In 1974, gay activists in New York City were fighting to pass a city-wide gay rights ordinance. Then NY Representative to Congress Bella Abzug (pictured above), inspired by the emergence of the first national gay rights organization, the then newly formed National Gay Task Force (NGTF), had the idea to circumvent local homophobes by introducing federal legislation that would give gays and lesbians full FEDERAL equality under the law.
Enlisting the co-sponsorship of Ed Koch (D-NY), (the closeted New York Congressman who would go on to become the mayor of New York City), Abzug courageously introduced the Equality Act on January 14th of 1974 — the first piece of federal legislation to address discrimination based on sexual orientation. The act would amend Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, marital status, or sexual orientation in public accommodations, public facilities, public education, federally assisted programs, housing, and financial services. Anticipating contemporary “hate crime” legislation, the act further stipulated penalties for anyone who willfully injured, intimidated, or interfered with a person on the basis of sex, marital status, or sexual orientation and empowered the U.S. Attorney General to take civil action against such discrimination
Of course it failed.
In 1975, the National Gay Task Force urged Abzug and Koch to try again. This time, the pair got twenty-four members of Congress (including themselves) to co-sponsor their proposed legislation: the Civil Rights Amendment of 1975. Bruce Voeller, director of the NGTF, along with NGTF national coordinator Nathalie Rockhill, organized a press conference on Capitol Hill, inviting prestigious organizations, such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Organization for Women (NOW), to attend. Rockhill was slated to introduce Congresswoman Abzug, who would then explain the bill to the press. The Civil Rights Amendment of 1975, Abzug explained as she spoke into the microphone, would extend the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1968 to protect gays and lesbians in all of the areas covered by the proposed Equality Act of 1974; and like the Equality Act, the amendment would penalize anyone who discriminated against someone on the basis of their sexual orientation.
And once again the bill did not pass.
Continue reading Gay History – January 14 1974: 49 Years Ago OTD Bella Abzug Introduces the First Equality Act to Congress