When the 116th Congress met for the first time on Thursday, the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives passed a package of rules that will govern the legislative body’s operation for the next two years.
Three major changes differentiate this year’s House rules package: a ban on members serving on corporate boards, a requirement that members take ethics training every year and a ban on employment discrimination against LGBTQ staffers and jobseekers. The rules package was pushed by Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., one of eight openly LGBTQ lawmakers in the House.
“Government at its best works for the benefit of all Americans, not just the powerful and privileged,” Cicilline said in a statement. “Protecting the rights of LGBT employees is just the right thing to do.”
David Stacy, the government affairs director of national LGBTQ-rights group Human Rights Campaign, called the bill’s passage “an historic moment for our country.”
“For the first time ever, discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity will be banned in the House of Representatives,” Stacy said in a statement shared with NBC News. “This action to protect LGBTQ congressional employees from discrimination is the result of millions of Equality Voters going to the polls in November to ensure their voices were heard and demanding a Congress that looks like America.”
While discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender job seekers is illegal under the local laws of many states and cities, including the District of Columbia, it is not explicitly illegal under federal law, which governs Congress.
Several federal courts, however, have interpreted the 1964 Civil Rights Act’s ban on sex discrimination to include discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation. While this has led to a patchwork of laws regarding LGBTQ employment discrimination across the U.S., a number of advocates say it may reach the Supreme Court in the near future.
According to the Human Rights Campaign, “half of LGBTQ Americans live in states without clear, comprehensive protections for LGBTQ people, leaving millions vulnerable to discrimination in housing, employment, and other arenas.”