Marsha Mercer

Marsha Mercer

In most states, a boss who disapproves of gay or transgender people can fire or refuse to hire them.

A landlord can evict and a store owner can deny service to a member of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

No federal law prohibits LGBT discrimination, and fewer than half the states have LGBT anti-discrimination laws. Congress has failed repeatedly since the 1970s to pass bills.

The most highly paid celebrity in the world is working to change that.

Pop superstar Taylor Swift, 29, who earned $185 million pretax last year and whose net worth is estimated at $360 million, according to Forbes magazine, used her appearance at the MTV Video Music Awards on Monday to try to jump start the dead battery that is the Senate.

She wants the Senate to vote on the House-passed Equality Act, a sweeping measure that would prohibit discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation and gender identity.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has no intention of allowing a vote. He and other Republicans say the bill threatens religious freedom and is an example of government overreach.

But when Swift accepted the fan-voted prize for Video of the Year for “You Need to Calm Down,” her music video that features LGBT stars and has a strong message against homophobia, she said:

“Your voting for this video means that you want a world where we’re all treated equally under God, regardless of who you love, regardless of how we identify.”

The video invites viewers to sign her petition at Change.org, urging the Senate to vote on the Equality Act. Since June, more than half a million people have signed — “five times the amount that it would need to warrant a response from the White House,” she said.

Even Swift may not be able to move Mount Mitch, but she could influence young voters.

After years of avoiding politics, Swift jumped into last fall’s midterm campaigns. She wrote on Instagram she was voting Democratic in Tennessee and urged her 112 million Instagram followers to register and vote.

Within 48 hours, more than 169,000 new people had registered on Vote.org, a nonpartisan website, a spokeswoman told The Washington Post. While we don’t know how many people Swift motivated, more than half the new registrants were 18 to 29.

A survey last year by PRRI, a nonpartisan research group, found 69 percent of Americans, including a majority in every state, support protecting LGBT people from discrimination. Three-fourths of those 18 to 29 back anti-discrimination laws.

The Equality Act would extend civil rights protections to include LGBT people in employment, housing, credit applications, public accommodations, jury service and other areas.

The House May 17 passed the bill 236 to 173, with all Democrats and eight Republicans voting yes and all other Republicans voting no.

In the Senate, all Democrats are co-sponsors except Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Susan Collins of Maine is the only Republican who supports the bill.

But even if the Senate approves, President Trump likely would veto. The administration opposes all discrimination, the White House said in a statement, but the bill is “full of poison pills that threaten to undermine parental and conscience rights.”

It didn’t specify the poison pills, but the bill prohibits people from using religion as a defense or basis for challenging the protections. It also stops an individual from being denied access to restrooms, locker rooms and dressing rooms based on gender identity.

If Congress doesn’t act, the Supreme Court may. The court in October will hear oral arguments in a consolidated case involving LGBT discrimination. The Trump administration has asked the court to rule that existing sex discrimination laws do not cover sexual orientation because Congress did not specifically mention it.

At the awards ceremony, Swift said her petition is still active and more signatures will add pressure on the Senate and White House to pass the bill “which basically just says we all deserve equal rights under the law.”

Then she tapped her wrist impatiently as if checking her watch. She’s right. It’s time to act.

Mercer writes from Washington. Email her at marsha.mercer@yahoo.com. ©2019 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.

Load comments