April 22, 2015 at 6:55 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Amendment to protect LGBT homeless youth fails in Senate

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A measure to protect LGBT homeless youth failed to pass the Senate. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key).

An LGBT-inclusive measure to protect homeless youth failed in the U.S. Senate on Wednesday as an amendment to legislation to prohibit human trafficking.

The amendment was along the lines of the Runaway & Homeless Youth Act, which was introduced earlier this year by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). The measure, which would have reauthorized programs that help youth obtain housing, education and job training, includes non-discrimination protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Although the vote on the amendment was 56-43, the measure failed the secure the necessary 60 votes for passage as part of pending legislation against human trafficking.

All Democrats voted in favor of the measure as well as 10 Republicans: Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Dean Heller (R-Nev.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul.

Laura Durso, director of the Center for American Progress’ LGBT Research & Communications Project, slammed the Senate for failing to include the LGBT-inclusive measure as part of the larger bill.

“We are disappointed that despite a bipartisan majority vote in favor, the U.S. Senate has failed to reauthorize the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act, which funds programs and services for many of America’s most vulnerable youth,” Durso said. “Providing resources for homeless youth and ensuring that every young person has equal access to those lifesaving programs are critical to preventing human trafficking and should unite members of Congress of all ideologies and every party.”

According to a 2013 report from the Center for American Progress, estimates of LGBT people among the homeless youth population range between 9 and 45 percent, even though the number of people in the entire U.S. population who identify as LGBT is in the single digits. The most commonly cited statistics, provided by a recent nationwide LGBT Homeless Youth Provider Survey of organizations serving homeless youth, estimate that on average LGBT youth comprise 40 percent of the agencies’ clients.

Cyndi Lauper, the gay icon signer who’s co-founder of the True Colors Fund, commended the senators who voted for the measure, but expressed disappointment the measure failed to pass.

“Thank you to the 56 senators who showed true leadership today by voting in favor of protecting all of our nation’s 1.6 million homeless youth,” Lauper said. “Unfortunately, 43 senators put the objections of conservative religious groups ahead of the lives of our nation’s most vulnerable youth. Every day, homeless gay and transgender youth experience rejection and discrimination from their families, communities, and the providers who are supposed to help them.

Gregory Angelo, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, pointed out that although the amendment failed, the vote demonstrates Republican senators are willing to vote for an LGBT-inclusive measure.

“Clearly we would have preferred that this amendment passed, especially because the non-discrimination language in the amendment was the same as the language in the Violence Against Women Act that passed the Senate in 2013 with GOP votes,” Angelo said. “That said, it is encouraging to see Republicans like Sen. Paul who have not voted for LGBT-inclusive legislation in the past and potential new allies such as freshman Sens. Sullivan and Shelley Moore Capito now on-record as supporting LGBT non-discrimination language.”

The vote marks the most recent instance within the course of several weeks where a majority in the Senate was willing to vote in favor of LGBT rights despite Republican control. In March, 11 Republican joined with Democrats in favor of establishing a deficit-neutral reserve fund aimed at ensuring married same-sex couples — even those living in states that don’t recognize their unions — have access to the Social Security and veterans benefits.

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

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