February 24, 2015 at 10:36 am EDT | by Chris Johnson
LGBT caucus membership halved in 114th Congress

Employment Non-Discrimination Act, ENDA, gay news, Washington Blade

U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) is a co-chair of the LGBT Equality Caucus. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The congressional caucus that aims to advance LGBT issues made public its membership for the 114th Congress, and the size of the group is not even half of what it was in its previous iteration.

In a statement on Monday, the LGBT Equality Caucus claimed a total of 53 members. That’s far short of the 114 lawmakers who signed up in the 113th Congress.

According to a report in Buzzfeed, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) would also renew her membership to the caucus, which would bring the total to 54. According to the LGBT Equality Caucus, Maloney should have been listed as an original member.

The co-chairs of the LGBT Equality Caucus are the six openly LGB members of the U.S. House: Reps. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and Mark Takano (D-Calif.).

As previously reported by the Washington Blade, the apparent reason is dues the caucus is charging dues for the first-time ever for regular membership in the organization. The cost of membership for each year is $400. Prior to the announcement of membership, sources on Capitol Hill said lawmakers were reluctant to join because of the new fees as congressional budgets are flat-lined.

Brad Jacklin, executive director of the caucus, declined to comment for his report on why the number of members had been drastically reduced. In a previous article, Jacklin told the Blade a portion of the fees will go up his salary, which for fiscal year 2014 was around $55,000.

Upon news that the caucus would have a significantly reduced membership, a source familiar with the ongoing recruitment process who spoke on condition of anonymity, told the Blade assertions that members are signing up because of the news isn’t the truth.

“Members and staff who say their offices cannot afford the annual membership dues are being less than honest with their constituents,” the source said. “This is a question of priorities, and members of Congress who are declining to rejoin the Equality Caucus over a fraction of a percent of their annual budget are not prioritizing equal rights for the LGBT community. Donors who value true champions of LGBT equality in the House should keep these names in mind when opening their wallets for the 2016 election cycle.”

Some of the lawmakers who were regular members in the 113th Congress, but not in the 114th Congress are Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), chief sponsor of hate crimes protection legislation; Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.), who sponsored legislation to ensure couples can in civil unions can receive domestic partner benefits; and Rep. Joseph Kennedy III (D-Mass.), who was the college roommate of Jason Collins, the former NBA player who was the first openly gay person to play in the league.

In addition to charging regular members for the first time, the LGBT Equality Caucus has raised the dues for being a co-chair and a vice-chair. The cost of being a co-chair rose from $5,000 a year to $7,500 a year and cost of being a vice-chair rose from $2,000 a year to $2,100.

Notably, even though the sheer number of members for the caucus went down, the number of vice-chairs in the caucus increased from seven to eleven. The vice-chairs of the caucus are Reps. Diana DeGette (D-Colo), Mike Honda (D-Calif.), Barbara Lee (D-Calif), Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Adam Schiff (D-Calif), Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.) and Mike Quigley (D-Ill).

Gallego, a freshman House member, said in a statement to the Blade that he was proud of joining the LGBT Equality Caucus as part of his effort to advance LGBT rights.

“I am proud to join the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus as one of the new vice-chairs,” Gallego said. “LGBT people deserve equal rights and protections and I am committed to continuing to work for that goal. I look forward to working with the rest of the Members of the LGBT Equality Caucus and bring a diverse perspective as we fight for issues that affect LGBT Americans.”

One lawmaker who was a co-chair of the LGBT Equality in the 113th Congress, Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), is absent from the list of co-chairs for the 114th Congress. Instead, Grijalva is now on the list of regular members for the caucus.

A House aide said Grijalva elected not to be co-chair of the LGBT Equality Caucus to focus on his new position as top Democrat on the Natural Resources Committee and to continue as a co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

The LGBT Equality Caucus was established in 2008 by now Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) and former Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank. Although the caucus hasn’t previously charged dues for regular membership, it’s customary for congressional caucuses, such as the Congressional Progressive Caucus, to charge fees for members.

Courtesy of Buzzfeed, here’s the list of 51 lawmakers who were members of the LGBT Equality Caucus in the 113th Congress, but haven’t rejoined.

Earl Blumenauer, Michael Doyle, Alcee L. Hastings, Beto O’Rourke, Charles Rangel, Eric Swalwell, Karen Bass, Xavier Becerra, Suzanne Bonamici, Robert Brady, Michael Capuano, Tony Cárdenas, André Carson, Matt Cartwright, Kathy Castor, Joaquin Castro, Yvette Clarke, Gerald Connolly, John Conyers, Joe Courtney, Peter DeFazio, Keith Ellison, Eliot Engel, Anna Eshoo, Tulsi Gabbard, Janice Hahn, Brian Higgins, Steve Israel, Eddie Bernice Johnson, Henry “Hank” Johnson Jr., Joseph Kennedy III, David Loebsack, Zoe Lofgren, Stephen Lynch, Carolyn Maloney (Maloney’s office said she was signing up after being contacted for comment by BuzzFeed News), Doris Matsui, Betty McCollum, Jim McDermott, Gwen Moore, Patrick Murphy, Bill Pascrell, Chellie Pingree, Lucille Roybal-Allard, Raul Ruiz, Linda Sánchez, John Sarbanes, Louise McIntosh Slaughter, Adam Smith, Paul Tonko, and Juan Vargas.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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