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Victory Fund’s Chuck Wolfe: ‘It’s time to go’

Tammy Baldwin’s Senate win a highlight of decade at helm of org

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Chuck Wolfe, Victory Fund, gay news, Washington Blade
Chuck Wolfe, gay news, Washington Blade Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund

Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund CEO Chuck Wolfe is departing at the end of this year. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

One month before his planned departure as CEO of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, Chuck Wolfe’s mood is upbeat — even jovial.

Sitting in his personal office last week at the start of an interview with the Washington Blade, Wolfe cracked a joke as the Blade photo editor crouched in preparation for a shot.

“I just want to clear the record and make sure everyone knows,” Wolfe said, “you’re the only person in this office who’s ever been on their knees.”

His sense of humor was evident throughout the interview as he sometimes responded to questions with inquiries of his own, asking about this reporter’s newly grown beard, among other things. That attitude may well explain why Denis Dison, communications director for the Victory Fund, referred to him affectionately by the nickname “Chuckles” before the start of the interview.

After more than a decade as CEO of the Victory Fund — and its sister non-political education and training organization the Gay & Lesbian Victory Institute — there is ample reason for Wolfe’s good mood. During his tenure, the Victory Fund has endorsed 1,183 candidates at all levels of government across the United States, and 751 of those candidates have won.

As a result of the 2014 elections, at least one openly LGBT person is set to hold elected office in all 50 states. The Victory Institute-led President Appointments Project has helped at least 300 openly LGBT people land appointments within the Obama administration.

His biggest accomplishment? Tammy Baldwin’s win in 2012 as the first openly gay person elected to the U.S. Senate. His biggest disappointment? The loss of Jim Roth in 2008 to statewide office in Oklahoma as corporation commissioner.

Wolfe didn’t chalk up the successes of the Victory Fund to his own efforts, but rather to the changes in attitudes in the LGBT community and its greater engagement in politics.

“The biggest difference in 10 years is the complete change in understanding of LGBT participation in the political process,” Wolfe said. “Back in 2003, the big battle was to get people to come out of the closet. Now, it’s how to manage multiple LGBT candidates in a single race. That’s an unusual place to be and I think that’s the biggest change. That’s not all because of me being here, that’s not all because of Victory, but certainly that’s because there has been a lot of work done to change the perception of what public servants can do.”

Wolfe is set to depart the Victory Fund on Dec. 31. The board of directors is expected to announce his replacement in early 2015.

In his last election year as head of the organization in which the results were abysmal for Democrats, the Victory Fund suffered some disappointments. For starters, none of the non-incumbent congressional candidates the organization endorsed during this cycle — K. Marcus Brandon, Sean Eldridge, Dan Innis or Richard Tisei — were elected to the U.S. House.

Wolfe brushed off those losses as a small percentage of the races in which the Victory Fund is engaged, saying he doesn’t know why those races get the most attention, except perhaps because “we live in Washington.” He also noted the largest LGB delegation in history will return to Congress next year.

“We won 63 percent of our races this year,” Wolfe said. “So, even in a year like this, where it was not a particularly good year for progressive candidates, if you will, we had a good year. Not our best year ever, but certainly a good year.”

But one loss was particularly poignant. In Maine, Mike Michaud lost his race by a few percentage points to oust Tea Party Republican Paul LePage from the governor’s mansion, robbing the Democrat of the distinction of being the first openly gay person in the country elected as governor.

In the days prior to Election Day, Wolfe spent time in Maine assisting with campaign efforts, and spent the hours after polls closed with Michaud at a Portland event intended to be a victory celebration.

“It started out more celebratory, more hopeful, obviously it didn’t end up that way,” Wolfe said. “It was a victory party for all the high-profile Democratic candidates in Maine. So, they did a joint party. You had a congressional victory, and you had some other races that people were talking about, but then you had the governor’s race, which everyone was just waiting and waiting for. It took a long time that night.”

Calling the outcome of the race “disappointing,” Wolfe said he had no personal interaction with Michaud that night. Insisting Michaud presented “a deep contrast to the current incumbent,” Wolfe blamed the loss on the Republican wave that swept the country and the presence of independent candidate Eliot Cutler in the race.

“The math isn’t hard to calculate,” Wolfe said. “There was a much larger Republican turnout throughout the United States. That’s not news. And in this case, there was a third-party candidate in the race as well.”

In addition to the losses in some key races, the Victory Fund was criticized by progressives within the LGBT community for some of its endorsements.

Chief among those endorsements was Tisei, a Republican who was initially planning to run against Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.) for his seat in Massachusetts’ 6th congressional district. After that lawmaker lost his primary, Tisei ended up running against, and losing to, Democrat Seth Moulton.

The concern over Tisei among progressives was based on his intended vote for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) as presiding officer of the U.S. House, whose majority control of the chamber obstructs pro-LGBT legislation.

Calling the criticism “situational and politically expedient comments,” Wolfe said the Victory Fund has no intention of changing its endorsement process to consider leadership votes of candidates. The race gained attention, Wolfe said, because “one former congressman said something about it” — presumably a reference to former Rep. Barney Frank, who endorsed Tierney — and others picked up on it.

“Our long view, which we’ve held now since 1991, is that putting LGBT people in positions of responsibility ensures that eventually we change policies and laws for our community,” Wolfe said. “In that same period since 1991, people have voted for presidents, House speakers, Senate presidents who have not been supportive of LGBT rights — and if in that same time period we had stopped endorsing our candidates because they supported any of those people, where would those people be today?”

Another criticism of the Victory Fund endorsement process: It’s too difficult for well-qualifed openly LGBT candidates to win support if their chances of winning are small, especially in areas where LGBT representation is needed in the South and Midwest.

That view was expressed last month by lesbian journalist Kerry Eleveld in an article for The Advocate titled, “Where LGBT Candidates Need the Most Help, Get the Least,” which used the unsuccessful Democratic primary bid of gay Michigan congressional hopeful Trevor Thomas in 2012 as an example of a candidacy that would have benefited from Victory Fund support.

Wolfe dismissed those concerns, saying the win rate of Victory Fund-endorsed candidates demonstrates no need for change, although he insisted his organization doesn’t “ever wish ill on any LGBT candidate.”

“If you look at data of the candidates who don’t get endorsed, they don’t win,” Wolfe said. “The candidates who get endorsed win, and there’s a dramatic difference. There’s a long-standing tradition that the board vets the candidates thoroughly, decides who to endorse in a thoughtful, reflective, meaningful way. We don’t get it right every time; only 63 percent of our candidates won in a very rough year this year. And as many as 74 percent of candidates have won in our best year.”

Looking to the future, Wolfe was relatively tight-lipped. He wouldn’t say anything about what he thinks the Victory Fund’s priority races will be in the next cycle, nor would he offer his successor any advice.

But he did venture a guess for when the LGBT community would achieve a certain milestone: the election of an openly transgender candidate to a state legislature. In New Hampshire, Stacie Laughton won election as a state legislator in 2012, but wasn’t seated because of her record as a felon.

Wolfe said the election of a transgender person to a state legislature would happen “in the next six years” and would likely precede the election of a transgender person to Congress.

“It will be as important as Tammy Baldwin’s election in 1998,” Wolfe said. “Tammy was the first out person elected without having to come out in office to Congress, and I think it’ll be as important as that.”

An even bigger ambition: A Victory Fund-endorsed presidential candidate. Fred Karger ran as an openly gay Republican presidential candidate in 2012, but was deemed a long shot and didn’t receive the organization’s endorsement.

“I’d say within the next five presidential cycles, which is the next 20 years, you’ll see a qualified LGBT candidate for the White House,” Wolfe said. “Now whether they’ll end up in the primaries or whether they’ll be a nominee for president, I don’t know. But I think you’ll see a qualified ready and running candidate for the White House.”

As for his own future plans, Wolfe said he intends to decompress and take a vacation in the first quarter to visit family in Florida, go horseback riding and sit on the beach.

Wolfe, who announced to his board in September he would depart as head of Victory Fund, spoke publicly earlier this year about suffering a heart attack and acknowledged that “absolutely” played a role in his decision to leave.

“It was at the back of my mind,” Wolfe said. “And then, Labor Day weekend, I had my sister drop off my nieces with me and I took care of my nieces, sitting there playing with them. This was in Rehoboth. And I just knew, that’s when it clicked. Why are you battling this in your head? It’s time to go.”

Behind him in his office is a white cowboy hat given to him in Texas by a Harris County sheriff. It’s not the hat he’ll wear when horseback riding, but it looks good on him and adds to his cheerful demeanor.

“I will offer my successor anything they want, if they want it, but I will certainly not give them any advice,” Wolfe said. “It’ll be their role, and they’ve inherited a really special place. It’s a place that operates with a crystal clear vision of the future and a definitive mission that people understand and get. Sometimes people want to create drama, but rarely. And it’ll be their ship to steer for a while.”

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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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