The House of Representatives already has passed the legislation, which faces what many Congress-watchers believe will be a closely fought battle in the Senate.
The Equality Act would make “gender identity” and “sexual orientation” protected classes under federal civil rights law. This means, for example, that the law would require institutions and individuals to treat transgender women not as biological men who identify as women, but as biological females, giving them access to women’s sports and women’s-only spaces.
Blackburn joins the “Problematic Women” podcast to discuss the implications of the legislation becoming the law of the land. She also talks about other issues and shares a bit of her own journey to conservatism.
Also on today’s show, Kelsey Bolar, a senior policy analyst at Independent Women’s Forum and a contributor to The Daily Signal, talks with track athlete Alanna Smith and Alliance Defending Freedom lawyer Christiana Holcomb about their Connecticut court battle to protect women’s sports from the participation of biological males.
And as always, we will crown our “Problematic Woman of the Week.”
Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript.
Virginia Allen: I am joined by Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn. Senator, welcome to the show.
Sen. Marsha Blackburn: It’s good to be with you. Thank you.
Allen: It’s great to have you back on. We are so excited to kick off our conversation series for Women’s History Month with you. This is a great month to celebrate women, and we’re so excited that you’re our first guest doing so on our monthlong series for “problematic women.” And there are so many issues that are on women’s minds right now. But I know one that is certainly on my mind, and I think the mind of many Americans, is that of the Equality Act.
So I would love to begin by just talking a little bit about this piece of legislation and why it is so concerning. It did pass in the House last week and like so many bills, it has a really great name. It sounds really nice, but it is quite problematic. Could you just begin by sharing some of your concerns about the Equality Act?
Blackburn: Oh, absolutely. And thank you so much for having me with you. I really appreciate it. And for me, and many women who have been trailblazers in their careers—people that are friends of mine and whether they have been in education or medicine or law or health care or financial services—I’m hearing from friends who have now heard about this [Equality Act]. They started out thinking, “Well, that sounds like a good thing. Everybody ought to be treated just the same.”
And then they started going, “Hey, wait a minute.” And it’s been interesting to hear from my friends who have been the trailblazers, who have been trying to break barriers all their professional lives and get that seat at the table, and then to hear about this.
Now, I would start with the concerns that are there over young girls [being required to compete in sports with biological boys who identify as girls]. And primarily, when you’re looking at different attainment areas for children, is they look at going to college and getting scholarships.
When you’re looking at sports and in different fields, usually you have a superior classification for men and then a superior classification for women. And young people have come to base their career on this. And then to take away that ability to be noted as competing [as] female or male is something that is concerning.
And especially in the area of sports. I think there’s been a lot of conversation around that. And of course, it ties into the executive order that President [Joe] Biden did.
Likewise, when you look at other areas where women have worked so hard over the past decades to break barriers, to give girls and women a level playing field, and then to see that pulled away is something that is tremendously disappointing.
Allen: It is so disappointing. It’s truly, really discouraging and it’s nonsensical. I certainly never thought that we would be at this place having this debate, but here we are. Were you surprised when you saw this piece of legislation passed in the House?
Blackburn: There are not many things right now that are surprising me with this administration. I do believe that they made a tremendous number of promises to the far left, to that radical fringe, and these things that strip away the identity or uniqueness of individuals, of communities, of different states, trying to get the same one-size-fits-all on everything, and that is not what people are looking for right now.
And quite interestingly, I’ve talked to so many women, some who said, “Well, I didn’t vote in the presidential [election]. I wasn’t comfortable with Biden,” or “I didn’t like President [Donald] Trump’s mannerisms.” Or some who ended up voting for Joe Biden because they thought as president he would be a moderate, and he had said his focus was to seek unity.
And what they’re now realizing is that to him and to the left, unity is not having robust, respectful, political debate. Unity is you submit to our way of doing things and you conform to what we are going to say and do. And they’re going, “No, no, no, no, no, that’s not what I wanted.”
I think there is among women, and especially suburban women right now, there’s a tremendous amount of buyer’s remorse.
Looking at some of these issues, whether it is school choice, trying to get children back to school, safety in communities, and … not addressing rioting in different cities, not addressing the issues at the southern border, the uptick that they are seeing related to gangs that are into human trafficking, sex trafficking, drug trafficking. This is not playing well with America’s women right now.
Allen: Well, I know you are on the forefront of so many of those issues. And so many Americans are looking to the Senate right now to see, for a number of these policies, what’s going to happen. So as the Equality Act moves to the Senate, what do you think we can expect to see?
Blackburn: I think that what you will see is it will be slowed down tremendously, and it may be something that does not move forward. Just as in the past, when they have tried to move forward pieces of legislation such as this. I also think it speaks to the reason that we need more good, solid, conservative women in elective office who are going to stand up and speak out against this.
Allen: What role does the filibuster play in this debate, and in other such debates, with the Senate being in that 50-50 split?
Blackburn: The filibuster is important because that 60-vote rule keeps a lot of bad things from moving to the [Senate] floor. And while it is frustrating sometimes, when you can’t get legislation you want to move forward, there is a tremendous amount of respect for the filibuster. Because it does require you to hit that margin to move forward to have that debate as to whether or not this is something that is going to be worthy of the Senate’s time to take it up.
Allen: I know you’re focused on so many critical issues right now. We’ve talked about some of them already, but what are those issues that keep you awake at night, that you’re really focused and targeted on?
Blackburn: I would start right off the top with freedom of speech. This is paramount and I’m hearing about it regularly from people. They want to make certain that Big Tech is reined in.
The cancel culture is astounding to people. They cannot believe that this is happening, that their children who are in college cannot even express a dissenting view and that they have professors that are saying it is this way and there is no alternative. There is no point-counterpoint. This is the only approach.
And justice. I would always tell my children that there are always two sides to every story. To every issue, there is a point and a counterpoint, and this nation and our freedom has been very well served by robust, respectful, bipartisan debate. And that is how you arrive at consensus. And that is what keeps this nation strong, is that you can agree to disagree. And people are really unsettled by this.
I have friends who … have children who are pre-teens, and they’re trying to keep them off phones, off sending emails, because they’re trying to get into schools and they’re thinking, “Oh my goodness,” and then they’re thinking with high schoolers, “What’s going to happen to try to get them into a college?” And then kids that are coming out of college, young adults are saying, “Oh my gosh, what if there is something on social media that keeps me from having a job?”
Likewise, I’ve talked to people who are young adults, who say, “I’m getting to the point [that] I’m so afraid to say anything or to put anything online or respond to anything, because I don’t want to lose my job.”
Now, that is one of these 21st-century problems, First World problems, if you will, that is causing not only fear but a lot of anxiety and, in some cases, panic with people.
And people no longer feel [they] can even have a discussion with people with whom they work, that they can get to know them and to know a little bit about what’s important to them. Because they’re fearful of what will happen if they ask a question.
And if they forget, they’re afraid if they cross the line and say something and someone says, “Oh, you must be a Republican. You must be a conservative. You must have been a Trump voter,” that it’s something that’s going to bring a degree of ostracizing toward that person.
Allen: It certainly is a really challenging time in history as so many individuals try to navigate things like cancel culture. I would love for you to share a little bit of your own journey into conservatism as we celebrate Women’s History Month. What was your journey into saying, “I am a strong, conservative woman?”
Blackburn: I had great role models that were strong conservative women, and that is foundational to who you become and what you believe. And my grandmother was quite a trailblazer in her own right, and was really fun to listen to and did things that were not ordinary for women of her era.
And having a mother who was very independent-minded, being encouraged by teachers and then professors who were very independent-minded, it showed me that there was something beyond what I was able to experience at that point in time.
When I was in college, I sold books door-to-door to work my way through school. And I was the first female to go out and do this, and then helped this company establish a women’s division and open that door for more women. So they could learn how to run their own business. And I’m still very given to that, and we have chuckles so many times.
My college newspaper had done an article after the first summer that I was out selling books, and it was all about breaking gender barriers. And I said that since I was 19 years old, I’ve been trying to push aside barriers that do not allow women to have equal opportunity with guys. And it is so important to realize that we all should be doing that. We should be pulling up people behind us.
But as you see women, as you are encouraged, as you’re surrounded by women who are not afraid to speak up and say, “I’m a conservative,” and this is fine, that is a form of encouragement to you to be able to do likewise.
And quite honestly, conservative women do things differently than women who are on the left. And that’s what my book that was released back in the fall is all about, “The Mind of a Conservative Woman,” and how the left is very frustrated that conservative women will not submit to an agenda, a very prescriptive agenda, for how they think that women should live their lives.
And I’ve always chuckled that “The Life of Julia,” which was a Barack Obama campaign creation, shows what the liberals would like to see happen, how they would like to see women live their lives with the government in charge of every facet.
But for me, going through that pathway of having those people that were there to mentor, to show how to do it with a lot of grace, not being pushy, not being somebody who’s going to go out and conduct a protest. But knowing that there was the underpinning of the Constitution that says equal is equal, whether you’re talking about equal opportunity, equal justice, equal access, and that that is for every one. Then if you believe the words of that, then you know that equal treatment, equal opportunity, equal access, equal justice is to be there for every American citizen.
Allen: Absolutely. Senator, before we let you go, what is one piece of advice that you wish you could go back and share with your younger self who is just starting your career, just kind of entering the world of business, the world of politics?
Blackburn: I would say don’t hesitate to be bold and to look for the opportunity to take a risk. And when you take that risk, accept responsibility, because there’s going to be a reward at the end of all that hard work.
Allen: Excellent. Senator, thank you so much for your time. We so appreciate your joining us.
Blackburn: I’m delighted to join you. Thank you.