in Balboa Park Thursday to cement their support for LGBTQ San Diegans -- as a prominent bill continues its 45-year journey through the legislature and with San Diego Pride just days away.
At the San Diego History Center, elected officials and prominent figures from local businesses, faith groups, and non-profits came together at 10 a.m. to discuss the Equality Act -- a bill aimed at making discrimination against sexual orientation and gender identity illegal nationwide.
“Passing the Equality Act is a critical and important non-partisan step that our country needs to make to support our LGBTQ community in all 50 states,” said Fernando Lopez, the executive director of San Diego LGBT Pride.
Many of Thursday’s speakers said California has made immense progress in securing legal protections for sexual orientation and gender identity -- but also highlighted other parts of the nation they said did not.
“While there is much to celebrate here in California, we are living in times and under an administration that is trying to erode all the civil rights gains that we have gotten -- and essentially transgender and non-binary members from the community,” said City Councilmember Chris Ward, who represents the Third Council District, which includes Balboa Park.
On Tuesday, the San Diego City Council introduced a resolution to oppose the Trump administration’s transgender military ban.
“San Diego does not stand for discrimination, and we will continue to fight for the rights, respect, and safety that our trans community deserves -- that we all deserve,” Ward said.
Lopez echoed this idea, reflecting on the Stonewall riots in 1969.
“San Diego has been and continues to be a model for the rest of the nation,” Lopez said. “We stand on 50 years and longer of our movement, and today, I couldn’t be more proud to be a San Diegan.”
Mayor Kevin Faulconer also spoke on the history of the gay rights movement.
“For nearly half a century, San Diego Pride has played an important role in bringing people together to recognize and celebrate the LGBT community,” Faulconer said. “Despite the progress that’s been made, LGBT people still face discrimination. Every single American deserves equal rights, and we should give every American an equal chance to succeed in this great country of ours.”
The Very Reverend Penny Bridges of St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral spoke Thursday about San Diego’s religious community who supports equal rights for all.
“The idea that extending civil protections to LGBTQ people threatens anyone’s religious freedom is ridiculous,” she said. “Every human being deserves to be free -- free of fear in the workplace, free of unwanted attention in the public square, free of persecution wherever they move and live and have their being.”
Monica Redmond with the University of California, San Diego spoke about the bill’s impact on the workplace.
“UCSD is grateful to the Equality Act, which stresses the importance and the need for employers throughout the country to not discriminate or allow anyone’s sexual orientation or gender identity to hinder them from obtaining employment,” said Redmond, who is the Lead Talent Acquisition Specialist for UCSD’s Health Human Resources.
In May, the U.S. House of Representatives approved the Equality Act in a 236-173 vote. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the bill’s passage will bring the nation “closer to equal liberty and justice for all.”
The Equality Act now requires approval by the U.S. Senate.
Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo., who is an opponent of the bill, said the Equality Act was “grossly misnamed” and said it is “anything but equalizing.”
Hartzler went on to say the bill “hijacks” Civil Rights Act of 1964 to create “a brave new world of ‘discrimination’ based on undefined terms of sexual orientation and gender identity.”
Though Lopez disagreed, saying LGBTQ Americans can still be fired in 30 states because of who they love or how they express their gender -- something Lopez said was “completely unfair.”
Thursday’s press conference came two days before San Diego’s annual Pride parade -- and amid a full weekend of celebrations and remembrance. The city estimated 300,000 people will watch the parade (to learn how to watch the festivities, click here).
WHAT IS THE EQUALITY ACT?
First introduced in 2015, the Equality Act is a version of a bill introduced in 1974 aimed at expanding protections against discrimination of Americans.
The bill would add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the 1964 act and explicitly prohibit discrimination against all protected classes in the workplace, when shopping, looking for housing, using public transit, and more.
The bill should not be confused with the proposed Equal Rights Amendment, which, since the 1920s, has aimed to prohibit discrimination based on sex.
The proposed amendment has been ratified by 37 states since its congressional approval in 1972. In order for the amendment to be added to the Constitution, it would need approval from 38 states.
To learn more about this proposed amendment, click here.
WHAT WERE THE STONEWALL RIOTS?
In June 1969, police raided a gay bar called the Stonewall Inn and clashed with members of the LGBTQ community.
“And then the next year, we took to the streets and marched, and that is what sparked the modern-day Pride movement,” Lopez said.
The raid sparked an uprising, which served as a catalyst for the gay rights movement in the U.S. and around the world.
Ahead of the 50th anniversary of the riots, the New York Police Department issued an apology for its actions outside the club.
“I think it would be irresponsible to go through World Pride Month and not to speak of the events at the Stonewall Inn in June of 1969,” NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill said. “I do know that what happened at Stonewall should not have happened. The actions taken by the NYPD were wrong, plain and simple. The actions and the laws were discriminatory and oppressive, and for that I apologize.”