On day one, Democrats pass LGBT+ rights protections for Congress staff

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), speaks during a weekly press conference at the US Capitol in Washington, DC on February 28, 2019.

On the first day of the new Congress, Democrats in the House of Representatives have introduced LGBT+ rights protections for staff.

The 116th Congress began on January 3, with Democrats taking back the majority in the House after a strong showing in November’s midterm elections.

The newly-elected lawmakers have wasted no time in putting equality at the heart of their work.

New Congress rules outlaw anti-LGBT discrimination for lawmakers and staff

A rules package that passed the House on January 3 established new regulations for the chamber’s operations, adding rules that bar lawmakers and staff from discriminating based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The change was championed by out lawmaker David Cicilline, the head of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus.

The rules package passed by a vote of 234 to 197, broadly along party lines with Democrats in favour and Republicans opposed.

“This historic addition to the House rules will provide crucial job security for LGBTQ staff in the House of Representatives.”

— LGBT Congressional Staff Association

The change is significant, as Republicans have long blocked federal laws outlawing discrimination against LGBT+ people.

The LGBT Congressional Staff Association welcomed the move.

Congress House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks during a news conference with members of House Democratic Leadership on Capitol Hill on January 3, 2019 in Washington, DC

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi vowed to pass the Equality Act, but faces challenges (Zach Gibson/Getty)

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A statement said: “The Board of Directors of the LGBT Congressional Staff Association praises the provision within the new House rules package that provides sexual orientation and gender identity workplace protections for Congressional staff in the 116th Congress.

“This historic addition to the House rules will provide crucial job security for LGBTQ staff in the House of Representatives.

“This move also sends a powerful message about the importance of diversity within the institution we serve, saying that LGBTQ individuals are welcome on Capitol Hill and that the House of Representatives values and respects the identity and dignity of all LGBTQ people.”

Republican lawmakers previously made attempts to bar transgender staffers from using the toilets in the Congressional buildings.

Democrats have pledged to pass federal LGBT rights protections

Although the rules package only applies to staff within Congress, Democrats have vowed to push forward with the Equality Act, a bill to extend civil rights laws to LGBT+ people.

In her first speech to the chamber, new Speaker Nancy Pelosi pledged: “We will make America fairer by passing the Equality Act to end discrimination against the LGBTQ community.”

Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin welcomed the announcement, saying: “Now is the time to move equality forward by advancing the Equality Act to ensure LGBTQ Americans are able to go to go to work, raise their families, and live their lives free from discrimination.

“Far too many LGBTQ people face unfair and unjust discrimination each and every day with only a patchwork of protections across the country.

“We are thankful for Speaker Pelosi reaffirming her commitment to advance this critically important legislation and seize this historic moment to make full federal LGBTQ equality a reality.”

There are currently no federal-level protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in the US.

This means that it is legal to fire people for being gay in dozens of states due to uneven state-level protections.

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