The Equality Act without Economic Justice is Merely Symbolic

By Nat Baldino 

When I opened my phone today, the day after the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Equality Act, I knew what I’d be seeing. Oreo, the classic American cookie, received 400,000 likes on Twitter for a single sentence: “Trans people exist.” President Biden, the majority leaders of the House and Senate, and more came online to praise the Equality Act—a landmark bill that will amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to explicitly ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. At the same time, I saw updates that Senate parliamentarian ruled that the $15 minimum wage could not be included in the COVID-19 economic relief package.

Then I kept scrolling.

The rest of my social media feed was filled with unmet need from my community. Thousands of transgender people living in poverty are using sites like GoFundMe every day to try to receive the aid that they desperately need, and aren’t getting from the government. Instead, the community helps the community: mutual aid efforts persist and members of marginalized communities continue being the only support for one another. Since waking up this morning, I’ve scrolled past countless asks for financial support for things like gender-affirming surgeries and medical treatment, moving costs associated with family violence, and basic day-to-day costs of living. Cisgender people, those who identify exclusively with their sex assigned at birth, may not be privy to these asks. But as a transgender person, every day I see the dire situation members of my community find themselves in.

LGBT people collectively have a poverty rate of 21.6 percent, alarmingly higher than those of cisgender straight people (15.7 percent). When this data is disaggregated by gender identity and race, the numbers only rise. Transgender people have a rate of poverty at 29.4 percent. Most alarmingly, 38 percent of Black transgender people are living in poverty.

The Equality Act may help members of the LGBT community when they face discrimination on the job, but it doesn’t address the discrimination that keeps us in low-paying jobs and continually falling into poverty. We can’t address civil rights without simultaneously addressing economic rights. Without a raised minimum wage, my social media feed will continue to be split among gendered lines, of cisgender lawmakers patting themselves on the back and members of my community struggling to stay afloat.