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Lesbian Miss. minister inspires people to live ‘authentic lives’

Says Old South continues to haunt LGBT residents

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Brandiilyne Dear, Dandelion Project, gay news, Washington Blade
Mississippi, We Don't Discriminate, gay news, Washington Blade

Dandelion Project founder Brandiilyne Dear (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

LAUREL, Miss. — Rev. Brandiilyne Dear, an ordained minister who grew up in a small town in Mississippi’s Pine Belt, was 11 years old when she had her first “experience with a girl.”

Their parents found out they had been together because they could not hide the hickies on their necks.

“That was my best friend,” Dear told the Washington Blade during a July 9 interview at a coffee shop in Laurel, a city of about 18,000 residents that is roughly 90 miles southeast of Jackson, the state capital. “I was not able to see her anymore after that. We got in a lot of trouble.”

Dear has struggled and confronted personal demons throughout most of her life.

She began to smoke marijuana shortly after her first same-sex sexual encounter with her then-best friend.

Dear took ecstasy and other drugs when she lived in Birmingham, Ala., in her mid-20s. She told the Blade she began taking crystal meth once she returned to Mississippi.

“When I was 28 years old, I had lost everything,” Dear told the Blade. “I woke up in a hotel room; a cheap hotel and I didn’t have anywhere to go. I had lost everything and I had to call my mother. I’m 28 years old, I’m having to call mom. I didn’t have anywhere to go and she came and got me.”

‘I had an experience with God’

Dear’s son was 11 years old when they moved into her mother’s home.

“If you live under momma’s roof you live by momma’s rules,” Dear told the Blade. “That’s just how it is in the South. You have to do what momma says; I don’t care if you’re 40 or 14.”

Dear said her mother, whom she described as a “big Christian,” made her go to church.

“I walked into this church and these people were a little hyper,” she said, noting she had grown up Methodist. “I laid on the back pew and drew in the books. And so I go in here and they were raising their hands and they’re doing the thing and they’re amen and hallelujah.”

Dear was still living with her crystal meth addiction when she first went to the church.

“I’m just sitting there going these people are nuts, and mind you I’m a junkie at the time,” she said. “I’m a complete drug addict and I’m sitting in the church saying these people are nuts.”

Dear’s mother had volunteered her to paint a children’s mural inside the church.

A youth pastor insisted that she attend a weekend-long retreat known as an “encounter” in September 2003.

Dear resisted, even hiding in another room to avoid him. She finally relented and said she would go as a way to get him to leave her alone.

“I went to this encounter and I had an experience with God, I mean a genuine experience with God,” Dear told the Blade. “I never wanted another drug, never used another drug.”

“After that weekend, I just knew I wanted to help people,” she added. “I just felt the call of God and it was very strong.”

Dear in 2005 established a ministry for drug addicts in Laurel called Dying to Live Ministries.

“I thought my life was a mess,” she said. “I thought I had this horrible addiction, and I was a terrible drug addict. But I started working with drug addicts and I thought wow, I’m Mother Teresa compared to these people. I mean they would come in and they were just in horrible shape. I connected with people and I was able to help them.”

Dear met the couple that currently runs the ministry when they were struggling with their own addiction — the woman was in jail where she had been put on house arrest and her husband participated in the program as an alternative to prison. Dear married the couple.

“I saved a lot of people from prison,” she said.

She opened a center for recovering drug addicts in 2012 after a 19-year-old man who had joined her ministry died in a car accident.

Chris McDaniel, a local lawyer who challenged incumbent U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) in the state’s June primary, is among those who attended the groundbreaking.

“It was really tragic,” said Dear, referring to the man’s sudden death. “I decided I wanted to do more. I was having meetings every week and I had the jail ministry. I had all this going on, but I wanted to do more.”

‘Trying to pray the gay away’

Dear told the Blade that many of those who sought help through her ministry were gay men and lesbians.

“A lot of the LGBT people did cope through drugs and alcohol, so I had a lot of gay people in my ministry,” she said. “Of course I was trying to pray the gay away and rehabilitate, so I was involved in reparative therapy to a degree.”

She described the impact of reparative therapy as “devastating.”

“You’re telling people that you know God can deliver you through homosexuality, you just have to believe, you have to have faith,” said Dear. “When God doesn’t heal you or make you straight, you must have gone too far. God doesn’t love you and you’re not worth saving. Your self-worth is just depleted, completely depleted. It’s just a big thing. I started to see that in the last two years of my ministry.”

Dear said a judge referred a lesbian to her ministry during the time she had begun to grapple with her own sexual orientation.

The recovering drug addict’s partner, Brandi, attended meetings with her.

“She came in with her partner,” said Dear. “She’s like ‘I’m here to support her. I don’t want to be here.’”

“She’s completely against church and against pastors and understandably so because of the way LGBT people have been treated in the church,” she added.

Brandi’s partner subsequently died from an aneurism.

Dear became “kind of close” with Brandi after she presided over her partner’s funeral.

“She came into the ministry and she started working toward getting straight, and she just didn’t,” said Dear. “She wasn’t straight. Of course it didn’t work.”

Brandi soon began to date another woman, and Dear told the Blade the church “blackballed her.”

“It was really, really bad,” she said. “She was very vocal about it on social media and we were very vocal about it on social media. We were bullying her.”

Dear fell ‘head over heels’ for partner

Brandiilyne Dear, Susan Mangum, The L Word Mississippi, Dandelion Project, gay news, Washington Blade

Brandiilyne Dear and Susan Mangum (Photo courtesy of Dear)

It was during this period that Dear met her current partner Susan Mangum when she approached her at the women’s gym she owns — and where the lesbian who had just been kicked out of her church worked out — to see if the business would donate memberships for those in her ministry.

“I’m standing kind of behind my secretary and giving her my spiel and telling her what I needed and what I wanted,” said Dear. “She’s just looking at me and I’m thinking lord, she’s going to kick my ass. She’s going to get up out of this chair and kick my ass.”

Mangum was initially skeptical of the request, but she eventually agreed.

Dear also bought a membership for herself and began to work out at the gym.

“I started going to the gym and I thought Susan was just cute,” she told the Blade, noting Mangum’s partner of eight years had recently left her and took their children. “Susan wasn’t doing real well at the time. And Pastor Brandiilyne goes into minister mode. I’m trying to minister to her and I listened to her a lot. She talked a lot, so I listened and we really just became great friends.”

Dear was married to her then-husband, but she soon began to “fall head over heels in love with her.”

“Here I am, freaking out at this point, I’m like I don’t know what to do,” she said. “I’m married first of all and I’m Pastor Brandiilyne and this is Mississippi and this can’t happen. That’s when I started to think and go back. That’s when I remembered my little 11-year-old affair.”

‘I lost everything’

Dear nearly passed out during a boxing class one day, so Mangum brought her to her home.

“She went upstairs to get a shower and get changed,” Dear told the Blade. “She came back down and I was just like I’ve got to do something about this. It’s making me physically sick. I can’t function. I’ve got to do something about this.”

Dear said she told Mangum that she is “crazy about you” and she is “falling in love with you.”

“She was sitting on the other end of the couch,” said Dear. “She raised up and said hell no. I was just like, well, that is not what I had envisioned.”

“She said no, hell no, you have this great life,” she added. “You’re Pastor Brandiilyne, I’m not going to let you screw up your life. You don’t understand what this is going to do with you.”

Dear and Mangum agreed to remain friends, but a couple of weeks later decided they were “just going to pursue it.”

Dear told the Blade that she had already decided to leave her church because she “didn’t like the way” it treated people.

“I didn’t like the way they treated the LGBT community,” she said. “I was just as bad, but you do what you’re told to do. You follow the leader.”

Dear told the Blade that she decided to tell the couple who are now running her ministry because “they were my best friends, very close to me.”

“I came out to them and told them,” she said. “They outed me to my pastor and my pastor resigned me from the pulpit the next day.”

Dear described the day she came out as “the most liberating moment of my life” that “was quickly becoming the most devastating.” She lost her ministry, her family and her husband.

“My pastors were like my father and my mother,” said Dear, noting she spent every major holiday with them as she became emotional. “I literally spent all of my time with them. So I lost everything. It was a rejection that went so deep and it was so painful. It’s indescribable.”

LGBT people ‘so much more than our sexuality’

Dandelion Project, gay news, Washington Blade

Members of the Dandelion Project meet in Dear and Mangum’s Mississippi home. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Dear founded the Dandelion Project, a support group for LGBT people who live in Laurel and the surrounding areas.

“There’s so much more to it than just a weed,” she told the Blade, noting how she began studying the dandelion after she saw one while driving down a local road. “A dandelion is a beautiful thing and it’s a great thing and it’s a good thing. They’re everywhere and you can’t stop them.”

The group has more than 50 members, many of whom meet weekly at her Laurel home.

The Dandelion Project has produced a number of video campaigns that promote acceptance of LGBT people.

Dear and other members of the Dandelion Project also appear in “L Word Mississippi: Hate the Sin,” a documentary that premiered on Showtime on Friday.

“We’re so much more than our sexuality,” said Dear. “I don’t know how it is everywhere, but here in the South when people find out your sexuality, the rest of your identity is overshadowed by stereotypes. It’s the first thing they see. It’s like ‘hi lesbian’ and that’s it. They can’t get beyond that.”

“They can’t see that you’re intelligent; they can’t see that you’re professionals; they can’t see that you’re business owners,” she added. “They only see your sexuality and immediately it’s a negative thing. You’re a pervert, you’re demon-possessed.”

The Dandelion Project was also involved in the campaign against a law — Senate Bill 2681 — that opponents contend allows businesses to deny services to LGBT people based on their religious beliefs.

“You don’t have to have a law that says you can do it because of religious beliefs,” said Dear. “You can just do it because you’re a business owner. You can say you know I’m not going to serve you because you don’t have on your shirt or you don’t have on your shoes or whatever reason. It was basically we’re going to stand up and tell the gays how we really feel. That’s how we feel. That’s how I feel about it.”

Dear said the American Family Association, a Mississippi-based anti-LGBT organization the Southern Poverty Law Center lists as a hate group, said in an article that her gym is among the businesses that are “discriminating against Christianity.” The AFA removed the reference after Dear threatened to sue and her lawyer sent a cease and desist letter.

“We’re battling with them,” she said. “They’re calling us bullies. The fact of the matter is they’re bullies.”

Old South ‘still haunts us’

Dear told the Blade she feels the “old South still haunts us like a ghost of the past.”

“The Confederate flag is the centerpiece of our state flag,” she said, referring to SB 2681. “We just can’t seem to get away from it. In the South people are proud; people are very proud and they’re proud of their heritage. That includes that mindset.”

She is nevertheless proud of Mississippi.

“Mississippi is moving to the front in the fight for equality, and I’m very proud of where it’s going,” said Dear. “I don’t think anybody expected Mississippi to progress so quickly and for people to stand up and say, hey, you know we’re not going to take this anymore and we’re not going to be quiet and we’re not going to be your sweet Southern girl and we’re not going to keep our mouths shut and we’re not going to be the Southern belles. We’re standing up for our rights.”

Dear told the Blade she and other members of her group are “very excited” about the growing momentum behind marriage rights for same-sex couples, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and other LGBT issues across the country. She nevertheless said nuptials for gays and lesbians will not become legal in Mississippi until the U.S. Supreme Court rules on it.

“That’s how we’re going to get it here,” said Dear.

She also said she welcomes the Human Rights Campaign — with whom she interviewed for a job she did not receive — and other national LGBT advocacy groups that want to work in Mississippi.

“I think a lot of people feel like they just swooped in and took the reigns away from us,” said Dear. “We’ve been working a lot and I think a lot of people feel that way. I think they’re handling themselves pretty well here.”

Group encourages members to ‘live authentic lives’

Brandiilyne Dear, Mississippi, Dandelion Project, gay news, Washington Blade

Brandiilyne Dear, on right, leads a protest in Jackson, Miss. against SB 2681. (Photo courtesy of Dear)

Dear said the Dandelion Project encourages people to come out and “live out.”

“Society needs to see us and our hometown needs to see us,” she told the Blade. “They need to see us in Walmart and holding hands or just walking close to one another.”

Susan was initially reluctant to hold Dear’s hand in public places, but she has subsequently changed her mind.

“I’m not willing to live quietly,” said Dear. “We need to live authentic lives and our communities need to see us and so we really encourage people to live authentic lives, especially in this area.”

Dear told the Blade she “would love to leave Mississippi,” but has decided to remain in her state and fight.

“If I don’t stay here and fight, I leave it to the next generation and I feel that’s irresponsible,” she said. “So if I can make a change and make a difference than I’ll just stay. This is my state and you know what I’ve just decided that you’re not going to run me off. I’m going to live my life and I’m going to do everything I possibly can to change things.”

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Top 10 Blade news stories by web traffic

COVID breakthroughs, Equality Act, and anti-trans attacks

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Elliot Page created excitement by posting his first photo in swim trunks back in May.

Each year our staff gathers in late December to review the highest trafficked stories of the year and there’s more than a little bit of competitive spirit as we review the results. Here are the top 10 stories by web traffic at  HYPERLINK “http://washingtonblade.com”washingtonblade.com for 2021.

#10: Mark Glaze, gun reform advocate, dies at 51

The sad, tragic story of Glaze’s death captivated readers in November. 

#9: COVID breakthrough infections strike summer tourists visiting Provincetown

This one went viral in July after a COVID outbreak was blamed on gay tourists.

#8: Thank you, Kordell Stewart, for thoughtful response to ‘the rumor’

This opinion piece thanked the former NFL quarterback for writing a personal essay addressing gay rumors. 

#7: Elliot Page tweets; trans bb’s first swim trunks #transjoy #transisbeautiful

The actor created excitement by posting his first photo in swim trunks back in May.

#6: Romney declares opposition to LGBTQ Equality Act

Mitt Romney disappointed activists with his announcement; the Equality Act passed the House but never saw a vote in the Senate.

#5: White House warns state legislatures that passing anti-trans bills is illegal

The year 2021 saw a disturbing trend of GOP-led legislatures attacking trans people.

#4: Lincoln Project’s avowed ignorance of Weaver texts undercut by leaked communications

The Lincoln Project’s leaders, amid a scandal of co-founder John Weaver soliciting sexual favors from young men, have asserted they were unaware of his indiscretions until the Blade obtained electronic communications that called that claim into question.

#3: FOX 5’s McCoy suspended over offensive Tweet

Blake McCoy tweeted that obese people shouldn’t get priority for the COVID vaccine. 

#2: Transgender USAF veteran trapped in Taliban takeover of Kabul

Among the Americans trapped in the suburban areas of Kabul under Taliban control was a transgender government contractor for the U.S. State Department and former U.S. Air Force Sergeant. She was later safely evacuated.

#1: Amid coup chaos, Trump quietly erases LGBTQ protections in adoption, health services

And our most popular story of 2021 was about the Trump administration nixing regulations barring federal grantees in the Department of Health & Human Services from discriminating against LGBTQ people, including in adoption services.

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CDC still falling short on LGBTQ data collection for COVID patients: expert

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COVID-19 vaccine, gay news, Washington Blade
The CDC is still not issuing guidance to states on LGBTQ data collection among COVID patients.

Despite requests since the start of the COVID pandemic for the U.S. government to enhance data collection for patients who are LGBTQ, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention is still falling short on issuing nationwide guidance to states on the issue, a leading expert health on the issue told the Blade.

With a renewed focus on COVID infections reaching new heights just before the start of the holidays amid the emergence of Omicron, the absence of any LGBTQ data collection — now across both the Trump and Biden administrations — remains a sore point for health experts who say that information could be used for public outreach.

Sean Cahill, director of Health Policy Research at the Boston-based Fenway Institute, said Wednesday major federal entities and hospitals have been collecting data on whether patients identify as LGBTQ for years — such as the National Health & Nutrition Examination Survey, which has been collecting sexual orientation data since the 1990s — but the CDC hasn’t duplicated that effort for COVID even though the pandemic has been underway for two years.

“It’s not like this is a new idea,” Cahill said. “But for some reason, the pandemic hit, and all of a sudden, we realize how little systematic data we were collecting in our health system. And it’s a real problem because we’re two years into the pandemic almost, and we still don’t know how it’s affecting this vulnerable population that experiences health disparities in other areas.”

The Blade was among the first outlets to report on the lack of efforts by the states to collect data on whether a COVID patient identifies as LGBTQ, reporting in April 2020 on the absence of data even in places with influential LGBTQ communities. The CDC hasn’t responded to the Blade’s requests for nearly two years on why it doesn’t instruct states to collect this data, nor did it respond this week to a request for comment on this article.

Cahill, who has published articles in the American Journal of Public Health on the importance of LGBTQ data collection and reporting in COVID-19 testing, care, and vaccination — said he’s been making the case to the CDC to issue guidance to states on whether COVID patients identify as LGBTQ since June 2020.

Among those efforts, he said, were to include two comments he delivered to the Biden COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force in spring 2021, a letter a coalition of groups sent to the Association of State & Territorial Health Officers asking for states to collect and report SOGI in COVID in December 2020 as well as letters to HHS leadership and congressional leadership in spring and summer 2020 asking for them to take steps to encourage or require SOGI data collection in COVID.

Asked what CDC officials had to say in response when he brought this issue to their attention, Cahill said, “They listen, but they don’t really tell me anything.”

“We’ve been making that case, and to date, as of December 22, 2021, they have not issued guidance, they have not changed the case report form. I hope that they’re in the process of doing that, and maybe we’ll be pleasantly surprised in January, and they’ll come up with something…I really hope that’s true, but right now they’re not doing anything to promote SOGI data collection and reporting in surveillance data.”

Cahill, in an email to the Blade after the initial publication of this article, clarified CDC has indicated guidance on LGBTQ data collection for COVID patients may come in the near future.

“HHS leaders told us this fall that CDC is working on an initiative to expand SOGI data collection,” Cahill said. “We are hopeful that we will see guidance early in 2022. Key people at CDC, including Director Walensky, understand the importance of SOGI data collection given their long history of working on HIV prevention.”

In other issues related to LGBTQ data collection, there has been a history of states resisting federal mandates. The Trump administration, for example, rescinded guidance calling on states to collect information on whether foster youth identified as LGBTQ after complaints from states on the Obama-era process, much to the consternation of LGBTQ advocates who said the data was helpful.

The White House COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force has at least recognized the potential for enhancing LGBTQ data collection efforts. Last month, it published an implementation plan, calling for “an equity-centered approach to data collection, including sufficient funding to collect data for groups that are often left out of data collection (e.g….LGBTQIA+ people).”

The plan also calls for “fund[ing] activities to improve data collection…including tracking COVID-19 related outcomes for people of color and other underserved populations,” and specifically calls for the collection of LGBTQ data.

The importance of collecting LGBTQ data, Cahill said, is based on its potential use in public outreach, including efforts to recognize disparities in health population and to create messaging for outreach, including for populations that may be reluctant to take the vaccine.

“If we see a disparity, we can say: Why is that?” Cahill said. “We could do focus groups of the population — try to understand and then what kind of messages would reassure you and make you feel comfortable getting a vaccine, and we could push those messages out through public education campaigns led by state local health departments led by the federal government.”

The LGBTQ data, Cahill said, could be broken down further to determine if racial and ethnic disparities exist within the LGBTQ population, or whether LGBTQ people are likely to suffer from the disease in certain regions, such as the South.

“We have data showing that lesbian or bisexual women, and transgender people are less likely to be in preventive regular routine care for their health,” Cahill said. “And so if that’s true, there’s a good chance that they’re less likely to know where to get a vaccine, to have a medical professional they trust to talk to about it today.”

Among the leaders who are supportive, Cahill said, is Rachel Levine, assistant secretary for health and the first openly transgender person confirmed by the U.S. Senate for a presidential appointment. Cahill said he raised the issue with her along with other officials at the Department of Health & Human Services three times in the last year.

In her previous role as Pennsylvania secretary of health, Levine led the way and made her state the first in the nation to set up an LGBTQ data collection system for COVID patients.

“So she definitely gets it, and I know she’s supportive of it, but we really need the CDC to act,” Cahill said.

Although the federal government has remained intransigent in taking action, Cahill said the situation has improved among states and counted five states — California, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Nevada and Oregon — in addition to D.C. as among those that have elected to collect data on sexual orientation and gender identity of COVID patients.

However, Cahill said even those data collection efforts are falling short because those jurisdictions have merely been public about collecting the data, but haven’t reported back anything yet.

“Only California has reported data publicly, and the data that they’re reporting is really just the completeness of the data,” Cahill said. “They’re not reporting the data itself…And they’re also just asking people who tests positive. So, if somebody says positive COVID in California, a contact tracer follows up with that individual and asks them a battery of questions, and among the questions that are asked are SOGI questions.”

As a result of these efforts, Cahill said, California has data on the LGBTQ status of COVID patients, but the data is overwhelmingly more complete for the gender identity of these patients rather than their sexual orientation. As of May 2021, California reported that they had sexual orientation data for 9.5 percent of individuals who had died from COVID and 16 percent of people who tested positive, but for gender identity, the data were 99.5 percent.

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Equality Act, contorted as a danger by anti-LGBTQ forces, is all but dead

No political willpower to force vote or reach a compromise

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Despite having President Biden in the White House and Democratic majorities in both chambers of Congress, efforts to update federal civil rights laws to strengthen the prohibition on discrimination against LGBTQ people by passing the Equality Act are all but dead as opponents of the measure have contorted it beyond recognition.

Political willpower is lacking to find a compromise that would be acceptable to enough Republican senators to end a filibuster on the bill — a tall order in any event — nor is there the willpower to force a vote on the Equality Act as opponents stoke fears about transgender kids in sports and not even unanimity in the Democratic caucus in favor of the bill is present, stakeholders who spoke to the Blade on condition of anonymity said.

In fact, there are no imminent plans to hold a vote on the legislation even though Pride month is days away, which would be an opportune time for Congress to demonstrate solidarity with the LGBTQ community by holding a vote on the legislation.

If the Equality Act were to come up for a Senate vote in the next month, it would not have the support to pass. Continued assurances that bipartisan talks are continuing on the legislation have yielded no evidence of additional support, let alone the 10 Republicans needed to end a filibuster.

“I haven’t really heard an update either way, which is usually not good,” one Democratic insider said. “My understanding is that our side was entrenched in a no-compromise mindset and with [Sen. Joe] Manchin saying he didn’t like the bill, it doomed it this Congress. And the bullying of hundreds of trans athletes derailed our message and our arguments of why it was broadly needed.”

The only thing keeping the final nail from being hammered into the Equality Act’s coffin is the unwillingness of its supporters to admit defeat. Other stakeholders who spoke to the Blade continued to assert bipartisan talks are ongoing, strongly pushing back on any conclusion the legislation is dead.

Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said the Equality Act is “alive and well,” citing widespread public support he said includes “the majority of Democrats, Republicans and independents and a growing number of communities across the country engaging and mobilizing every day in support of the legislation.”

“They understand the urgent need to pass this bill and stand up for LGBTQ people across our country,” David added. “As we engage with elected officials, we have confidence that Congress will listen to the voices of their constituents and continue fighting for the Equality Act through the lengthy legislative process.  We will also continue our unprecedented campaign to grow the already-high public support for a popular bill that will save lives and make our country fairer and more equal for all. We will not stop until the Equality Act is passed.”

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), chief sponsor of the Equality Act in the Senate, also signaled through a spokesperson work continues on the legislation, refusing to give up on expectations the legislation would soon become law.

“Sen. Merkley and his staff are in active discussions with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to try to get this done,” McLennan said. “We definitely see it as a key priority that we expect to become law.”

A spokesperson Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who had promised to force a vote on the Equality Act in the Senate on the day the U.S. House approved it earlier this year, pointed to a March 25 “Dear Colleague” letter in which he identified the Equality Act as one of several bills he’d bring up for a vote.

Despite any assurances, the hold up on the bill is apparent. Although the U.S. House approved the legislation earlier this year, the Senate Judiciary Committee hasn’t even reported out the bill yet to the floor in the aftermath of the first-ever Senate hearing on the bill in March. A Senate Judiciary Committee Democratic aide, however, disputed that inaction as evidence the Equality Act is dead in its tracks: “Bipartisan efforts on a path forward are ongoing.”

Democrats are quick to blame Republicans for inaction on the Equality Act, but with Manchin withholding his support for the legislation they can’t even count on the entirety of their caucus to vote “yes” if it came to the floor. Progressives continue to advocate an end to the filibuster to advance legislation Biden has promised as part of his agenda, but even if they were to overcome headwinds and dismantle the institution needing 60 votes to advance legislation, the Equality Act would likely not have majority support to win approval in the Senate with a 50-50 party split.

The office of Manchin, who has previously said he couldn’t support the Equality Act over concerns about public schools having to implement the transgender protections applying to sports and bathrooms, hasn’t responded to multiple requests this year from the Blade on the legislation and didn’t respond to a request to comment for this article.

Meanwhile, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who declined to co-sponsor the Equality Act this year after having signed onto the legislation in the previous Congress, insisted through a spokesperson talks are still happening across the aisle despite the appearances the legislation is dead.

“There continues to be bipartisan support for passing a law that protects the civil rights of Americans, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” said Annie Clark, a Collins spokesperson. “The Equality Act was a starting point for negotiations, and in its current form, it cannot pass. That’s why there are ongoing discussions among senators and stakeholders about a path forward.”

Let’s face it: Anti-LGBTQ forces have railroaded the debate by making the Equality Act about an end to women’s sports by allowing transgender athletes and danger to women in sex-segregated places like bathrooms and prisons. That doesn’t even get into resolving the issue on drawing the line between civil rights for LGBTQ people and religious freedom, which continues to be litigated in the courts as the U.S. Supreme Court is expected any day now to issue a ruling in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia to determine if foster care agencies can reject same-sex couples over religious objections.

For transgender Americans, who continue to report discrimination and violence at high rates, the absence of the Equality Act may be most keenly felt.

Mara Keisling, outgoing executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, disputed any notion the Equality Act is dead and insisted the legislation is “very much alive.”

“We remain optimistic despite misinformation from the opposition,” Keisling said. “NCTE and our movement partners are still working fruitfully on the Equality Act with senators. In fact, we are gaining momentum with all the field organizing we’re doing, like phone banking constituents to call their senators. Legislating takes time. Nothing ever gets through Congress quickly. We expect to see a vote during this Congress, and we are hopeful we can win.”

But one Democratic source said calls to members of Congress against the Equality Act, apparently coordinated by groups like the Heritage Foundation, have has outnumbered calls in favor of it by a substantial margin, with a particular emphasis on Manchin.

No stories are present in the media about same-sex couples being kicked out of a restaurant for holding hands or transgender people for using the restroom consistent with their gender identity, which would be perfectly legal in 25 states thanks to the patchwork of civil rights laws throughout the United States and inadequate protections under federal law.

Tyler Deaton, senior adviser for the American Unity Fund, which has bolstered the Republican-led Fairness for All Act as an alternative to the Equality Act, said he continues to believe the votes are present for a compromise form of the bill.

“I know for a fact there is a supermajority level of support in the Senate for a version of the Equality Act that is fully protective of both LGBTQ civil rights and religious freedom,” Deaton said. “There is interest on both sides of the aisle in getting something done this Congress.”

Deaton, however, didn’t respond to a follow-up inquiry on what evidence exists of agreeing on this compromise.

Biden has already missed the goal he campaigned on in the 2020 election to sign the Equality Act into law within his first 100 days in office. Although Biden renewed his call to pass the legislation in his speech to Congress last month, as things stand now that appears to be a goal he won’t realize for the remainder of this Congress.

Nor has the Biden administration made the Equality Act an issue for top officials within the administration as it pushes for an infrastructure package as a top priority. One Democratic insider said Louisa Terrell, legislative affairs director for the White House, delegated work on the Equality Act to a deputy as opposed to handling it herself.

To be sure, Biden has demonstrated support for the LGBTQ community through executive action at an unprecedented rate, signing an executive order on day one ordering federal agencies to implement the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year in Bostock v. Clayton County to the fullest extent possible and dismantling former President Trump’s transgender military ban. Biden also made historic LGBTQ appointments with the confirmation of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Rachel Levine as assistant secretary of health.

A White House spokesperson insisted Biden’s team across the board remains committed to the Equality Act, pointing to his remarks to Congress.

“President Biden has urged Congress to get the Equality Act to his desk so he can sign it into law and provide long overdue civil rights protections to LGBTQ+ Americans, and he remains committed to seeing this legislation passed as quickly as possible,” the spokesperson said. “The White House and its entire legislative team remains in ongoing and close coordination with organizations, leaders, members of Congress, including the Equality Caucus, and staff to ensure we are working across the aisle to push the Equality Act forward.”

But at least in the near-term, that progress will fall short of fulfilling the promise of updating federal civil rights law with the Equality Act, which will mean LGBTQ people won’t be able to rely on those protections when faced with discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

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