Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) said Monday he would be the only Democrat in the Senate to oppose a nondiscrimination bill meant to expand federal protections for LGBTQ people.
“I strongly support equality for all people and do not tolerate discrimination of any kind. No one should be afraid of losing their job or losing their housing because of their sexual orientation,” Manchin said in a statement on Monday. But after speaking with local officials in his home state, the senator said he was “not convinced that the Equality Act as written provides sufficient guidance to the local officials who will be responsible for implementing it, particularly with respect to students transitioning between genders in public schools.”
He added: “I will continue working with the sponsors of the bill to build broad bipartisan support and find a viable path forward for these critical protections so that I can vote in support of this bill.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) introduced the Equality Act last week as a means to amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The proposal would “explicitly prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in education, employment, housing, credit, federal jury service, public accommodations and the use of federal funds.”
Politico noted that the House is expected to consider the legislation later this year, although it’s unclear if it would have enough support in the Senate, which is currently controlled by Republicans.
As it stands, states have the onus to pass their own legislation to protect LGBTQ people. While many states have laws that explicitly ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, 26 states do not have any such protections.
Manchin specifically called out transgender youth in his announcement on Monday, a group that has some of the fewest federal protections in America. A 2017 study by the Human Rights Campaign and Trans People of Color found evidence of rampant violence against transgender people and stated that 4 in 10 transgender adults reported having attempted suicide.
The White House has also unleashed a political assault against transgender people, with President Donald Trump attempting to ban transgender people from serving in the military.
Manchin’s position has already prompted the ire of civil rights activists who called on voters to convince the lawmaker to change his mind.
“We should be doing everything we can to end invidious discrimination and to protect LGBTQ people,” Joseph Cohen, executive director of ACLU West Virginia, said in a statement. “The message of the Equality Act is clear and one that leaders from across the political spectrum ― including Senator Manchin ― should be able to support: ‘Don’t discriminate. Period.’”