ST. PAUL — When Congress is debating a bill on protecting civil rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) Americans, Minnesota’s U.S. Rep. Angie Craig says there’s no better House member than her to stand up and know what’s at stake.

“I ran for Congress because I wanted to lower the cost of health care, because I wanted to fix the damn roads in my district — not because I was gay,” the District 2 Democrat told Forum News Service. “But representation really does matter.”

On Thursday, Feb. 25, the U.S. House by a 224-206 vote passed the Equality Act, a bill extending civil rights protections to LGBTQ Americans. Like other protections under America’s Civil Rights Act, if passed, the Equality Act would make it illegal nationwide to deny housing, employment, education and more to LGBTQ people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Craig, along with the rest of Minnesota’s Democratic House delegation, cosponsored the bill. But for Craig, it’s personal: She is Minnesota’s first LGBTQ member of Congress, and the House’s first lesbian mom. She and her wife Cheryl Greene have four sons and live in Eagan, where Craig said they are lucky to be protected by Minnesota’s own equal rights law.

“There are places across this country, states across this county, where it would be entirely legal for Cheryl and I to be discriminated against based on just simply our love and commitment to each other,” she told Forum News Service in a Friday phone interview. “Every single American should have the kind of protection that my family has after building a life together.”

Currently, anti-LGBTQ-discrimination laws are determined state-by-state. In 1993, Minnesota became the first state in the nation to pass a law banning discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Craig said she knows what it’s like to live in a state without those protections; she came out when she was 17 and living in Arkansas.

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“I think a lot of folks thought once marriage equality passed, (...) ‘Oh great, it’s done,’ in terms of equality,” Craig said. “The truth is, in still many of those states around the nation today, I can make a commitment to my wife on a Sunday, and post pictures on Facebook on Monday, and get fired the next day. Until we eliminate that possibility, we don't have equality in this country.”

The Equality Act passed largely on party lines on Thursday, with a few Republicans voting in favor of it. All four of Minnesota’s Democratic U.S. representatives (including Craig) voted in favor, and all four Republicans against. The bill has yet to pass the U.S. Senate before reaching President Joe Biden's desk for his signature.

Minnesota Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Hagedorn, who represents Craig’s neighboring District 1, came out strongly against the bill. In a Thursday written statement, he called it an attempt to “violate religious liberty and undermine equal protection for women.”

“It is shameful to see Democrats prioritizing efforts to literally redefine ‘sex’ and change America as we know it,” he said.

Craig in her Friday interview refuted Hagedorn’s and other Republicans’ stances, saying expanding equal rights protections for LGBTQ Americans does not threaten women’s rights. On the oft-cited example of transgender athletes playing in girl’s and women’s sports, Craig said there are “lots of threats to women and girls in sports,” like inadequate funding and sexual harassment — “but, you know, trans youth, that’s not a threat to women’s sports.”

She also dismissed the argument of religious freedom, saying, “My Christian faith is that we were all created in the image of God and God created every single one of us, and He also created perfectly those of us who just happen to be gay.”