January 3, 2019 at 3:34 pm PST | by Chris Johnson
Pelosi vows to pass Equality Act as new House speaker
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) vowed to pass the Equality Act in her gavel acceptance speech. (Photo public domain)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), returning to her position Thursday as presiding officer of the U.S. House with a new Democratic majority, identified the Equality Act as bipartisan she’d seek to pass in the upcoming Congress.

Pelosi referenced the Equality Act, comprehensive legislation that would ban anti-LGBT discrimination under federal law, when identifying other measures with bipartisan support she’d seek to pass, including gun background check legislation and the DREAM Act.

“We will make America fairer by passing the Equality Act to end discrimination against the LGBTQ community,” Pelosi said.

Although the Equality Act had a modicum of bipartisan support in the previous Congress, the two Republicans in the House who co-sponsored the bill — former Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida and Scott Tayler of Virginia — are no longer serving in the chamber.

Asked by the Blade what Pelosi meant by bipartisan support for the Equality Act in the current 116th Congress, Drew Hammill, a Pelosi spokesperson, said, “The bill has and will continue to have bipartisan support.”

Although the Equality Act now has a good chance of passing the House with Democrats in control of the chamber, the legislation faces significant roadblocks with an expanded Republican majority in the Senate and President Trump in the White House.

But as evidence that divided government can accomplish big legislative achievements, Pelosi invoked the memory of the late former President George H.W. Bush, who signed into law the Americans With Disabilities Act after it was approved by a Democratic Congress.

“I close by remembering a cherished former member of this body, who rose to become a beloved President of the United States, and who, last month, returned to the Capitol once more to lie in state,” Pelosi said. “That week, we honored President George Herbert Walker Bush with eulogies, tributes and tears. Today, I single out one of his great achievements: working with both Democrats and Republicans to write the Americans With Disabilities Act into the laws of our land.”

Chad Griffin, president of Human Rights Campaign, praised Pelosi in a statement for vowing the pass the Equality Act in the upcoming Congress.

“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,” Griffin said. “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.”

Pelosi made the remarks after formally winning on the House floor the vote to become speakers in the 116th Congress. The San Francisco Democrat won 220 votes, easily beating out House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). However, 15 Democrats declined to vote for Pelosi on the House floor.

Sarah Kate Ellis, CEO of the LGBT media watchdog group GLAAD, also hailed the incoming Democratic majority.

“It is a welcome relief that fair-minded, pro-equality lawmakers have returned to the majority in the U.S. House, and now it’s time for them to roll up their sleeves and get to work for all marginalized communities, including LGBTQ Americans,” Ellis said. “As the Trump administration continues to rollback equality in an effort to erase LGBTQ Americans from the nation, we need allies like Speaker Pelosi fighting for us in Congress.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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