Sarah McBride, national press secretary of Human Rights Collation, speaks on the introduction of the Equality Act, a comprehensive LGBTQ nondiscrimination bill at the US Capitol on April 01, 2019, in Washington, DC.

Editor’s Note: Jennifer Williams is a former New Jersey Republican Assembly candidate and was the first openly transgender delegate to the Republican National Convention in 2016. She currently serves as a member of the Conservatives Against Discrimination Leadership Council and as chair of the Trenton Zoning Board of Adjustment in New Jersey. The views expressed in this commentary are her own. View more opinion on CNN.

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Five years ago, my wife, children and I planned an Easter week trip to Charlotte, North Carolina, to visit some of our relatives. What should have been a relatively smooth road trip from New Jersey to North Carolina, however, soon turned into a highly precarious situation.

Just a few weeks before our trip, North Carolina passed House Bill 2, which required everyone in the state to use public restrooms based on the sex assigned to them at birth. What that meant for me – an American transgender woman – was that I would have to break this law in order to use the women’s restroom at any of the stops we visited in the state.

Jennifer Williams

As we crossed the border from Virginia, my wife and I both grew uneasy. We still had several hours of interstate driving in North Carolina ahead of us. Knowing that I could be arrested if I used a women’s restroom, my wife found a downloadable Google Map called “Safe Bathrooms,” which the spouse of a transgender person created so other transgender people could find a safe restroom to use in a supportive, private business.

Thankfully, we found one for me to use in downtown Greensboro at a small independent bookstore. After entering the bookstore, I explained to an employee that I was transgender and would like to use the restroom. The employee graciously showed me where it was.

As safe as my family and I felt at that moment, the sting of state-sanctioned discrimination was sharp. It felt especially poignant for my family to find refuge in the same city where four brave North Carolina A&T students staged a sit-in to integrate the F.W. Woolworth store nearly 60 years earlier.

Though North Carolina has since repealed this discriminatory restroom law, many LGBTQ Americans continue to face similarly agonizing decisions each day. According to the Human Rights Campaign, 2021 has been a record-breaking year for anti-LGBTQ laws in state legislatures – many of them targeting transgender youth seeking medical care or wanting to compete in sports.

Earlier this year, the Arkansas state legislature passed a law banning the state’s transgender youth from receiving any gender-affirmative medical care. (A federal judge’s preliminary injunction is temporarily keeping the law from going into effect.) In late October, Texas joined nine other states in banning or limiting transgender students from playing sports. To add insult to injury, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis chose the first day of Pride Month to sign his state’s anti-transgender sports bill.

As of this writing, only 21 states have full nondiscrimination protections for their LGBTQ citizens, according to Freedom for all Americans, a bipartisan campaign to secure nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ Americans. That means over half the states in our nation lack comprehensive LGBTQ protective laws regarding public accommodations, employment and housing.

As our current pandemic has revealed and the US Census Bureau has reported, LGBTQ families were already more likely to suffer economic and food insecurity than non-LGBTQ families were. To begin to address this inequality, Congress must take bipartisan action to pass federal nondiscrimination legislation to protect nearly 20 million LGBTQ Americans like me.

The US House of Representatives has already taken the first step, passing the Equality Act in February of this year. The Equality Act would update our federal civil rights laws to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination in their daily lives – be it in access to health care, restaurants and shops or housing. House Democrats were even joined by several Republicans, indicating that both parties may be moving closer toward acceptance, affirmation and celebration of our talents and abilities – regardless of our sexual orientation or gender identity.

Now, the US Senate must take up the bill. And if it cannot do so by the end of 2021, it should prioritize it in 2022. If Republicans in the US Senate need any persuading, they should consider this year’s Public Religion Research Institute report, which found that over three-quarters (76%) of Americans “favor laws that would protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans from discrimination in jobs, housing, and public accommodation.” That number includes 62% of Republicans like me, demonstrating that this issue is one that aligns with conservative values like freedom and individual liberty.

Simply put, finding bipartisan consensus on the LGBTQ nondiscrimination legislation is possible – and popular.

That is good news, but without comprehensive nondiscrimination legislation passing the Senate and being signed into law, Americans’ perspectives on the issue will not be actualized – and I, like so many LGBTQ Americans, will continue to live in a state of worry.

Though I no longer dread driving through North Carolina, I am reminded of 2016 all over again, now that my daughter is beginning to consider which colleges to apply to. Ideally, she should be able to apply anywhere in the country, but she must consider whether my wife and I could be denied a hotel room or the opportunity to take her and her new classmates for a restaurant meal – particularly in states where there are no nondiscrimination LGBTQ laws on the books.

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    Sending our children to colleges in states that will not legally protect us is something that no parent or child should be forced to consider. For example, Texas, Georgia and Florida each have public universities ranked in the Top 10 of the U.S. News Best Public Universities list, but unfortunately, none of these states offer LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections. Knowing that information, should our family realistically consider any of these state’s educational institutions?

    But it does not stop at college. As my wife and I begin to contemplate retirement, we may have our own difficult decision to make. We have loving family across the south and southwest, where the weather is warmer, costs of living are cheaper and tax rates are lower. Attractive as Arizona, Georgia and Texas might be, these states presently lack comprehensive LGBTQ nondiscrimination state laws. Losing the freedoms, liberties and equality we have in New Jersey in order to move closer to family in a warm climate is not negotiable for us.

    All Americans, regardless of who they are, who they love or where they live, deserve and need access to the same civil liberties. Congress can make this a reality by coming together to pass bipartisan LGBTQ nondiscrimination legislation, providing long-overdue protections in every state for every American.