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New momentum for ENDA as Senate vote nears

Senate Dems united in support of legislation



Mark Pryor, United States Senate, Democratic Party, Arkansas, gay news, Washington Blade
Employment Non-Discrimination Act, ENDA, gay news, Washington Blade, United States Senate

Now that Sen. Joe Manchin has said he’ll vote for ENDA, the entire Senate Democratic caucus is on board (Photos public domain).

In the days after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced on Monday a floor vote would take place on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act before Thanksgiving, the Democratic caucus has become united on the bill, but some Republican senators are still undecided.

Following Reid’s announcement, the three Democratic holdouts — Sens. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) — signaled they’d support the legislation as Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) reportedly said he’s “inclined to support” the measure.

Meanwhile, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) expressed opposition to ENDA in its current form and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) may be wavering following his support for the bill in committee.

Reid said during his routine weekly news conference on Tuesday that he feels “pretty good” about ENDA, but wasn’t more specific about the timing of the vote.

“I don’t know if we’ll do it next week but we’re going to do it this work period,” Reid said. “The lead Democrat on that has been [Sen.] Jeff Merkley of Oregon and he said earlier today he has 59 supporters. So, that’s pretty good. That’s counting a new senator on Thursday.”

The bill, which has languished in Congress in various versions since the 1970s, would prohibit businesses from discriminating against or firing workers for being LGBT.

Merkley, ENDA’s chief sponsor, was optimistic when speaking with the Washington Blade on Capitol Hill about whether he thinks the bill will pass the Senate.

“I think it will,” Merkley said. “There’s just a tremendous sense that this is an issue of fairness, an issue of equality under our Constitution, an issue of opportunity. If you don’t have a chance to have fairness in getting a job, you really don’t have a fair chance to live the American dream.”

Merkley wouldn’t predict the number of votes that ENDA will receive on the Senate floor and deferred details about the timing of the vote to Democratic leadership, but said “momentum continues to build.”

Following Nelson’s signal earlier Tuesday that he would become the 54th sponsor of ENDA, Pryor, in a development first reported by Arkansas Times, announced he’d vote for the legislation on the floor. Michael Teague, a Pryor spokesperson, confirmed to the Blade that Pryor “will vote ‘yes’ on ENDA.”

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, said Pryor’s support for ENDA is evidence that momentum for the legislation is “building fast.”

“We applaud him for standing up for basic fairness and predict that his decision will be supported by Arkansas business leaders from small to big,” Almeida said. “It helps that Wal-Mart, the state’s largest employer, has protected gay and lesbian workers from discrimination for nearly 10 years, and adopted workplace protections for transgender employees two years ago.”

The next day, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) signaled he’d also for vote ENDA. Asked whether he could confirm a tweet via the New York Times that the senator would vote for the bill, Jonathan Kott, a Manchin spokesperson, replied, “I can.”

Republicans hold differing views

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), a senator known for his outreach to the LGBT community, was optimistic when speaking to the Blade about ENDA’s chances on the Senate floor.

“I think it has a very good chance of passing; I’m very positive about it,” Schumer said. “There are at least four Republicans who have either voted for it, or committed to voting for it, and five or six other who seem positive. I’m very optimistic.”

One Republican who may be in that column is Portman, who earlier this year after learning his son is gay. The Cincinnati Inquirer reported that Portman said Tuesday he’s “inclined to support” ENDA.

Caitlin Dunn, a Portman spokesperson, told the Blade afterward the Ohio Republican supports the basic premise of the legislation, but has concerns about “religious liberties.”

“Sen. Portman agrees with the underlying principle of ENDA and supports ending unjust discrimination based on one’s sexual orientation,” Portman said. “He doesn’t think one of his constituents should be able to be fired just because he or she is gay. The bill as it stands, however, is not perfect, and he continues to discuss his concerns with the bill’s sponsors and is exploring ways to strengthen the bill, including its religious liberties provisions.”

But other Republicans considered possible “yes” votes on ENDA don’t share the same view.

Flake, who voted for a gay-only version of ENDA without transgender protections as U.S. House member in 2007, told the Blade in response to how he’ll vote on the bill this time around, “If it’s the House version, I’ll vote for it, like I did then.”

When the Blade pointed out that the 2013 version of ENDA in the Senate is different from the 2007 version in the House, Flake replied, “If they don’t change it, I’ll vote ‘no.'”

Asked if it was the trans protections in the current version of ENDA to which he had objections, Flake replied, “Yeah. I have issues with that.”

Another Republican previously cited as a potential “yes” vote on ENDA, Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) told the Blade he hadn’t seen ENDA, nor would he say if he was leaning to vote one way or the other.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) had similarly said he hasn’t thoroughly examined ENDA when speaking with the Blade, but indicated some initial concerns about the legislation.

“I need to look at the bill,” Rubio said. “I just saw yesterday news reports that it might come up next week, so I’ll be studying it. I can just tell you my initial read on it. I have concerns about it that I’ll address at a later time.”

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), identified by Freedom to Work as a potential ENDA supporter, was similarly non-committal about the legislation.

“I haven’t had a chance to examine it carefully,” McCain told the Blade. “I don’t know when it’s coming up to tell you the truth.”

The Washington Post reported last week that Cindy McCain, the senator’s wife, signed a postcard to her husband given to her by a Human Rights Campaign volunteer encouraging him to support ENDA.

McCain acknowledged he has received the postcard as he maintained he hasn’t yet taken a position on ENDA.

“My wife is — as most women are — a very independent thinker and is entitled to her views, and I respect those views — not only of my wife, but of my daughter and my sons,” McCain said.

Additionally, the two Republicans that joined Democrats on the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee in voting left the door open for them to vote “no” on the Senate floor when speaking with the Washington Blade.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), one of these Republicans, gave himself considerable latitude in reversing the “yes” vote that he delivered in committee on ENDA.

“I’m looking at it,” Hatch said. “I want to make sure I understand it fully before I make a decision.”

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the other Republican, also opened the door for her to vote “no” when asked if she’d vote on the floor for the bill she supported in committee.

“Obviously, we’re going to see what’s happening with amendments, but, yes, I was supportive of ENDA as it came out in committee, and I’m looking forward to seeing it on the floor,” Murkowski said.

Assuming these two Republicans continue their support for ENDA, the 54 sponsors of ENDA vote for it as well as Manchin and Pryor, the legislation now has the 59 votes that Reid cited during the news conference. That’s still one vote short of overcoming a filibuster.

Religious exemption draws concern

Meanwhile, concerns among some LGBT advocates persist over the religious exemption over fears the language is too broad and provides insufficient protection for LGBT people working at religious organizations.

The grassroots LGBT group GetEQUAL is petitioning Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) to speak out against ENDA’s broad religious exemptions on the floor of the Senate, touting more than 5,600 petition signatures.

Heather Cronk, managing director of GetEQUAL, said her organization doesn’t support ENDA with the current religious exemption in place.

“We don’t support the current version of ENDA specifically because the broad religious exemptions contained in the bill will set a really harmful precedent that discrimination against LGBT folks is acceptable if the person or institution discriminating simply claims religion,” Cronk said.

Currently, ENDA has a religious exemption that provides leeway for religious organizations, like churches or religious schools, to discriminate against LGBT employees. That same leeway isn’t found under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits religious organizations from discriminating on the basis of race, gender or national origin.

The lack of support for ENDA from GetEQUAL — as well as concern expressed by groups like the American Civil Liberties Union — recalls the discontinued support for ENDA in 2007 when the transgender protections were dropped before a House vote took place. Despite this concern, groups such as Freedom to Work and the Human Rights Campaign continue to support ENDA with its current religious exemption.

Merkley reiterated on Tuesday he’s happy with the current language, but noted there will be a debate process and opportunity for amendments on the Senate floor.

“I’m very satisfied with the religious exemption” Merkley said. “I’m sure there’ll be a variety of amendments put forward, but I think it strikes the right balance.”

According to sources familiar with the bill, Merkley rejected an ACLU proposal prior to ENDA’s introduction to limit the religious exemption.

One question is whether the White House is actively engaged in pushing lawmakers to support ENDA. On Monday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told the Blade that President Obama “will encourage continued movement” on ENDA, but wouldn’t go into details about legislative strategy.

Merkley said he hasn’t seen the White House or Obama engage in lobbying efforts on ENDA, but assumed that would take place at a later point in time.

“At this point, the conversation has been mostly within the Senate, but I’m sure they’ll have something to say about it before we’re done,” Merkley said.

Among the undecided senators claiming that he hasn’t heard from the White House is Toomey. Asked by the Blade whether Obama or the White House has reached out to him about the bill, Toomey said he hasn’t heard anything.

Even if the Senate approves ENDA, the more challenging obstacle is passage in the House, where Republican control will make progress significantly more challenging.

For his part, Schumer said the vote in the Senate will create momentum regardless of the fate of ENDA in the House.

“You never know,” Schumer said. “You build momentum in the Senate and it’s the right thing do. Remember what Martin Luther King said, ‘The arc of history is long, but it bends in the direction of justice.’ So, that’s what I say with the House of Representatives.”

UPDATE: This article has been updated in the aftermath of news that Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) would sign on as an ENDA supporter.

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District of Columbia

Man accused of assaulting lesbian activist surrenders to D.C. police

Aiyi’nah Ford attacked at Congress Heights bar earlier this month



Aiyi'nah Ford at the 2022 National Cannabis Faestival (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

D.C. police on Aug. 11 charged a 46-year-old D.C. man with assault with a dangerous weapon in connection with incident earlier this month in which lesbian activist Aiyi’nah Ford said she was hit in the head three times with the metal legs of a barstool wielded by a man yelling anti-gay names at her.

A police report says the incident took place at the Player’s Lounge, a restaurant and bar at 2737 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave., S.E., in the city’s Congress Heights neighborhood shortly before and after midnight on Aug. 3 and Aug. 4.

Police identified the man charged in the case as Donnell Anthony Peterson, who police say is a resident of 1200 block of Southern Avenue in Southeast D.C.

Ford told the Washington Blade that Peterson, who is a regular customer at Player’s Lounge as is she, assaulted her after the two got into a verbal argument over, among other things, the city’s violence interruption program. Ford said she told Peterson and others who were having a discussion that she considered the program to be ineffective and a “joke.”

It was around that time, Ford said, that Peterson began repeatedly calling her a “dyke bitch” and threatened to shoot her.

The arrest affidavit says witnesses reported seeing Ford covered in blood from a serious head injury before an ambulance arrived on the scene and took her to George Washington University Hospital, where she was treated for a head and scalp wound that required multiple stitches. 

The affidavit, which was filed in D.C. Superior Court, says Peterson on Aug. 11 “turned himself into the Seventh District Police Station,” saying he did so after someone told him police issued a Twitter posting announcing he was wanted on an assault allegation.

Court records show that at the time of his arrest, D.C. police also charged Peterson with Possession with Intent to Distribute a Controlled Substance (Cocaine) based on an unrelated Aug. 26, 2021, outstanding warrant for his arrest on the drug charge obtained by U.S. Park Police. 

The affidavit for his arrest on the assault charge says police learned about the outstanding U.S. Park Police arrest warrant when they conducted a criminal record background check after learning through a tip that Peterson was the person who allegedly assaulted Ford at Player’s Lounge.

Court records also show that Peterson appeared before Superior Court Judge Renee Raymond on Aug. 12, one day after his arrest, for a presentment hearing in which Raymond ordered him held in the D.C. Jail until a scheduled preliminary hearing on Monday.

At the Monday hearing, through his attorney, Peterson waived his right to a full preliminary hearing and agreed that Judge Neal E. Kravitz, who presided over the hearing, would rule that prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s office established probable cause that Peterson committed the assault. The probable cause finding means that the case can proceed to a trial.

While ruling in favor of probable cause, Kravitz denied a request by Assistant U.S. Attorney Alec Levy that Peterson continue to be held in jail pending trial. Levy argued that Peterson “viciously” hit Ford over the head with a barstool at least two times as shown on a video recording of the incident obtained from a camera from Player’s Lounge video security system.

Levy also said that at the time Peterson assaulted Ford he used “derogatory” language referring to her sexual orientation. 

But court records show that as of the time of the Monday hearing, the U.S. Attorney’s office did not list the assault against Ford as a bias related crime.

In response to an inquiry by the Blade, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s office said he would look into whether prosecutors were considering adding a bias or hate related enhancement to the assault charge. 

As part of his argument for Peterson to be held while awaiting trial, Levy requested and received permission from the judge to show a segment of the video on a large projection screen in the courtroom. Peterson, who is seen in the video wearing a red shirt, is shown knocking Ford to the floor, and picking up a bar stool and twice hitting her in the head with the metal legs of the stool.   

Levy concluded his argument by noting that Peterson has three prior convictions on drug related charges. The prosecutor said Peterson fled the scene when he was stopped in his car by U.S. Park Police who found cocaine in the vehicle in August 2021, which resulted in the warrant for his arrest being issued and which Levy called a fourth prior criminal offense.

Combined with the Assault with a Dangerous Weapon charge, Levy argued that Peterson should be held pending trial on grounds that he is a danger to the community.

Brandon Burrell, Peterson’s court appointed attorney, argued that the current assault case was the only case in which Peterson is accused of a crime of violence. Burrell said that Peterson has never failed to appear at a court hearing in any of his prior arrest cases and is gainfully employed at a facility providing services to senior citizens in Ward 8. 

Burrell also said he plans to point to evidence shown in the video of the assault at Player’s Lounge that Ford acted in an aggressive and hostile way toward Peterson and that Peterson has grounds for making a case of self-defense. Levy disputed Burrell’s claim that there may be grounds for self-defense. Levy said that, among other things, the video footage shows Peterson acting as the aggressor by violently wielding a bar stool as a weapon.

After listening to the arguments by the defense and prosecutor and after reading the arrest affidavit, which describes in detail the segments of the video that were not shown in the courtroom, Kravitz ruled that Peterson was eligible to be released into the court’s high intensity supervision program. Kravitz ordered Peterson into “home confinement” at his residence in Southeast D.C. except for the time during the week when he goes to work at his job. The judge also ordered that Peterson must wear a GPS device that keeps track of his whereabouts. 

Kravitz scheduled a felony status conference for which Peterson must return to court on Sept. 16. 

The four-page arrest affidavit prepared by a D.C. police detective describes in detail the video obtained from the security camera at Player’s Lounge that captured the incident as it occurred and in which Peterson is seen striking Ford in the head at least two times with what it describes as a chair.

“The suspect grabs one of the chairs that’s at the bar (red with black frame) at 23: 11:06,” the affidavit says. “The suspect then slams the chair into the complainant’s head,” it says. 

“The suspect then pushes the complainant into the bar at 23:11:09. The suspect pulls a chair from underneath the complainant and slams it into the complainant’s upper body again at 23:11:15,” the affidavit states.

According to the affidavit, “The suspect attempts to grab a chair for the third time, but patrons are able to separate the suspect and push him into another room.”

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Pope Francis meets with transgender people at Vatican

Meeting took place during weekly audience at St. Peter’s Basilica on Aug. 10.



Pope Francis (Photo by palinchak via Bigstock)

The Vatican’s newspaper L’Osservatore Romano reported that during the weekly papal audience in St. Peter’s Basilica on Aug. 10, Pope Francis met with a fourth group of transgender people who are staying in a church on the outskirts of Rome.

Sister Genevieve Jeanningros and the Rev. Andrea Conocchia told L’Osservatore Romano that this was the fourth papal audience since the Blessed Immaculate Virgin Church in the Torvaianica neighborhood of Rome’s suburbs opened its doors to trans people during the coronavirus pandemic.

L’Osservatore Romano noted that the pope previously met with some of the trans residents sheltering in the church on April 27, June 22 and Aug. 3.

“No one should encounter injustice or be thrown away, everyone has dignity of being a child of God,” the paper quoted Jeanningros as saying.

Francis has earned praise from some members of the LGBTQ and intersex community for his outreach.

When asked in 2013 about a purportedly gay priest, he replied, “Who am I to judge?” He has met individually and in groups with trans people over the course of his pontificate the Associated Press reported.

But he has strongly opposed “gender theory” and has not changed church teaching that holds that same-sex sexual acts are “intrinsically disordered.” In 2021, he allowed publication of a Vatican document asserting that the Catholic Church cannot bless same-sex unions since “God cannot bless sin,” the AP noted.

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Pride Franklin County welcomes rural LGBTQ community

Pennsylvania organization planning October celebration



When Pride Franklin County held its first Pride celebration in 2018, it sought to address a lack of LGBTQ programming in rural southern Pennsylvania. Greeted by more than 1,000 attendees at its inaugural event, Pride Franklin County’s leadership was reassured the event was something the area not only wanted, but needed. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the local organization has once again sought to address community needs — in new and broadened ways.

Pride Franklin County operates under the Franklin County Coalition for Progress, a local social justice nonprofit that formed in the wake of the 2016 presidential election. “We live in a very rural, conservative area, but that election was a turning point all across the country,” explained Noel Purdy, a founder of Pride Franklin County and founder and president of FCCP.

“People came out of the woodwork who were worried about the LGBTQ community … and other populations that had experienced different forms of oppression in our community,” Purdy explained. This interest in supporting the local LGBTQ community led to a group of LGBTQ community members and allies leading the 2018 Pride celebration.

“We just really wanted to create a space where people know that they’re accepted, no matter who they are,” said Nathan Strayer, vice president of FCCP and a founder of Pride Franklin County. “We want people to know that you fit in. There are a lot of people here that are going to love you.”

But in 2020, at the peak of the event’s popularity — Strayer noted that upwards of 3,000 people attended Pride the year prior — Pride Franklin County had to cancel its programming in light of public health concerns. 

With the “momentum” it has going, Strayer explained that the organization did not want the pandemic to limit its ability to serve the Franklin County community: “ That’s when we really decided to make the entire initiative something bigger,” he said. “We’re not just here to throw a party.”

In 2021, the organization began advocating for a local non-discrimination ordinance codifying inclusivity for all community members, regardless of their identity. The Borough of Chambersburg Council, which represents the largest borough in the county, adopted the ordinance that fall — a major win for LGBTQ activists and allies in a rural Pennsylvania county that leans conservative socially and politically.

Yet, just months after the organization celebrated its achievement, new council members were elected in the borough in January 2022, and soon thereafter a majority of the council decided to repeal the non-discrimination ordinance.

While the ordinance’s revocation greatly disappointed Pride Franklin County, it also reminded its leaders and activists how much work was left to be done.

“From the growth of Pride to the pushback we’ve gotten from some of our elected officials here locally, it’s definitely lit a fire in us to continue pushing ahead so that we can truly make Franklin County an inclusive place for everyone,” Strayer emphasized.

This year, the organization launched its Franklin County Welcoming Project, which spearheads public displays of support to the LGBTQ community. In June, the organization received a media grant to create billboard and radio advertisements throughout the county advocating for inclusivity within the Franklin County community.

The organization also reached out to local businesses, providing them with custom decals to put in their windows after signing a pledge stating that they are a “diverse, inclusive, accepting, welcoming, safe space for all,” Strayer said, adding that, despite some initial hesitation, more than 100 local businesses signed the pledge and displayed the logo in their storefronts.

Pride Franklin County has also looked to meet the local demand for LGBTQ programming throughout the year while maintaining public health precautions. More recent projects have included mental health LGBTQ programming, community picnics, drag shows and a Taste of Pride food event. Strayer added that there has been significant demand from the community for more programming centering LGBTQ youth.

Purdy added that voting rights advocacy has become a center point of current efforts from the organization, as it hopes to educate the local community on the importance of their political involvement. “Hopefully, we’re inspiring more people to learn to pay attention more to what’s going on, and trying to understand the connection between policy and voting,” Purdy explained

While the process of founding a grassroots organization has come with obstacles, Purdy and Strayer both noted that the community response has been rewarding.

 “One thing that I’ve been surprised about is how you have this cultural context of being in a conservative area, thinking that that’s going to be a barrier to doing an event that supports the LGBTQ community, and that it’s going to be super controversial,” but ultimately receiving a positive reception from many community members and resources needed to keep the organization running, Purdy explained.

Getting Pride Franklin County up and running has “definitely been very emotional,” Strayer noted. When Strayer decided to come out in 1999, he turned to leaders in his school — a guidance counselor and principal — for advice, but he recalled them “both sitting down and looking at (him) like, ‘We don’t really know what to do,’” making him feel alone in a particularly important part of his life. But with Pride Franklin County, Strayer is “seeing how things are growing and changing.”

“There’s help out there for youth that are struggling with the same things I was struggling with,” Strayer said. “When I look back at when I was coming out, I thought, ‘This is never going to happen here.’ Seeing now that it is happening here, it’s just such an amazing feeling and it just gives me so much pride in my community.”

Pride Franklin County will host its Pride Festival 2022 on Oct. 9 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. More information can be found on the organization’s website at

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