By SENATOR RICHARD BLUMENTHAL
A very happy and healthy holiday season to all! This time of year is appropriate for both celebration and reflection—a time to look back on what’s been accomplished and what still needs to be done.
As always, I am honored and grateful to serve Connecticut–a leader in supporting the LGBTQ+ community for decades. Our welcoming and affirming spirit is one of the many reasons I am proud to call our state home. As I travel across the state, I am overjoyed to connect with many of you at Pride parades, health centers, press conferences and many other events. Your advocacy and engagement is inspiring and uplifting.
Around this time last year, Congress passed the Respect for Marriage Act, legislation codifying marriage equality. It was a long overdue step to protect LGBTQ+ Americans and I was honored to celebrate that milestone with many of you. We started the 2023 calendar year on a high note with a win for marriage equality, but also with the clear understanding that there was still much more left to be done to protect LGBTQ+ rights in this country.
This year, as with last year, we have seen an alarming increase in hateful and extremist measures and messages targeting the LGBTQ+ community. In July, the Supreme Court ruled that a Colorado graphic design business could discriminate against same-sex couples—rolling back decades of progress in the fight for equality. Let me be very clear: granting business owners the right to refuse service based on who someone loves is immoral, indecent, and incompatible with Constitutional values.
Adding to this alarming legal decision, hundreds of laws targeting the LGBTQ+ community were introduced across the nation. To date, over 520 anti-LGBT+ bills have been advanced in state legislatures—an all-time high according to Human Rights Watch. These bills do everything from restricting health care access to allowing strangers to harass LGBTQ+ youth in schools. These measures are cruel and utterly unacceptable. They prove the desperate need for strong federal protections that prohibit discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity in all areas of public life.
To combat these measures, we reintroduced the EQUALITY Act in June, this legislation would ban discrimination and enshrine federal protections for LGBTQ+ people. This critical legislation has never been more urgent. Discrimination against someone on religious, racial, or ethnic grounds is already illegal. The EQUALITY Act simply extends these same protections to sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity.
I’m also proud to co-sponsor the Gender Affirming Care Access Research for Equity (CARE) Act, which authorizes $25 million for the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to study the barriers to gender affirming care and how those barriers might affect health outcomes.
We know that a transgender or nonbinary person faces huge barriers to appropriate, medically necessary health care, and that accessing this care can be a matter of life and death. Of those 520 anti-LGBTQ+ bills, dozens target gender affirming care for trans and non-binary people. As attacks against the LGBTQ+ community escalate and spread, we must fight to ensure access to strong, consistent health care so they can live their truest and most authentic lives. Gender affirming care is backed by decades of research and supported by every major medical association. Our bill will help eliminate health disparities and enable all transgender and non-binary individuals access the care they need.
Finally, we took steps to protect the LGBTQ+ community from discrimination on misapplied religious grounds. Too often, religious freedom laws are used as a weapon to discriminate against the LGBTQ+ community. This year, we introduced the Do No Harm Act to clarify that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act—which was originally intended to protect religious freedom—cannot be used to discriminate and undermine well established civil rights protections.
While I never say I am confident about action in Congress, I am definitely hopeful that we will continue to see progress – thanks to your strong advocacy. I stand with you in this battle for rights and fairness and will keep working and fighting for critical protections.
I wish you all a happy new year full of joy and peace.
Richard Blumenthal is the senior United States Senator from Connecticut, a seat he has held since 2011.