How would the Equality Act protect against anti-transgender discrimination?

On February 25, 2021, the House of Representatives voted to pass the landmark Equality Act, a bill that would revise the existing civil rights law to explicitly prohibit discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation and extend current protections. In short, the law would give LBGTQ+ people the same rights that millions of Americans have enjoyed for decades. But in the past year, the bill has stalled in the Senate, where all Democrats and at least 10 Republicans must vote for it to land on President Biden’s desk. Biden called the Equality Act a top priority during its first 100 days, and with that deadline long past, lawyers are urging members to pass the bill before November’s midterm elections could change the current Senate makeup. .

To raise awareness and increase public support for the Equality Act, the Human Rights Campaign recently unveiled its new Reality Flag: an American flag with 29 stars removed to represent the 29 states that do not provide comprehensive legal protections for LGBTQ+ -people. Queen Hatcher-Johnson, a black transgender woman living in Georgia, is featured in HRC’s campaign. Before becoming a homeowner, Hatcher-Johnson faced housing discrimination for years and was once asked to move after telling her landlord she was transgender.

“Seeing the Reality Flag motivates me to be visible about what it means to be in America and not be considered American,” she told “Being an American means being protected and free from discrimination.” Below, Hatcher-Johnson shares, in her own words, the lasting effects of dealing with housing insecurity and what a law like the Equality Act would mean for her.

There have been times in my life—sometimes three months, sometimes two years—when I wasn’t home. I would go to a friend’s house, where they might provide a couch or a bed, or I would go to a shelter. But at the time, they didn’t have trans-friendly shelters. You had to choose your evil: either stay outside or go to the men’s shelter.

Queen Hatcher Johnson

Human rights campaign

If you don’t have sustainable housing, you feel worthless. It makes you feel hopeless. You are constantly in fear for your life, your safety. Sleeping in abandoned houses or wandering the streets – that’s not safe for anyone, and then imagine adding the layer of being a person with trans experience. It weighs on your mental health.

At one point I was living in a New York men’s shelter, and it wasn’t a safe place. My friend had moved to North Carolina and was living with her sister, a cisgender woman, and she offered to take me there. I moved, got a job as a gas station attendant and was able to save some money. I found a private landlord, who I thought was a good person, and he agreed to rent me a three-bedroom house. I stayed there for less than two years when I had some maintenance issues. Usually when I needed repairs the landlord would subcontract the work but this time he said he could do it.

He came into the house, where I had shown my equality sticker, my pride flag, and my trans flag, and he asked about it. I told him, “That flag represents the community I come from as a person with trans experience.” Then he started his religious views and said it is not “from God”. I said to him, “I appreciate your point of view, but those are not my values. I don’t rule myself according to the religious perspectives or the views of other people. God loves us all.”

But he went ahead and told me about his wife and the family dynamics, and said that’s why the world was created so that everyone can reproduce. I said, “Not everyone can reproduce, regardless of any identity.” Long story short, a few weeks later, mysteriously, he called me and told me he was going to sell the property and that I should move elsewhere. We had a lease, but he knew I couldn’t afford a lawyer and all the evidence I had was my word against his word. I felt cheated and I felt lost.

By sharing my life with him I thought I was creating an ally, but actually I was talking myself out of a house. I was not trying to change his religious values; I was just trying to introduce him to my life experiences. Based on the camaraderie I thought we had built over nearly two years, I thought he would respect me, if not as a trans person, then just as a human being. But that was unfortunately not true.

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Later I moved to Georgia and managed to get a place in a one-bedroom apartment, a place where the landlord rents out rooms to private individuals. But there was no one in that house with the same gender identity as me. People say derogatory things when they find out you’re trans. Then it came back to the landlord that I was someone who “disrupts” the house; I was in my 40s and all I wanted was to go to work, come home and relax. But I was told, ‘You are disturbing the house. We can’t have that.” So again, I was homeless.

If I knew I had legal protections, I could have stood up for myself or even had the thought of talking to a lawyer. Legal protections, such as the Equality Act, would give us a layer of security. People would think differently about, or at least think about, evicting someone based on their trans-identity. There would be a level of responsibility. We are entitled to the Equality Act. We have the right to be seen as human beings. We have the right to navigate this earth with the protection that every other human has.

There is an American dream that we are sold when we are children: to have a house and start a family. Even when I experienced unsustainable housing and all this discrimination — all based on being black or being a trans-experienced person — that dream never left my mind. I never thought home ownership was available, but in 2017 I got married and in 2019 we became homeowners. And it was a journey. It was like walking down a very dark street and not knowing what was coming at you, but just carrying on with your task. I had to go to the end of the street. I had to do it, not only for me, but also for the people behind me, to let them know that you can do all this.

Now, even though I’m a homeowner, I’m still afraid of not being housed. You overwork yourself, you overthink everything, because of that fear. You don’t want to go back to where you came from. For me, being a homeowner doesn’t create a sustainability layer, but it certainly creates a mirage. I live in that mirage, and hopefully it never ends.

This interview has been edited and abbreviated for clarity.

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