On the steps of the Capitol, Rep. Mark Takano (D-Riverside) waves a rainbow flag symbolizing the LGBTQ community after the House passed the Equality Act.

WASHINGTON – Rep. Mark Takano (D-Riverside) on Feb. 25 released this statement on the House passage of the Equality Act.

Takano is a co-chair of the LGBT Equality Caucus and in 2012 he became the first openly gay person of color elected to Congress.

“Over the past few years, we have seen progress being made to establish rights for LGBTQ+ people in America. Marriage equality is a right nationwide and last year the Supreme Court extended protection from discrimination to LGBTQ+ people in the workplace.

“But the sad reality is that in far too many states, the LGBTQ+ community still faces discrimination in key areas of life, and they do not enjoy the same civil rights as other Americans. This disparity is particularly harmful to vulnerable members of our community, including trans people and queer people of color, who face greater discrimination and violence motivated by hate.

“Today’s historic passage of the Equality Act in the House is a major step toward fixing this injustice and guaranteeing full federal civil rights protections for the LGBTQ+ community.

“As a gay member of Congress, I’m inspired by how popular the Equality Act is among the American people. Its popularity is thanks to decades of advocacy by LGBTQ+ activists who have been on the frontlines of a movement for greater acceptance, to protect the lives of LGBTQ+ people, and to expand our rights. The people agree, equality should not depend on your zip code. With the passage of this landmark bill, equality is within reach.

“Now, we have to use every legislative tool at our disposal to get the Equality Act passed in the Senate and signed into law by President Biden.”

In related news, Takano, who is also chair of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, and Rep. Anthony Brown (D-Md.) on March 3 introduced the Commission on LGBTQ Servicemembers and Veterans Act in the House, legislation that would establish a commission to conduct an investigation into the historic and ongoing impacts of discriminatory military policies and practices on LGBTQ servicemembers and veterans. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) will be introducing companion legislation in the Senate in the coming weeks.

“For many generations, LGBTQ Americans have stepped up to serve our country in uniform, even when discriminatory policies prevented them from serving openly and when facing higher rates of harassment just for being who they are,” said Takano. “Many served in our military while hiding their identity, while others were discharged simply because they were LGBTQ. Our nation must reckon with the effects of discriminatory military policies and undo the damage that has been done.

“Establishing this commission would help Americans understand the effects of anti-LGBTQ military policies, provide a path forward to rectify the injustices, and help create a welcoming culture for LGBTQ servicemembers and veterans in the military and at VA. I’d like to thank Rep. Brown and Sen. Blumenthal for their partnership on this important issue.”

For decades, LGBTQ members of the U.S. military and veterans faced discrimination stemming from official military policies including “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the trans military ban. The Commission to Study the Stigmatization, Criminalization, and Ongoing Exclusion and Inequity for LGBTQ Servicemembers and Veterans Act, otherwise known as the Commission on LGBTQ Servicemembers and Veterans Act, would launch a comprehensive study on the effects of discriminatory military policies on affected servicemembers, their families, and their units to help America learn the full extent of the harm caused by these policies and the status of protections for LGBTQ servicemembers today.

Approximately 114,000 servicemembers were discharged on the basis of their sexual orientation between WWII and 2011, while an estimated 870,000 LGBTQ veterans have been impacted by “hostility, harassment, assaultive behavior, and law enforcement targeting” by discriminatory military policies.

To this day, many LGBTQ veterans who were discharged on discriminatory grounds are unable to access their VA benefits, and those still serving face inconsistent protections that make them vulnerable to harassment and put their careers at risk.

There are currently 250,000 active duty LGBTQ servicemembers and over 1.5 million LGBTQ veterans receiving healthcare from VA. But there continues to be a pervasive lack of data collection on LGBTQ servicemember and veteran populations, and an absence of education for both members of the military and the general public about members of the LGBTQ community who serve in uniform. This legislation seeks to address that.

The commission would:

• Establish a commission to conduct a fact-finding investigation, which will include the collection of testimonies from servicemembers, veterans, families, advocacy organizations, government agencies, and others;

• Make recommendations to Congress for a path forward that various government agencies, service providers, and the military should follow to ensure equity for LGBTQ+ Americans who wish to serve.

This legislation is supported by the Human Rights Campaign, Minority Veterans of America, and Modern Military Association of America.

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