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Schwartz: ‘In it to win it’

Former D.C. Council member runs as LGBT ally in fifth race for mayor

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Carol Schwartz, gay news, Washington Blade
Carol Schwartz, gay news, Washington Blade

Carol Schwartz is making a fifth run for D.C. mayor. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Editor’s note: This is the first in a three-part series profiling the leading candidates for D.C. mayor in next month’s election. Next week: David Catania.

 

D.C. mayoral candidate Carol Schwartz defies anyone to prove she doesn’t have the longest and strongest record of support for the LGBT community among the current candidates running for mayor.

Beginning in her high school days in Midland, Texas, when she befriended gay classmates, to her years on the D.C. school board in the 1970s through her 16 years on the City Council, Schwartz says she has worked as diligently to advance LGBT rights as she has in her role as a champion for all city residents.

“I don’t think anybody, regardless of their own sexual orientation, has a better record than I do in this community,” she told the Washington Blade in an interview last week.

Schwartz, 70, said in no uncertain terms that she was referring to D.C. Council member and mayoral candidate David Catania (I-At-Large), who’s gay, and Council member and mayoral contender Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) as among those whose records on LGBT issues hers surpasses.

“It was 40 years ago when I got elected to the board of education,” she said. “I immediately went about getting a rule change – a rule addition – to make discrimination against gay and lesbian teachers banned – any discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation.”

Schwartz has strongly disputed claims by detractors that she entered the mayoral race this year in retaliation against Catania, who helped orchestrate her defeat in her 2008 re-election bid for the Council.

While saying she is better qualified to be mayor than Bowser, Schwartz leveled her strongest criticism against Catania in her interview with the Blade.

Among other things, she said Catania’s decision to leave the Republican Party in 2004 and denounce then President George W. Bush for his support for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage came “five minutes” after Catania had raised large sums of money for Bush’s re-election campaign.

“I never raised money for George W. Bush,” she said in referring to her role as a longtime Republican. “And he came to me and asked for money” for the Bush campaign, Schwartz said in referring to Catania’s 2004 support for Bush before the blowup over the marriage issue.

“The only check I ever gave to a Republican president was when [Catania] was like browbeating me to do so,” she said.

Schwartz said she has raised Catania’s initial support for Bush in an effort to deflect criticism of her affiliation with the Republican Party prior to her decision to switch from Republican to independent earlier this year when she decided to run for mayor.

“If you’re going to mention it about me you need to mention it about him,” she said of her and Catania’s roots in the Republican Party.

Catania has said that although he switched from being a Republican to an independent after Bush announced his support for the anti-gay federal marriage amendment in 2004, he likely would have left the GOP anyway a short time later due to its continuing tilt to the right. Like Schwartz, Catania described himself as a progressive Republican.

“So I’m running to win the election,” Schwartz said. “I’m running to siphon off votes from both of them and also the other three who are in the race. I’m really in it to win.”

 

Carol Schwartz, gay news, Washington Blade

Carol Schwartz at Gay Pride Day in 1986. (Washington Blade archive photo by Doug Hinckle)

Washington Blade: Can you tell a little about your background, where you’re from and what brought you to D.C.?

Carol Schwartz: I grew up in Midland, Texas. It was an oil rich town because there was oil discovered in Midland. And Midland became very nouveau riche overnight – you know new rich people because of the oil business. Everybody said, ‘Oh, Midland, you must be in the oil business with huge resources.’

The answer is no. The closest we got to the oil business was that my mom and dad had a mom and pop work clothing store on the poor side of town across the tracks. And they sold steel toe boots and steel helmets and khakis and overalls to people that worked in the oil fields…

I came up here 48-and-a-half years ago – actually it was 49 years ago, right after I graduated from the University of Texas. I was engaged to be married. I had my ring on and I had a wedding planned for January. And I was going to go back in the beginning of September and was going to teach special education in a junior high school in Austin, Texas.

And I came here because a friend had a summer internship job . . . and she heard I had some free time so she said why don’t you come and visit. I spent three days – 72 hours exactly. My head never hit the pillow. I became enthralled with D.C. I just loved it. I loved the architecture and greenery. I thought it was so beautiful. And I loved the diversity. I thought it was really special. And it wasn’t just racial diversity. It was economic diversity and it was international. It was really, I thought, thrilling.

And all of a sudden I realized Texas wasn’t the place. And the guy I had been going with at that point – like four years – was not the one. I went back and told my job I would be leaving in midterm. I wanted to give them an opportunity to get someone in my place. And then I broke my engagement.

He—thank goodness, he called me today. He’s married to a wonderful woman. He’s one of my best friends. We have a beautiful relationship. It took a while to get there — a few years — but a beautiful relationship.

And I moved here with no job, no man, nothing. So I mean everybody used to say when you came to Washington – because in that era a woman coming alone – ‘Did you follow a man or a job?’ And I said actually neither – I left both back in Texas so none of the above. And so I really chose D.C. I didn’t follow my parents here. I didn’t follow a relationship here or a job here. I picked this town.

 

Blade: What year was that?

Schwartz: I actually got introduced here in ’65 and I moved here in January of ’66. So it’s 48-and-a-half years.

And your other question was tell me a little about your life…I started working in that store when I was 8 years old. And I had to be there. It wasn’t like, oh Carol, come when you can. It was like after school we expect you here and on Saturdays and even Sundays until the blue laws came in. So I’ve been a worker since I was 8.

And obviously I need to be a worker again. And that’s one of the reasons why I’m running. And it’s not just a worker. There are other jobs – the job I think I can do best for the city.

So a combination of there being very few Jewish families and a town that had very few minorities of any kind – and having experienced anti-Semitism, which I did.

I think a very defining part of my life was not just seeing the kind of intolerance that was out there, not only toward me. There was an African-American man who worked in our store and seeing as a very young girl what he had to take.

And that was the only other employee, actually — as well as my brother Johnny — my only sibling…I thought that Johnny, with his intellectual disabilities, that people should be nicer and kinder to him, not being mean and ridiculing. And that made me realize how cruel people can be and that I had to fight for the underdog. And so I learned how to do it as a very young girl. And I guess I’ve been doing it ever since.

You may have met Johnny or seen Johnny over the years. He died 10 years ago at 62. He had come to my swearing-ins and he took the mic. He was adorable. But he was an older brother. He was 18 months older. I really spent a good part of my childhood taking care of Johnny.

I also had two friends in school who were not openly gay. And you’ve got to realize that I graduated from high school in ’61. We were friends in school. But they never talked openly about their sexual orientation. It just wasn’t discussed . . . I danced with one and I was good friends with the other. But both of them sadly committed suicide after high school.

And I think knowing about them without really knowing about it and seeing them take their own lives made me especially also sensitive to people who did not feel they could be what they should and wanted to be. Anyway, what defined me were those kinds of experiences.

 

Blade: At this point in the mayoral race your two main opponents are saying they have a very strong record on LGBT rights. David Catania says that as a member of the LGBT community he’s sensitive to these issues and has been a champion on those issues. What would you say to LGBT voters who ask why should we vote for you?

Schwartz: I don’t think anybody, regardless of their own sexual orientation, has a better record than I do in the community. I mean starting when I got on the school board when I was 30 years old. This was 40 years ago when I got elected to the board of education. I immediately went about getting a rule change – a rule addition – to make discrimination against gay and lesbian teachers banned — any discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation.

 

Blade: This was in the 1970s?

Schwartz: In the ‘70s. In the mid ‘70s on the board of education – it wasn’t even an issue that somebody brought to me. I at that point already had a lot of gay and lesbian friends and I just wanted to make sure that when I was looking through the rules that there was nothing about discrimination about anyone.

 

Blade: And then as a school board member did you run for the City Council?

Schwartz: No, I took a two-year break. I chose not to run after two terms and then I went off and I worked as a full-time consultant with the U.S. Department of Education…And then I went to be a press secretary to a member of Congress. So I got federal experience and Hill experience in those couple of years.

I did serve when I was on the board of education as vice chair of the National Advisory Council on the Education of Disadvantaged Children, which I think was an amazing experience. I did that for five years. President Ford appointed me but President Carter kept me on. I was vice chair during all that period…

And then in ’84 I ran for the Council and so in ’85 I went on the Council – in January of ’85.

I want to finish your question about my record and about strong records. I said nobody has as comparable a record even the one who is so readily identified. I have done community service work for the community for years. I was on the board of the Whitman-Walker Clinic for 17 years. Jim Graham brought me on in 1989 and I went off in 2006. I don’t think I ever missed a meeting, and you know we met often. And I was elected. I think there was one year I was appointed. Every other year of those 17 years I was elected by the community to serve on the board. And I was also elected as vice president. I think at that point there had never been a straight person elected to a position of leadership…

So I was always at those meetings. I never left early. And there would be sometimes that I would be sitting there at midnight when I had to be at an 8 a.m. breakfast the next morning at the Council to have our legislative session. So it was the ultimate sacrifice. It paid nothing.

And I did fundraisers at my home for Whitman-Walker. All those years I personally gave a lot of money. I mean, you name the organization. I contribute today and I’m not even in public life. If it’s Lambda Legal, they get a check – at least one check, usually more every year. GLAA I usually give a little something to when they do their annual thing. There’s hardly any organization I haven’t – Brother Help Thyself – the one that Cornelius [Baker] used to head up – the national organization that had something to do with people living with AIDS.

 

Blade: The National Association of People with AIDS?

Schwartz: Yes – I always gave to them. And a year and a half ago I was the regional co-chair for PFLAG. They had their 30th anniversary celebration – and I did a big fundraiser in my house for PFLAG was well. So whether it is giving money or spending time as a volunteer for organizations that are valuable – I don’t know how much volunteer work either of those other two do – volunteer work that they do in the community with organizations that are near and dear and helping the community.

Even in Rehoboth – I live here. I have a house in Rehoboth – it’s been 20 years now. But I’m a member of CAMP Rehoboth [an LGBT organization and community center]. I’m a paying member of CAMP Rehoboth. I’m always an individual host of the Sundance and the Love benefit. They are the big functions for that organization and I send in my check and I’m a big supporter. I’m at their activities and I give them money.

So I will repeat – I don’t know if you will ask them [mayoral candidates David Catania and Muriel Bowser], but what have they done as a volunteer or financially for organizations that serve the community? If they have, I am not aware of them. And I will be glad to show you my tax returns with all of the checks I’ve written to the organizations of which we speak.

 

Blade: Are you referring to LGBT organizations?

Schwartz: Yes, yes. And I would challenge them to do the same. You know, he made pretty good money — $240,000 from MC Dean and a hundred and nearly thirty thousand from his Council work — so in my estimation that’s getting pretty close to $400,000 a year. I don’t make anything near that kind of money. My income is so far less than that, in fact, to a degree that my accountant says Carol you can’t keep giving like you used to give. You don’t have that kind of money. I said I’m going to give until I run out. But I would say with nearly $400,000 you should see lots of contributions.

 

Blade: He has said he doesn’t doubt that you are a committed supporter of the LGBT community. But he also said you are a Johnny-come-lately on marriage equality for gay people. He said you hesitated to support legalization of same-sex marriage in the District.

Schwartz: Listen — there was a lot of conflict within the community itself. You’ve got to go back a few years. We had the strongest domestic [partnership] law in the country. And I helped add to that. I always supported what was done and I helped that. And there was nervousness among lots of us who were supporters about putting that in jeopardy. But I did write in 2008 in this newspaper. I did write that I was there on the marriage question. Go back and look at it. And I am not opposed to it was the way it was written. And that was in 2008. It took Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton far more years than that. What was it 2013 that they both came around?

 

Blade: It was 2012 for the president.

Schwartz: OK – so please. I cannot be criticized on this. I cannot be criticized. And when the community as a whole was ready to say yes let’s go forward I was there. I had the same concerns that many others had. But when the community was there, I was ready to go forward. I did think the word marriage would prolong the issue. But thank God it didn’t. And I’m grateful that it didn’t.

 

Blade: You’re referring to the D.C. marriage equality law?

Schwartz: Yeah. Well I thought the word marriage might prolong it. I was at – long before all this happened. If I had been on the Council in 2009 I would have voted for it without a doubt. I would have voted for it in 2009…

I’ve always been trying to be protective in every way. I added more money to the Human Rights Commission…I don’t think there has been a high heel race whether I have been in office or not that I’m not there. You saw it in the article today. I was going to gay bars long before it was fashionable.

 

Blade: Are you referring to the Washington Post story on you?

Schwartz: Yeah. I mean I’ve always been out and about. And I didn’t like sneak around and do it. I would take the media with me. And remember in those years I was a Republican and they had some issues. And I didn’t care. I was out there. There was a big story in the Post in 1986 of me dancing with lesbians in gay bars. And people said to me do you want to do this before the campaign? And I said I go where I go and they can report what they report. My life is an open book.

 

Blade: That goes to the issue of the city’s electorate being so Democratic. You were a Republican –

Schwartz: And so was David – so was David. If you’re going to mention it about me you need to mention it about him.

 

Blade: But –

Schwartz: And then when he got in trouble after he raised a huge amount of money – tens of thousands of dollars – for the president. I never raised money for George W. Bush. I never did. And he came to me and asked for money – David Catania. The only check I ever gave to a Republican president was when he was like browbeating me to do so.

 

Carol Schwartz, gay news, Washington Blade

Carol Schwartz faces Muriel Bowser and David Catania in the race for D.C. mayor. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Blade: Would that have been the 2000 campaign?

Schwartz: No – I think it was in 2004….And after that [Bush] did the amendment, the marriage amendment between a man and a woman. And then David got mad and he started really criticizing the president. And he was going to be a delegate to the convention…

I think he wanted to be mayor for a lot of years. I think he realized that since I couldn’t get elected mayor as a Republican that it might be hard for him as well. And actually he even verbalized it to me before. And so the timing – he then, they withdrew his credentials because he was out bad-mouthing the president. And then I quit as a delegate in sympathy. Don’t you remember that? It was in the Washington Post. In sympathy for my colleague on the issue of marriage equality I quit as a delegate. I didn’t go to the convention. I had been an elected delegate and I in sympathy quit.

 

Blade: He said in his interview with the Blade that in addition to his disagreement with President Bush over the marriage issue he believed the Republican Party was drifting too far to the right and he would likely have left the party for those reasons.

Schwartz: All right. He told you that. I don’t know. But he’s also said he left over the marriage issue.

 

Blade: Yes, he said that was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Schwartz: But I mean that was five minutes after he raised $5,000 at least – I think it was more. And then he said at the debate the other day that he got that money back. He said it at the debate. He was sitting right next to me. He said I just want you to know I got that money back from the president. Well that’s great, and I turned to him and I said what about my money, because that wasn’t all his money. That was money he raised for the president. And he announced that he got it back. Did he keep my money? What did he do with it? I didn’t get my money back.

 

Blade: Was that something both of you had in common – your concern over the direction the Republican Party was taking?

Schwartz: Yeah – and there was room for that. In the old Republican Party – in the former Republican Party there was room for being a social progressive and a fiscal conservative. And then there wasn’t any more. I kept it years longer because then there was only one Republican on the Council and I was able to do really good things, including for the community. Do you remember when [U.S. Rep.] Todd Tiahrt [R-Kan.] got the rider put on the [D.C.] budget that banned gay and lesbian adoptions [in D.C.]? Don’t you remember that? They couldn’t adopt children in the District of Columbia? That was a rider.

I went down with Carl Schmid and I got the appointment. We were able to get the appointment because I was a Republican and went down and I started talking about my friends, many of whom were adopting children and the loving families for these children that they wouldn’t have had. They were neglected children. And here they were now part of loving families. And how could we deny that opportunity both for the people who were adopting who wanted children as well as the children who needed tender loving care? And I started crying sitting there talking. Carl was sitting there. The congressman was sitting there and I was sitting here.

 

Blade: This was Congressman Tiahrt?

Schwartz: Yes. And the rider disappeared that afternoon. And I didn’t go out – see I don’t go out there and call a press conference and say, ‘Look what I did, look what I did.’ I just did it. I didn’t have to get all the credit for it. I just took care of what needed to be done. But my being a Republican all those years helped.

So I’ve been working and I could do those things that I did by being a Republican. It didn’t help me politically in an 11-to-one voter disparity [among D.C. registered voters]. But it sure helped the city in many ways, including this community.

And that’s where I think you have a little prejudice here. It’s going to be nice you think to have a member of the community as the mayor. But let me tell you – if you look at what he – when somebody was fired from Whitman-Walker Clinic – let go, not even fired, along with lots of people because – remember when they were having financial difficulties? It was after I left [the Whitman-Walker board]. I left in 2006. This was after that. And then when he called up and he threatened the head – the executive director, whatever they called it at that time – and said either you hire her back or I’m coming after the clinic. And don’t you remember that series of hearings where he just beat up on the clinic? Don’t you remember that? You should.

 

Blade: He said he was looking into issues that led to the clinic’s financial problems.

Schwartz: Oh, all of a sudden – all of a sudden, absolutely. Don’t kid yourself. I mean maybe kid yourself but you can’t kid me. And ask anybody from the Whitman-Walker Clinic. Ask anybody that was there at that time. Just ask them. Walk across the street and ask them. And you won’t do it. You will not do it. He went after a whole clinic. And thank God for that clinic. It was over one individual. Don’t you think the timing is a little weird?

 

Blade: We reported that at the time. We also reported that the changes made by the director who did the firing – Don Blanchard – resulted in major financial improvements that stabilized the clinic’s finances.

Schwartz: Yes, Donald [Blanchon] did that. And I was there when we were already talking about some of those. So it wasn’t him. He’s always – like Muriel said, trying to get credit for everything. Only he did this and only he did that. It’s not true. There were contributions made by him, valuable contributions.

 

Blade: One of the things David Catania’s supporters argue is that while some accuse him of being too abrasive, several city agencies were in such a mess back in the 1990s and early 2000s, including the AIDS office, that they were happy someone was going after these bureaucrats. Would you have done something similar in your role on the Council as a fiscal watchdog?

Schwartz: Look at what I did to the Department of Public Works all those years. They are in transportation. They all got better. But I wasn’t yelling. I wasn’t abrasive. You can be strong and tough and not demeaning. Unfortunately too many snarky people like meanness. And I don’t think meanness is necessary.

 

Blade: Are you saying your way would have been better?

Schwartz: Absolutely. We need to make friends. And there’s nobody that did a better job than I did of absolutely making a positive difference in agency after agency after agency. I got a letter from Dan Tangherlini [former director of the D.C. Department of Transportation]. He said they knew they could not come in to hearings not having tackled all the things I raised at the previous hearing, that his staff knew they had to whip themselves into shape and that how thankful he was. And then he said you were so tough but also fair.

Now I know there are some who love seeing people kicked on the ground and then when they’re on the ground you just keep kicking them. I don’t think that’s really appealing. And I don’t think any of us should find that appealing. You can actually get things done and make people make real change for the better without demeaning individuals along the way.

So I think I would be a far better mayor than anybody who’s running because I am strong, I am tough, I expect excellence. But I don’t kick anybody to the ground. I don’t push them to the ground and kick them while they’re on the ground.

 

Blade: His supporters will say you’re exaggerating, that he doesn’t kick people on the ground.

Schwartz: OK, fine. It’s not literal. It’s figurative.

 

Blade: A lot of people in the LGBT community remain concerned about anti-LGBT violence, including violence targeting transgender people. Have you said whether you plan to retain the chief of police, Cathy Lanier?

Schwartz: No I have not. I have not said I would or I wouldn’t. The only person I’ve spoken up on at all on any personnel matter has to do with [D.C. public schools chancellor] Kaya Henderson. I said I would retain her. She has asked for another year or so because of the things she’s started. And I don’t want to destabilize the school system that is starting to make some progress. And so that’s the only one I have weighed in on.

But hate crimes will be punished to the most severe degree possible. I find them abhorrent.

 

Blade: LGBT advocates have raised the issue of whether the city should fund their efforts to help conduct sensitivity training to police officers. So far these trainings are performed by volunteers who have to take off from work. They are asking now for some compensation for that.

Schwartz: I would certainly look into that. I want everyone to have the sensitivity training and I want people to provide it that know what they’re talking about. So if their problem is compensation I would certainly look seriously into it.

Look, my record is pretty stellar. And it wasn’t stellar because I was just being politically adept. It’s stellar because look what I did in my own time. Look what I did with my own resources. I think that distinguishes me. Now I happen to be straight. But you look at my friendships, my relationships, people who I travel with, people who I hang out with. My own daughter is married to a woman. So I don’t think you have a better friend. And I mean that literally – a better friend than me, nor do I think you will have a better mayor than I would be to the community.

 

Blade: There are some in the community who say the three leading mayoral candidates are all equally good on LGBT issues so people in the community should choose who to vote for based on other issues. What do you say to that?

Schwartz: Well gosh, who has the record? Who has the record that’s not just in a couple of areas but in every area – in every area? I mean the strongest whistleblower’s law in the country that the federal government replicated – that was me. And that was because I want our employees to be our eyes and ears. And they can’t cloak themselves in it if they’re about to be fired. I made provisions in it for us to make sure that if someone is being moved on that they can’t all of a sudden cloak themselves in the whistleblowers protection law. I created the Department of the Environment, the strongest tree bill in the nation to protect our tree canopy. I did away with the SUV’s, which became the vehicle of choice in the Williams administration. I banned those except in emergencies as gas guzzling things.

 

Blade: Do you mean for the city government?

Schwartz: Yeah, for city government. And then for those who have gas guzzlers they have to pay more to register their cars – fuel efficient they pay less. Curbside parking – how I moved it to the corner overnight so that people who live in densely populated areas can have more parking. Looking at domestic violence legislation I proposed in addition to all the things I’ve done for the community particularly – but all these things in every area of the government. I had a perpetual fund put in for pothole repairs – street, sidewalk and pothole repair. That money would be coming in. I did it with Dan Tangherlini. Money would be coming in and money would be going out and you wouldn’t have to wait around to get pothole money. It was always present. After I left the Council they did away with it. And look what’s happened. Look at the potholes that are out there. And I tried – I took care of that. And I left the Council and they did that.

I never did earmarks. I never took advantage. I’ve never done anything — you know on their campaign finance, they’re doing that loophole on the LLCs. Both of them are doing that, her more than him. But they passed a law saying with the public outcry about how a company, a corporation can divide itself into all these subsidiaries and then they each can give – it’s the same owner – can give $20,000 instead of the $2,000 maximum. And they passed a law saying it should be banned. But they made sure the law didn’t go into effect until January of 2015 when this election is over.

And so they could have said that was a good law we passed. I’m going to abide by that law even though it’s not required. I’m doing that. Leaders have to lead by example. And I’m doing that. And I’ve not had another job that could be really considered a conflict. MC Dean has street light contracts. They have all those streetcars. Look at the kind of money they are going to make in streetcars. David in his platform has called for the full expansion of the streetcars as originally proposed. He has said well I didn’t vote for those individual contracts of MC Dean. I would always recuse myself. But yet he voted for the budget. And the budget had that money for them in it.

And there’s nothing about me and my career that has ever – ever – done anything which is a conflict. So you need to be concerned about lots of issues. And you also have to have someone who gets along with people, who is able to work with everyone, who can actually disagree without being disagreeable or not speaking to people for huge periods of time. That’s not going to be helpful as we need to go out and make friends so we can get our full voting rights, have our full budget autonomy, have our full legislative autonomy. We need to make friends. And I have a long history of making lots of friends.

 

Blade: In terms of the campaign, you initially were accused of being a stalking horse for Muriel Bowser but then –

Schwartz: But that was ridiculous. That was him. He started that rumor the first day I got out. Go check it out. That’s what he said playing the victim.

 

Blade: But one poll recently shows you are –

Schwartz: Of course, I’m taking more votes from her than even him…So I’m running to win the election. I’m running to siphon off votes from both of them and also the other three who are in the race. I’m really in it to win it. And that means siphoning off votes from everybody who were in it before I came in it.

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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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D.C. bill to ban LGBTQ panic defense delayed by Capitol security

Delivery of bill to Congress was held up due to protocols related to Jan. 6 riots

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New fencing around the Capitol following the Jan. 6 insurrection prevented some D.C. bills from being delivered to the Hill for a required congressional review. (Blade file photo by Michael K. Lavers)

A bill approved unanimously last December by the D.C. Council to ban the so-called LGBTQ panic defense has been delayed from taking effect as a city law because the fence installed around the U.S. Capitol following the Jan. 6 insurrection prevented the law from being delivered to Congress.

According to Eric Salmi, communications director for D.C. Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), who guided the bill through the Council’s legislative process, all bills approved by the Council and signed by the D.C. mayor must be hand-delivered to Congress for a required congressional review.

“What happened was when the Capitol fence went up after the January insurrection, it created an issue where we physically could not deliver laws to Congress per the congressional review period,” Salmi told the Washington Blade.

Among the bills that could not immediately be delivered to Congress was the Bella Evangelista and Tony Hunter Panic Defense Prohibition and Hate Crimes Response Amendment Act of 2020, which was approved by the Council on a second and final vote on Dec. 15.

Between the time the bill was signed by Mayor Muriel Bowser and published in the D.C. Register under procedural requirements for all bills, it was not ready to be transmitted to Congress until Feb. 16, the Council’s legislative record for the bill shows.

Salmi said the impasse in delivering the bill to Congress due to the security fence prevented the bill from reaching Congress on that date and prevented the mandatory 60-day congressional review period for this bill from beginning at that time. He noted that most bills require a 30 legislative day review by Congress.

But the Evangelista-Hunter bill, named after a transgender woman and a gay man who died in violent attacks by perpetrators who attempted to use the trans and gay panic defense, includes a law enforcement related provision that under the city’s Home Rule Charter passed by Congress in the early 1970s requires a 60-day congressional review.

“There is a chance it goes into effect any day now, just given the timeline is close to being up,” Salmi said on Tuesday. “I don’t know the exact date it was delivered, but I do know the countdown is on,” said Salmi, who added, “I would expect any day now it should go into effect and there’s nothing stopping it other than an insurrection in January.”

If the delivery to Congress had not been delayed, the D.C. Council’s legislative office estimated the congressional review would have been completed by May 12.

A congressional source who spoke on condition of being identified only as a senior Democratic aide, said the holdup of D.C. bills because of the Capitol fence has been corrected.

“The House found an immediate workaround, when this issue first arose after the Jan. 6 insurrection,” the aide said.

“This is yet another reason why D.C. Council bills should not be subject to a congressional review period and why we need to grant D.C. statehood,” the aide said.

The aide added that while no disapproval resolution had been introduced in Congress to overturn the D.C. Evangelista-Hunter bill, House Democrats would have defeated such a resolution.

“House Democrats support D.C. home rule, statehood, and LGBTQ rights,” said the aide.

LGBTQ rights advocates have argued that a ban on using a gay or transgender panic defense in criminal trials is needed to prevent defense attorneys from inappropriately asking juries to find that a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity or expression is to blame for a defendant’s criminal act, including murder.

Some attorneys have argued that their clients “panicked” after discovering the person against whom they committed a violent crime was gay or transgender, prompting them to act in a way they believed to be a form of self-defense.

In addition to its provision banning the LGBTQ panic defense, the Evangelista-Hunter bill includes a separate provision that strengthens the city’s existing hate crimes law by clarifying that hatred need not be the sole motivating factor for an underlying crime such as assault, murder, or threats to be prosecuted as a hate crime.

LGBTQ supportive prosecutors have said the clarification was needed because it is often difficult to prove to a jury that hatred is the only motive behind a violent crime. The prosecutors noted that juries have found defendants not guilty of committing a hate crime on grounds that they believed other motives were involved in a particular crime after defense lawyers argued that the law required “hate” to be the only motive in order to find someone guilty of a hate crime.

Salmi noted that while the hate crime clarification and panic defense prohibition provisions of the Evangelista-Hunter bill will become law as soon as the congressional review is completed, yet another provision in the bill will not become law after the congressional review because there are insufficient funds in the D.C. budget to cover the costs of implementing the provision.

The provision gives the D.C. Office of Human Rights and the Office of the D.C. Attorney General authority to investigate hate related discrimination at places of public accommodation. Salmi said the provision expands protections against discrimination to include web-based retailers or online delivery services that are not physically located in D.C.

“That is subject to appropriations,” Salmi said. “And until it is funded in the upcoming budget it cannot be legally enforced.”

He said that at Council member Allen’s request, the Council added language to the bill that ensures that all other provisions of the legislation that do not require additional funding – including the ban on use of the LGBTQ panic defense and the provision clarifying that hatred doesn’t have to be the sole motive for a hate crime – will take effect as soon as the congressional approval process is completed.

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D.C. man charged with 2020 anti-gay death threat rearrested

Defendant implicated in three anti-LGBTQ incidents since 2011

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shooting, DC Eagle, assault, hate crime, anti-gay attack, police discrimination, sex police, Sisson, gay news, Washington Blade

A D.C. man arrested in August 2020 for allegedly threatening to kill a gay man outside the victim’s apartment in the city’s Adams Morgan neighborhood and who was released while awaiting trial was arrested again two weeks ago for allegedly threatening to kill another man in an unrelated incident.

D.C. Superior Court records show that Jalal Malki, who was 37 at the time of his 2020 arrest on a charge of bias-related attempts to do bodily harm against the gay man, was charged on May 4, 2021 with unlawful entry, simple assault, threats to kidnap and injure a person, and attempted possession of a prohibited weapon against the owner of a vacant house at 4412 Georgia Ave., N.W.

Court charging documents state that Malki was allegedly staying at the house without permission as a squatter. An arrest affidavit filed in court by D.C. police says Malki allegedly threatened to kill the man who owns the house shortly after the man arrived at the house while Malki was inside.

According to the affidavit, Malki walked up to the owner of the house while the owner was sitting in his car after having called police and told him, “If you come back here, I’m going to kill you.” While making that threat Malki displayed what appeared to be a gun in his waistband, but which was later found to be a toy gun, the affidavit says.

Malki then walked back inside the house minutes before police arrived and arrested him. Court records show that similar to the court proceedings following his 2020 arrest for threatening the gay man, a judge in the latest case ordered Malki released while awaiting trial. In both cases, the judge ordered him to stay away from the two men he allegedly threatened to kill.

An arrest affidavit filed by D.C. police in the 2020 case states that Malki allegedly made the threats inside an apartment building where the victim lived on the 2300 block of Champlain Street, N.W. It says Malki was living in a nearby building but often visited the building where the victim lived.

“Victim 1 continued to state during an interview that it was not the first time that Defendant 1 had made threats to him, but this time Defendant 1 stated that if he caught him outside, he would ‘fucking kill him.’” the affidavit says. It quotes the victim as saying during this time Malki repeatedly called the victim a “fucking faggot.”

The affidavit, prepared by the arresting officers, says that after the officers arrested Malki and were leading him to a police transport vehicle to be booked for the arrest, he expressed an “excited utterance” that he was “in disbelief that officers sided with the ‘fucking faggot.’”

Court records show that Malki is scheduled to appear in court on June 4 for a status hearing for both the 2020 arrest and the arrest two weeks ago for allegedly threatening to kill the owner of the house in which police say he was illegally squatting.

Superior Court records show that Malki had been arrested three times between 2011 and 2015 in cases unrelated to the 2021 and 2020 cases for allegedly also making threats of violence against people. Two of the cases appear to be LGBTQ related, but prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office did not list the cases as hate crimes.

In the first of the three cases, filed in July 2011, Malki allegedly shoved a man inside Dupont Circle and threatened to kill him after asking the man why he was wearing a purple shirt.

“Victim 1 believes the assault occurred because Suspect 1 believes Victim 1 is a homosexual,” the police arrest affidavit says.

Court records show prosecutors charged Malki with simple assault and threats to do bodily harm in the case. But the court records show that on Sept. 13, 2011, D.C. Superior Court Judge Stephen F. Eilperin found Malki not guilty on both charges following a non-jury trial.

The online court records do not state why the judge rendered a not guilty verdict. With the courthouse currently closed to the public and the press due to COVID-related restrictions, the Washington Blade couldn’t immediately obtain the records to determine the judge’s reason for the verdict.

In the second case, court records show Malki was arrested by D.C. police outside the Townhouse Tavern bar and restaurant at 1637 R St., N.W. on Nov. 7, 2012 for allegedly threatening one or more people with a knife after employees ordered Malki to leave the establishment for “disorderly behavior.”

At the time, the Townhouse Tavern was located next door to the gay nightclub Cobalt, which before going out of business two years ago, was located at the corner of 17th and R Streets, N.W.

The police arrest affidavit in the case says Malki allegedly pointed a knife in a threatening way at two of the tavern’s employees who blocked his path when he attempted to re-enter the tavern. The affidavit says he was initially charged by D.C. police with assault with a dangerous weapon – knife. Court records, however, show that prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office lowered the charges to two counts of simple assault. The records show that on Jan. 15, 2013, Malki pleaded guilty to the two charges as part of a plea bargain arrangement.

The records show that Judge Marissa Demeo on that same day issued a sentence of 30 days for each of the two charges but suspended all 30 days for both counts. She then sentenced Malki to one year of supervised probation for both charges and ordered that he undergo alcohol and drug testing and undergo treatment if appropriate.

In the third case prior to the 2020 and 2021 cases, court records show Malki was arrested outside the Cobalt gay nightclub on March 14, 2015 on multiple counts of simple assault, attempted assault with a dangerous weapon – knife, possession of a prohibited weapon – knife, and unlawful entry.

The arrest affidavit says an altercation started on the sidewalk outside the bar when for unknown reasons, Malki grabbed a female customer who was outside smoking and attempted to pull her toward him. When her female friend came to her aid, Malki allegedly got “aggressive” by threatening the woman and “removed what appeared to be a knife from an unknown location” and pointed it at the woman’s friend in a threatening way, the affidavit says.

It says a Cobalt employee minutes later ordered Malki to leave the area and he appeared to do so. But others noticed that he walked toward another entrance door to Cobalt and attempted to enter the establishment knowing he had been ordered not to return because of previous problems with his behavior, the affidavit says. When he attempted to push away another employee to force his way into Cobalt, Malki fell to the ground during a scuffle and other employees held him on the ground while someone else called D.C. police.

Court records show that similar to all of Malki’s arrests, a judge released him while awaiting trial and ordered him to stay away from Cobalt and all of those he was charged with threatening and assaulting.

The records show that on Sept. 18, 2015, Malki agreed to a plea bargain offer by prosecutors in which all except two of the charges – attempted possession of a prohibited weapon and simple assault – were dropped. Judge Alfred S. Irving Jr. on Oct. 2, 2015 sentenced Malki to 60 days of incarnation for each of the two charges but suspended all but five days, which he allowed Malki to serve on weekends, the court records show.

The judge ordered that the two five-day jail terms could be served concurrently, meaning just five days total would be served, according to court records. The records also show that Judge Irving sentenced Malki to one year of supervised probation for each of the two counts and ordered that he enter an alcohol treatment program and stay away from Cobalt.

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