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Meet the 8 House Dems who don’t co-sponsor ENDA

Advocates push to find 218 votes for bill

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United States Capitol Building, dome, gay news, Washington Blade
Democratic Party, United States House of Representatives, U.S. Congress, Dan Lipinski, Illinois, John Barrow, Georgia, Pete Gallego, Texas, Gene Green, Nick Rahall, West Virginia, Jim Costa, California, Mike McIntyre, Henry Cuellar

Clockwise from top left, Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.), Rep. John Barrow (D-Ga.), Rep. Pete Gallego (D-Texas), Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas), Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), Rep. Jim Costa (D-Calif.), Rep. Mike McIntyre (D-N.C.) and Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) (Photos public domain)

Amid the push to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, much has been said about the daunting task of advancing the bill against Republican opposition — including from U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) himself — in the GOP-controlled chamber of Congress.

But the Democratic caucus isn’t unanimous in its sponsorship of the legislation despite a push from the White House and Democratic leaders to advance ENDA. A total of eight Democrats have so far declined to co-sponsor the bill, although at least two said they would vote for it and one has said he’s inclined to vote for it if it comes to the House floor.

The eight Democrats who don’t co-sponsor ENDA are Reps. Dan Lipinksi (Ill.), Jim Costa (Calif.), John Barrow (Ga.), Mike McIntyre (N.C.), Pete Gallego (Texas), Henry Cuellar (Texas), Gene Green (Texas) and Nick Rahall (W.Va.).

Of these eight Democrats, most are from Texas, the largest state without any laws providing non-discrimination protections on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Chuck Smith, executive director of Equality Texas, said the three Texans who don’t co-sponsor ENDA — Gallego, Cuellar and Green — likely have “a misplaced fear” about opposition to non-discrimination in their districts.

“When Texans go to work each day, they want to be judged on their professionalism, their experience, their performance, and their ability to get the job done,” Smith said. “With hard work, fulfilling their responsibilities, and playing by the rules, they are striving for a fair chance at achieving a piece of the American Dream. And in Texas, fully three-fourths of voters support prohibiting employment discrimination.”

But two of these lawmakers, Gallego and Green, have signaled they would support ENDA if it comes up for a vote on the House floor, even though they have yet to co-sponsor the legislation.

Jose Borjon, a Gallego spokesperson, said his boss “from the beginning” has said “he will vote for ENDA” on the House floor.

“Congressman Gallego’s family has a long history of protecting civil rights and opposing discrimination,” Borjon said. “Like his parents before him, Congressman Gallego is also opposed to any form of discrimination, including discrimination against individuals based on race, color, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, sex, religion, age, disability or personal beliefs.”

Borjon didn’t respond to a follow-up email asking why Gallego won’t co-sponsor ENDA if the lawmaker would vote for the bill.

Green’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment. But according to Hair Balls, a Houston-based political blog, he’ll vote for the legislation if it comes to the House floor.

“I am opposed to discrimination in the workplace, whether based on gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation, and will vote in support of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act when it comes to the House floor for a vote,” Green is quoted as saying.

Cuellar has made no such commitment to voting for ENDA. His office didn’t respond to the Blade’s request seeking comment on the bill.

According to LoneStar Q’s John Wright, Dallas activist Jeff Strater expressed disappointment about a meeting during a Capitol Hill lobby day when he and others sought to discuss ENDA with Cuellar staff and a proposed letter seeking an executive order barring LGBT workplace discrimination.

“We had an appointment with Henry Cuellar’s office last Thursday in D.C. to talk about the letter, ENDA and other LGBT legislation,” Strater was quoted as saying. “They refused to meet with us in the office for our appointment (unlike other members of Congress) and we met in a busy hallway. The meeting was also with a legislative fellow and not a legislative aide. This was worse than our meeting with Ted Cruz’s staff. The sad part is that in our small group we had people with long ties to Cuellar’s congressional district and Laredo.”

Another Democrat in another state has also signaled he’ll likely support ENDA, even though he hasn’t yet signed on a co-sponsor to the bill.

Jessica Kahanek, a Costa spokesperson, said the lawmaker is still reviewing the legislation, but is “inclined” to vote for the bill should it come to the House floor.

“Rep. Costa is still reviewing the bill and its implications for small business owners before he makes a final decision on co-sponsoring,” Kahanek said. “He is inclined to support ENDA should there be a vote held on the bill.”

Costa supports marriage equality and co-sponsors the Student Non-Discrimination Act, which would bar schools from allowing discrimination or harassment of LGBT students.

One notable House Democrat who doesn’t co-sponsor ENDA is Lipinski, who withholds support for ENDA even though he voted for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and LGBT-inclusive hate crimes legislation. However, Lipinski opposes same-sex marriage.

Bernard Cherkasov, CEO of Equality Illinois, called on Lipinski to support ENDA as he touted his organization’s work in “building stronger and stronger support” for the legislation among his state’s delegation to Congress.

“Congressman Lipinski represents a district where many employers, community leaders, and clergy members are very vocal about their support for ENDA; and LGBT workplace protections have been the law in Illinois for almost a decade,” Cherkasov said. “In a state with broad bipartisan support for ENDA, we hope that Congressman Lipinski will carry those values to Washington and sponsor ENDA.”

Not helping in the case of Lipinski — as well as Costa and Cuellar — is the fact that they’re Catholic and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has come out in opposition to ENDA when it came up for a vote in the Senate, saying it threatens religious liberty, would enable legalization of same-sex marriage and rejects the biological basis of gender.

Other House Democrats who don’t co-sponsor ENDA have a history of assuming anti-LGBT positions as members of Congress. Most notable among them are Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) and retiring Rep. Mike McIntyre (D-N.C.), the only Democrats who currently co-sponsor a U.S. constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage in the country. Their offices didn’t respond to a request for comment on their position on ENDA.

Another longtime House Democrat who doesn’t co-sponsor ENDA and who was a one-time supporter of a Federal Marriage Amendment is Barrow. Despite voting “yes” on this amendment, Barrow has taken pro-LGBT positions, such as voting in favor of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal. His office didn’t respond to a request for comment on ENDA.

Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality, said Barrow has assumed more anti-LGBT positions after redistricting, when Barrow’s district was drawn to become more conservative.

“The politics behind this, not that it excuses it, but for the last several times that he has run for office, he has been redistricted into a district that is majority Republican,” Graham said. “And so, he actually has a voting record on LGBT issues, as well as a lot of other issues that are important to many of us, where he did not support them or voted against them. His lack of sponsorship of ENDA is not actually a surprise; it’s a disappointment, but it is not a surprise.”

Graham said getting Barrow to support ENDA would require “an immense grassroots” effort among his constituents, but his organization is prepared to support the Human Rights Campaign in planned field operations to encourage him to back the bill.

Other groups behind ENDA have launched initiatives at the national level aimed at building support for the legislation as the push to pass it continues. The Senate last year passed ENDA on bipartisan vote of 64-32, so House passage is the only remaining step necessary for approval before it would go to President Obama’s desk.

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, said boosting the number of ENDA co-sponsors on both sides of the aisle is important “to clearly demonstrate” majority support exists for LGBT workplace protections in the House.

“We think that if a House vote were held today, ENDA would pass with more than 218 votes, but winning over the next batch of co-sponsors would help us prove that definitively to House leadership,” Almeida said. “Reaching 218 supporters would increase pressure on those who have been blocking an up-or-down vote.”

Almeida drew a distinction between co-sponsoring ENDA and merely articulating support, saying pledging a “yes” vote without co-sponsoring the bill is the “second-best option” for lawmakers.

A House Democratic leadership aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the only way to push these lawmakers to support ENDA is for constituents within their districts to ask their members to get behind the bill. The aide said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) personally whipped members to support ENDA, which is why all but eight Democratic members co-sponsor the bill this Congress.

The White House has continually called for passage of ENDA. The White House didn’t respond to a request for comment on whether it has reached out to these eight House Democrats to encourage them to support the legislation.

At a time when DNC is raising money on behalf of Democrats in the 2014 election, the DNC didn’t respond to the Blade’s request for comment on whether House Democrats who don’t co-sponsor ENDA are out of line with principles of the Democratic Party, even though the 2012 Democratic Party platform endorses the bill on the basis that “people should not be fired based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Although eight House Democrats aren’t co-sponsors of ENDA, a sea of Republicans continue to withhold support of the bill in a chamber of Congress where their party holds the majority. Of the 233 Republicans in the U.S. House, only six co-sponsor ENDA: Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.), Charles Dent (R-Pa.), Jon Runyan (R-N.J.), Chris Gibson (R-N.Y.) and Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.).

Americans for Workplace Opportunity, a coalition of groups seeking to pass ENDA, have launched a $2 million push aimed at passing ENDA in the House. Much of the money is coming from Republican superdonors Paul Singer and Seth Klarman, who each donated $375,000. Nonetheless, not a single Republican co-sponsor has signed on to ENDA since the start of the campaign last month.

Jeff Cook-McCormac, senior adviser to the pro-LGBT American Unity Fund, nonetheless predicted more Republican co-sponsors of ENDA in the coming days.

“In an authentically bipartisan way, we remain laser-focused on getting to the critical number of 218, demonstrating majority support in the chamber,” Cook-McCormac said. “This much-needed engagement, member-by-member, in thoughtful and respectful conversations about the need for ENDA is what will enable support for the bill to grow, as we’ve seen it is a critical element of every successful effort that has advanced freedom for LGBT Americans in our country.  I expect you will see other Republicans indicate their support for ENDA in the weeks and months to come.”

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HHS awards more than $48 million to HRSA centers in effort to beat HIV/AIDS

Biden campaigned on beating epidemic by 2025

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HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra hailed the contribution of more than $48 million to beat HIV/AIDS. (photo public domain)

The Biden administration has awarded more than $48 million to medical centers under Health Resources & Services Administration in localities with high incidents of HIV infection as part of the initiative to beat the disease, the Washington Blade has learned exclusively.

Xavier Becerra, secretary of health and human services, said in a statement the contributions are key component of the initiative, which is called “Ending the HIV Epidemic in the U.S.” and seeks to reduce new infections by 90 percent by 2030.

“HHS-supported community health centers are often a key point of entry to HIV prevention and treatment services, especially for underserved populations,” Becerra said in a statement. “I am proud of the role they play in providing critical services to 1.2 million Americans living with HIV. Today’s awards will ensure equitable access to services free from stigma and discrimination, while advancing the Biden-Harris administration’s efforts to ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic by 2025.”

The $48 million contribution went to HRSA centers 71 HRSA-supported health centers across 26 states, Puerto Rico and D.C. — areas identified with the highest rates of HIV infections — to expand HIV prevention and treatment services, including access to pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) as well as outreach and care coordination, according to HHS.

The Ending the HIV Epidemic was set up under the Trump administration, which made PrEP a generic drug after an accelerated effort and set a goal of beating HIV by 2030. Biden has continued the project, after campaigning on beating HIV a full five years earlier in 2025. Observers, however, are skeptical he can meet that goal.

Diana Espinosa, acting HRSA administrator, said in a statement the $48 million will go a long way in reaching goals to beat HIV/AIDS.

“We know our Health Center Program award recipients are well-positioned to advance the Ending the HIV Epidemic in the U.S. initiative, with a particular focus on facilitating access to PrEP, because of their integrated service delivery model,” Espinosa said. “By integrating HIV services into primary care, and providing essential enabling services like language access or case management, HRSA-supported health centers increase access to care and improve health outcomes for patients living with HIV.”

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Draft of new Cuba family code contains marriage equality provision

National Assembly expected to vote on proposal in December

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Cuba’s Justice Ministry on Wednesday released a draft of a proposed new family code that would extend marriage rights to same-sex couples in the country.

Tremenda Nota, the Washington Blade’s media partner in Cuba, reported the proposed Article 61 of the new family code defines “marriage as a union of two people with legal aptitude who voluntarily agreed to enter into it in order to build a life together based on affection and love.”

The Justice Ministry, according to Tremenda Nota, released the draft a week after a commission that has been charged with writing the new family code met with President Miguel Díaz-Canel and other officials.

Tremenda Nota reported the National Assembly is expected to vote on the new family code in December. The Associated Press noted a referendum on it would then take place.

“It protects all expressions of family diversity and the right of each person to establish a family in coherence with the constitutional principles of plurality, inclusion and human dignity,” National Union of Jurists of Cuba Vice President Yamila González Ferrer told the Associated Press.

The draft’s release comes nearly three years after the government removed an amendment from a draft of Cuba’s new constitution that would have extended marriage rights for same-sex couples after evangelical groups on the Communist island publicly criticized it. Cuban voters in February 2019 overwhelmingly approved the new constitution without marriage equality.

A poster inside El Mejunje, an LGBTI-friendly cultural center in Santa Clara, Cuba, in 2019 indicates support for marriage rights for same-sex couples in the country’s new constitution. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Cuba would join Costa Rica, Colombia and a handful of other Latin American countries with marriage equality if the new family code draft becomes law.

Former President Fidel Castro in the years after the 1959 revolution that brought him to power sent gay men and others to work camps known by the Spanish acronym UMAP. His niece, Mariela Castro, the daughter of former President Raúl Castro who spearheads LGBTQ-specific issues as director of Cuba’s National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX), and Díaz-Canel both publicly support marriage equality.

Tremenda Nota Director Maykel González Vivero is among the hundreds of people who Cuban police arrested on July 11 during anti-government protests that took place in Havana and across the country. Luis Ángel Adán Roble, a gay man who was once a member of the National Assembly, is among those who have been banned from leaving the country.

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Hong Kong Gay Games postponed for one year

Organizers cite potential COVID-related travel restrictions

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The Gay Games in Hong Kong are delayed until 2023. (Photo by Alkhairul via Bigstock)

Officials with Gay Games Hong Kong 2022, the committee organizing the quadrennial international LGBTQ sports event scheduled to take place in Hong Kong in November 2022, announced on Sept. 15 that the Gay Games will be postponed for one year due to concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic.

“After much internal deliberation and in consultation with the Federation of Gay Games (FGG) leadership and board, it has been decided that Gay Games 11, originally scheduled for November 2022, will be postponed to November 2023 in Hong Kong,” a statement released by the organizing committee says.

“This decision has been made primarily due to the unpredictable progression of COVID variants and the corresponding travel restrictions that continue to make it challenging for participants from around the world to make plans to travel to Hong Kong,” the statement says.

“With many parts of the world, including many across Asia, still struggling to contain the virus and facing uneven access to vaccines, we felt that delaying the Games until November 2023 will enhance the likelihood of delivering on our promise to have the Hong Kong Games serve as a beacon of hope for the wider community across the region,” it says.

In 2017, when the U.S.-based Federation of Gay Games selected Hong Kong to host the Games it predicted at least 12,000 athletes would participate in 36 sports at the Hong Kong Games. It also predicted that at least 75,000 spectators from throughout the world would turn out in Hong Kong to watch the games and participate in at least 20 accompanying arts and cultural events.

In its statement this week announcing the one-year postponement, the Gay Games Hong Kong committee also referred to opposition to the event expressed by some officials with the local Hong Kong government who are said to be aligned with China.

The Washington Post reported last month that one pro-Beijing lawmaker called the Gay Games “disgraceful” and a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” that could violate a strict security law imposed on Hong Kong by China that has led to the arrest and imprisonment of many pro-democracy protesters over the past year. Some have expressed concern that Gay Games spectators from Europe, North America or elsewhere could be subjected to arrest if they make statements critical of China during the Gay Games cultural events.

“Anti-inclusion objections to Gay Games Hong Kong from a small but vocal minority have galvanized the resolve of our 300 volunteers, and brought overwhelming support from the general public, business community and establishment legislators,” the Gay Games Hong Kong statement says. “Mrs. Carrie Lam, Hong Kong Chief Executive, has also expressed her support for the spirit of inclusion and diversity of the games,” according to the statement. 

“We would like to thank everyone for their early support and will ride this wave of positivity to the most successful hosting of Gay Games 11 Hong Kong in 2023,” the statement concludes.

D.C. and Guadalajara, Mexico were the two finalist cities competing with Hong Kong to host the 2022 Gay Games. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser traveled to Paris in 2017 to join officials with Team DC, the local LGBTQ sports organization that helped prepare D.C.’s bid to host the Games, to deliver D.C.’s final but unsuccessful presentation before the FGG in support of its bid to host the Games.

Under FGG rules and past practice, the finalist city or cities that competed to host the Gay Games are given an opportunity to reinstate their bid in the unlikely event that the city selected to host the Games can no longer serve as the host city.

Brent Minor, executive director of Team D.C., who served as chair of D.C.’s Gay Games Bid Committee in 2017, did not respond to a request from the Blade for comment on whether Team D.C. would consider renewing its effort to push for D.C. to host the Gay Games if Hong Kong were unable to remain as the host city.

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