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ENDA to be introduced on Thursday

Long-sought bill would ban anti-LGBT job discrimination

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United States Capitol Building, dome, gay news, Washington Blade
United States Capitol Building, dome, gay news, Washington Blade

ENDA is set for reintroduction in both chambers of Congress on Thursday. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act is set to be introduced in both chambers of Congress on Thursday, according to multiple sources, but without major changes that were previously under consideration.

The bill will be reintroduced in the House by Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), the most senior openly gay member of the chamber, who’s taking over the legislation now that former Rep. Barney Frank has retired. In the Senate, the legislation will be reintroduced by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.). The lawmakers’ offices confirmed they would introduce ENDA concurrently on Thursday.

The Senate version of the bill will have five original sponsors: Merkley and lesbian Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) will be two Democrats, Sens. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) will be two Republicans and Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chair Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) will round out the quintet.

The number of original co-sponsors in the House remains to be seen. Conchita Cruz, a Polis spokesperson, said many House members have told her boss “they want to make sure that they are included” as original co-sponsors.

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, said his organization will push for a committee vote and movement on the Senate floor for ENDA “as soon as possible.”

“ENDA had a recent committee hearing where not a single Republican senator bothered to show up to express any opposition or even ask questions about the drafting of the bill, so I think Chairman Harkin should schedule the committee vote on ENDA as soon as possible in May or June,” Almeida said. “It would be great to have ENDA teed up to go to the Senate floor in July.”

Harkin, whose committee has jurisdiction over ENDA, has already pledged to mark up the legislation this year. The office of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has said Democratic leadership “looks forward to working with” Harkin to set up a floor vote on the bill.

Almeida said the time period immediately after Supreme Court decisions are expected on California’s Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act would make July an excellent opportunity for a floor vote on ENDA, which would ban anti-LGBT employment discrimination.

“After the Supreme Court rules in the Windsor marriage case, many right-wingers are going to denounce marriage equality for same-sex couples, but claim that they don’t believe in discrimination against LGBT Americans,” Almeida said. “That’s the time when we should call some of those bluffs by putting ENDA on the Senate floor and letting all 100 senators go on the record about whether hardworking Americans should get fired just because of who they are or who they love.”

One question about the bill was whether ENDA would be changed upon reintroduction. LGBT advocates had previously told the Washington Blade the legislation has been under review prior to reintroduction in the 113th Congress.

Two areas that were said to be under review were the religious exemption as well as the area of disparate impact, which ENDA hadn’t previously addressed. However, multiple sources familiar with ENDA said these changes were ultimately not made to the bill.

Jamal Raad, a Merkley spokesperson, said “there will be a few changes to update the language” on ENDA, but said he couldn’t provide actual legislative text until reintroduction on Thursday.

Almeida said another change he’s seeking for ENDA as it progresses through the legislative process is an update to the bill in the aftermath of the Supreme Court ruling in Gross v. FBL Financial. That 2009 decision raised the bar for the standard of proof in making certain employment discrimination claims.

“If this legal loophole does not get fixed before ENDA becomes law, there will be gay and transgender victims of discrimination with meritorious cases who are denied justice because of the unequal standard that the conservative activists on the Supreme Court created a few years ago,” Almeida said. “Gay and transgender plaintiffs deserve to have the same standard of proof applied to their cases as plaintiffs alleging racial or religious discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.”

Almeida said the fix would be along the lines of the bipartisan legislation introduced by Harkin and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) known as the Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act. That bill hasn’t yet been reintroduced in the 113th Congress.

“Especially since Chairman Harkin is the author of the bi-partisan legislation to address the Gross case, I’m hoping that he and the committee staff will close this loophole when ENDA goes to mark-up,” Almeida said.

As ENDA advances, many eyes will be on the U.S. senators who’ve recently come out for marriage equality, but haven’t yet articulated a position on the legislation.

Those who’ve come to support marriage equality, but didn’t co-sponsor ENDA in the previous Congress are Sens. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), John Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), Max Baucus (D-Mont.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) — and most notably Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio). Also in question among the U.S. senators who support marriage equality is Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), who’s new to Congress.

Eyes also will be Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who voted for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and recently said she’s “evolving” on the issue of marriage equality.

Reid also wasn’t a co-sponsor in the previous Congress, but he typically doesn’t co-sponsor bills because of his leadership position.

Freshmen senators who were formerly U.S. House members — Sens. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) — were co-sponsors of ENDA in the lower chamber of Congress, so would likely support the bill again in the Senate. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) has said he supports ENDA and Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) signed an LGBT non-discrimination bill into law as governor of the state in 1998.

Other freshman Democrats — Sens. Mo Cowan (D-Mass.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) — signed a letter in February identifying themselves as ENDA supporters.

NOTE: An earlier version of this article neglected to include Sen. Martin Heinrich as among the freshmen Senate Democrats who supported ENDA as U.S. House members. He also signed the letter identifying himself as an ENDA supporter. Whitney Potter, a Heinrich spokesperson, said the senator intends to support ENDA as a U.S. senator.

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Politics

EXCLUSIVE: Pelosi reflects on long career, LGBTQ advocacy

Former Speaker credits activists who fought for AIDS funding, marriage equality

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Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) (Photo courtesy of the Office of Nancy Pelosi)

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) sat down with the Washington Blade in her office Tuesday evening for an exclusive interview just weeks after formally stepping down from leadership, having led her party in the House for 20 years, including as Speaker. 

Pelosi reflected on the role she has played in landmark legislative achievements, including milestones in the fight for LGBTQ rights. She also addressed some current events that have earned significant attention from political observers and the beltway press. 

So much of the historic progress over the past few decades in advancements toward the legal, social, and political equality of LGBTQ Americans, including those living with HIV/AIDS, was facilitated directly or otherwise supported by Pelosi’s leadership in Congress, but she was quick to credit the tireless work of individual activists and LGBTQ, civil rights, and HIV/AIDS advocacy groups.

“I attribute the success with [fighting] HIV/AIDS and everything that came after,” from legislation on hate crimes to marriage equality, “to the outside mobilization” of these activists and organizations, she told the Blade.

Despite positioning herself as an advocate for LGBTQ rights well before that position was popular, Pelosi said she is unaware of any instances where she may have suffered political consequences as a result. Regardless, she said, “I don’t care.”  

The more she has been criticized for championing LGBTQ rights in Congress, “the more proud I am” of that work, Pelosi added. 

Pelosi has always been a strident LGBTQ ally, guided by her commitment to justice, love, and fairness as ordained by the teachings of her Catholic faith. These ideals are in perfect alignment, she said, as opposed to the position held by many opponents of LGBTQ rights who nevertheless claim to believe we are all created in God’s image. 

During an interview with Larry King, when serving as the San Francisco Democratic National Convention host committee chairwoman in 1984, Pelosi said the late television host remarked: “I just don’t understand how a Catholic girl who grew up in Baltimore, Maryland is such a champion for gay rights.”

“You’ve answered your own question,” Pelosi told him, referring to his mention of her Catholicism. “It is our faith that tells us that we’re all God’s children, and we must respect the dignity and worth of every person.”

Pelosi’s time in Congress began with the AIDS crisis, and she has kept up the fight ever since 

After committing herself and the Congress to the fight against HIV/AIDS during her first speech from the floor of the House in 1987, Pelosi said some of her colleagues asked whether she thought it wise for her feelings on the subject to be “the first thing that people know about you” as a newly elected member.

They questioned her decision not because they harbored any stigma, but rather for concern over how “others might view my service here,” Pelosi said. The battle against HIV/AIDS, she told them, “is why I came here.”

“It was every single day,” she said. 

Alongside the “big money for research, treatment, and prevention” were other significant legislative accomplishments, such as “when we] were able to get Medicaid to treat HIV [patients] as Medicaid-eligible” rather than requiring them to wait until their disease had progressed to full-blown AIDS to qualify for coverage, said Pelosi, who authored the legislation.

“That was a very big deal for two reasons,” she said. First, because it saved lives by allowing low-income Americans living with HIV to begin treatment before the condition becomes life-threatening, and second, because “it was the recognition that we had this responsibility to intervene early.”

Other milestones in which Pelosi had a hand include the Housing Opportunities for People with AIDS program, President Bush’s PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief) initiative, the Affordable Care Act (which contains significant benefits for Americans living with HIV/AIDS), and funding for the Ending the Epidemic initiative. 

The last appropriations bill passed under Pelosi’s tenure as Democratic leader in December contained an additional $100 million boost to HIV/AIDS programs. 

These and other hard-won victories over the years – from the biomedical progress made possible by investment in research to foreign aid packages that have saved countless lives overseas – have often come despite staunch opposition from lawmakers, particularly congressional Republicans.

For instance, the late former Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina opposed federal funding for HIV/AIDS research because he considered it tantamount to the government’s endorsement of “the homosexual lifestyle” responsible for the spread of the disease in the U.S.

nancy pelosi, gay news, Washington Blade
Rep. Nancy Pelosi speaks at the NGLCC National Dinner in 2018. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Asked how she might compare anti-LGBTQ members like Helms with whom she worked in the past to those serving today, Pelosi said the most salient difference is the homophobic and transphobic attitudes among lawmakers in previous decades were in many cases borne out of ignorance. 

Pelosi said that while the prejudice was “horrible [back] then” and she was “impatient” with lawmakers in the House who exhibited attitudes similar to those expressed by Helms, at that time people who held those views were often “just not up to date on what was happening in the world.” 

(Pelosi noted that, for his part, Helms seemed to soften his stance on matters concerning HIV/AIDS. She suspects U2 frontman Bono may have successfully appealed to Helms as a parent, but “I don’t know exactly.”)

By contrast, today’s lawmakers, like the overwhelming majority of Americans, “must have a growing awareness of [LGBTQ] people in their own communities, maybe in their own families,” Pelosi said. “They’re really in a different world,” which means, they “have made a decision that they’re going to be anti-LGBTQ,” she said, adding that hate and prejudice today is most often directed at the trans community. “It’s completely unacceptable.” 

Asked to share her thoughts on the many scandals that have unfolded over the past couple of months concerning gay freshman GOP Rep. George Santos of New York, Pelosi pointed out that while the congressman has dominated headlines recently, other members of the House Republican caucus who have weaponized homophobia and transphobia to a far greater extent than he are much more dangerous. 

But first, Pelosi said that House Democrats would never do what the Republican leadership has done by tolerating the embattled freshman congressman to protect their slim majority control of the chamber.

Santos is “almost a joke; he’s become a punch line,” Pelosi said. “He’s outrageous, and there’s no way he should be allowed to serve” given the extent to which the congressman has failed to exhibit the “dignity” required of members who are privileged to serve in the House of Representatives.

At the same time, “there are people over there who are more seriously dangerous to the freedoms in our country than him” Pelosi said. She pointed to the hate mongering and fear mongering in which many of Santos’s Republican colleagues have engaged, including “the things that that they say about trans families and, just, the injustice of it all.” 

Rep. Nancy Pelosi visits the site of the Pulse massacre in 2016.

The aim of these far-right lawmakers extends far beyond undermining the rights of LGBTQ people, of course. Pelosi noted that, “you have to remember, with all of these things, whether we’re talking about women’s right to choose – we’ve always expanded freedoms. And now with this Supreme Court, they’re narrowing freedoms with women’s right to choose” by the revocation of constitutional protections for abortion via last year’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. 

Breaking the ‘marble ceiling’

Rep. Nancy Pelosi is presented with a rainbow-jeweled gavel at an LGBTQ staffer event on Capitol Hill in 2012. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

During a lecture last year hosted at the University of California, Berkeley, Barbara Boxer, who formerly represented California in the House and then in the Senate, commented on the historic significance of Pelosi’s election to become the first woman Speaker of the House of Representatives in 2006. “The fact that a woman could get into the leadership like this, to win the trust of all these men, it’s more extraordinary than you can imagine,” Boxer said. 

Boxer has also been a trailblazer for women in politics. She was the first woman to chair the Marin County Board of Supervisors, and after her election to serve in the upper chamber alongside California’s senior Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the two became the first pair of women to represent any state in the U.S. Senate.

Asked how she managed to secure the votes from, particularly, the older men in her caucus without compromising her values, Pelosi told the Blade, “I just did what I believed” rather than coming to Congress to “change other people’s behavior.” 

She said that many of her male colleagues “had to get over their own negative attitudes” concerning the prospect of electing a woman to lead their party in the House, but “I wasn’t going to wait until then.”

At the same time, Pelosi acknowledged that “it took courage to vote for a woman as speaker,” noting that when she was sworn in back in 2007, she took the opportunity to thank the men who had supported her speakership. (She was elected unanimously on the first ballot.)

Pelosi said that prior to her speakership, she had always believed that the prospect of Americans electing a woman president was likelier to happen in her lifetime than members of Congress – who tend to be older men – voting for a woman speaker.

“I thought the American people were more ready than the Congress” to break the “marble ceiling,” she said. 

Considering the parallel special counsel investigations into alleged mishandling of classified documents by President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump, Pelosi has perhaps unwittingly strengthened the case for America to elect a woman president by virtue of her unblemished record as a steward of sensitive, top-secret information. 

“I have 30 years of experience in intelligence. I have been on the [House Intelligence] Committee, the top Democrat on the Committee, ex officio on the Committee, a speaker and [Democratic] leader [in the House],” Pelosi said. 

She distinguished the rules by which she and other members of Congress are governed, which prohibit the removal or relocation of classified documents, from the policies that the Commander in Chief must follow, which are comparably more permissive. 

Regardless, Pelosi said, “the documents are to be respected,” along with the rules and procedures for how they should be handled. 

There are also important distinctions to note between the allegations against Trump and Biden, Pelosi said. “When you see the former president obstructing access to the documents, and you see this president saying, ‘I’ve instructed my lawyers to look for whatever is there and make them available to the Justice Department,’ that’s two different things,” she said. 

Additionally, Pelosi said, from the information that has been made available so far, it seems that Trump was in possession of a greater volume of documents whose contents were more sensitive than those at issue in Biden’s case. 

Pelosi’s LGBTQ fans celebrate her accomplishments 

Rep. Nancy Pelosi hugs activist Mike Almy at the certification of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal in the U.S. House on Dec. 21, 2010. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

In November, the Human Rights Campaign, America’s largest LGBTQ advocacy organization, issued a statement following Pelosi’s announcement of her plans to step down from Democratic leadership but continue to represent her constituents in California’s 11th Congressional District in the House. 

“Speaker Pelosi has been the tip of the spear on watershed advancements for the LGBTQ+ community,” HRC President Kelley Robinson said in a statement, pointing to her 1987 speech on the AIDS crisis and “forceful advocacy for marriage equality long before its mainstream popularity,” both before she was elected as speaker. 

The Clinton-era Defense of Marriage Act, which banned federal recognition of same-sex marriages, was signed into law in 1996 with overwhelming support from both parties in both chambers of Congress; 342 members of the House voted for the proposal, with Pelosi joining only 64 other House Democrats, one independent, and one Republican in her opposition. 

“During [Pelosi’s] tenure as Speaker,” HRC noted, “the House of Representatives passed an historic hate crimes law [the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act], repealed the discriminatory ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ law, led the fight to enact the Affordable Care Act, and vocally opposed bans on transgender members serving in our nation’s military.” 

Pelosi’s leadership was bookended with Congress’s passage late last year of the Respect for Marriage Act, which is credited as the greatest legislative victory for LGBTQ Americans since the 2010 repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”  

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi stands with Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) at the enrollment for the Respect for Marriage Act in the U.S. House on Dec. 8, 2022. (Photo courtesy of the Office of Nancy Pelosi)

Outside the U.S. Capitol building, Pelosi has also been celebrated by the LGBTQ community for signaling her support through, for example, her participation in some of the earliest meetings of the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, her meeting with the survivors of the 2016 Pulse nightclub massacre, and her appearance at a host of LGBTQ events over the years.  

Of course, at the same time, Pelosi has been a constant target of attacks from the right, which in the past few years have become increasingly violent. During the siege of the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, her office was ransacked by insurrectionists who shouted violent threats against her. A couple of weeks later, unearthed social media posts by far-right Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.) revealed she had signaled support for executing Pelosi along with other prominent House Democrats. And last October, the speaker’s husband Paul Pelosi suffered critical injuries after he was attacked by a man wielding a hammer who had broken into the couple’s San Francisco home. 

Pelosi told CNN last week that her husband is “doing OK,” but expects it will “take a little while for him to be back to normal.”

Among her fans in progressive circles, Pelosi – who has been a towering figure in American politics since the Bush administration – has become something of a cultural icon, as well. For instance, the image of her clapping after Trump’s State of the Union speech in 2019 has been emblazoned on coffee mugs.

“What is so funny about it,” Pelosi said, is rather than “that work [over] all these years as a legislator,” on matters including the “Affordable Care Act, millions of people getting health care, what we did over the years with HIV/AIDS in terms of legislation, this or that,” people instead have made much ado over her manner of clapping after Trump’s speech. And while the move was widely seen as antagonistic, Pelosi insisted, “it was not intended to be a negative thing.” 

Regardless, she said, “it’s nice to have some fun about it, because you’re putting up with the criticism all the time – on issues, whether it’s about LGBTQ, or being a woman, or being from San Francisco, or whatever it is.” 

Rep. Nancy Pelosi talks with Blade reporter Christopher Kane on Tuesday, Jan. 24. (Photo courtesy of the Office of Nancy Pelosi)
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Politics

Pelosi on Santos: ‘He’s outrageous, there’s no way he should be allowed to serve’

Former Speaker reflects on her legacy in exclusive Blade interview

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Rep. Nancy Pelosi talked to the Blade on Tuesday. (Photo courtesy of the Office of Nancy Pelosi)

Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sat down with the Washington Blade for an exclusive interview in her office on Tuesday evening, reflecting on her long career in Congress and decades of LGBTQ advocacy and HIV/AIDS work. 

The full interview will be published Wednesday afternoon. 

During the interview, Pelosi weighed in on several current controversies, including the scandals involving gay Rep. George Santos and his myriad lies. 

Santos is “almost a joke; he’s become a punch line,” Pelosi said. “He’s outrageous, and there’s no way he should be allowed to serve” given the extent to which the congressman has failed to exhibit the “dignity” required of members who are privileged to serve in the House of Representatives.

At the same time, “there are people over there who are more seriously dangerous to the freedoms in our country than him,” Pelosi added. She pointed to the hate mongering and fear mongering in which many of Santos’s Republican colleagues have engaged, including “the things that that they say about trans families and, just, the injustice of it all.” 

Check back Wednesday afternoon for the full Pelosi interview.

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Congress

Gallego announces run for Sinema’s Senate seat

Sets up potential three-way race if incumbent seeks reelection

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Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Democratic U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego of Arizona announced plans to run for the Senate in 2024, setting up a possible three-way race if newly declared independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema decides to seek reelection for her seat representing the Grand Canyon State next year.

Gallego disclosed his forthcoming senatorial bid on Monday, sharing a video on Twitter in which the congressman accused Sinema of breaking her promises to Arizonans in favor of advancing the interests of multinational pharmaceutical companies and financial institutions.

A spokesperson for Sinema’s office declined to comment. On Friday, Sinema told Arizona Radio Station KTAR: “I’m not really thinking or talking about the election right now, although others are,” adding, I’m staying focused on the work.”

If elected, Gallego, whose announcement video was recorded in English and Spanish, would become Arizona’s first Latino senator.

Sinema became the first bisexual member and, after Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin, the second LGBTQ woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate in 2012 and 2018, respectively.

Last year, she was widely credited for her role in the Senate’s passage of the Respect for Marriage Act, hailed as the most significant pro-LGBTQ legislative achievement since the 2010 repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

However, since her election to the Senate, Sinema has often earned the ire of many of her Democratic colleagues for stymying progressive legislation by refusing to abandon the filibuster and tacking to the right on fiscal issues.

The Arizona Democratic Party executive board voted to censure Sinema last January for voting with Republicans to preserve the filibuster at the expense of a voting rights bill.

On Dec. 9, Sinema announced her decision to switch her party affiliation from Democrat to independent, pledging not to caucus with Republicans and promising that “Nothing will change about my values or my behavior.”

Sinema has also come under fire during her tenure in the Senate for taking positions seen as favorable to the drug industry and Wall Street, seemingly in exchange for financial backing from those and other affiliated interests.

For instance, in 2021 The Guardian reported that “In the current Congress, Big Pharma appears to have zeroed in on Senator Kyrsten Sinema, Democrat from Arizona, as one of their lead obstructionists to help kill or gut the Democrats’ drug pricing plan. In the 2020 election cycle, pharmaceutical political action committees suddenly funneled more money to her than they did the whole six years she served in the US House.”

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