July 21, 2015 at 9:07 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Some LGBT advocates not on board with Equality Act
Gregory Angelo, Heather Cronk, Wade Henderson, gay news, Washington Blade, Equality Act

From left, Log Cabin Republicans Executive Director Gregory Angelo, GetEQUAL Co-Director Heather Cronk and Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights President Wade Henderson. (Washington Blade photos of Angelo and Cronk by Michael Key; photo of Henderson courtesy USDA)

Ahead of the expected introduction this week in Congress of comprehensive LGBT legislation known as the Equality Act, LGBT advocates met in D.C. on Tuesday to discuss the path forward for the bill — although they don’t agree that the measure is the right direction to take.

Numerous advocates confirmed they attended the meeting, which took place at the headquarters of an umbrella civil rights group known as the Leadership Conference on Civil & Human Rights. Scott Simpson, a spokesperson for LCCHR, confirmed the meeting took place, but added it was a closed-door discussion and declined to provide additional information.

The meetings at LCCHR are commonplace for the coalition of LGBT advocates — which heretofore had met to discuss strategy for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. But now the meeting was focused on the Equality Act days ahead of its expected introduction in Congress. The new legislation is set to address not just anti-LGBT employment discrimination, but education, public accommodations, credit, federal programs, jury service and housing.

Attendees were largely tight-lipped about the meeting because of its off-the-record nature, although one advocate who spoke about it to the Washington Blade said there was an underlying disagreement about strategy. The disagreement stems from the apparent decision that Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) intend to make the legislation basically consist of amending the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other civil rights laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

For starters, whether LCCHR itself will support the legislation is unclear. Even prior to the announced plan to introduce the bill, sources have told the Washington Blade amending the Civil Rights Act to include LGBT protections makes some longtime civil rights advocates uneasy because it potentially opens the historic law up to harmful amendments.

Although LCCHR has supported iterations of ENDA in the past, the organization didn’t respond to the Washington Blade’s request for comment on whether the organization will support the Equality Act upon its introduction.

Wade Henderson, president of the LCCHR, is quoted in a Wall Street Journal article earlier this month as expressing concern about the bill.

“Some are concerned about opening up arguably the most important statute Congress has ever enacted for the issue of racial discrimination,” Henderson said.

Heather Cronk, co-director of the LGBT grassroots group GetEQUAL, has previously objected to the idea of amending the Civil Rights Act to enact LGBT non-discrimination protections and told the Blade on Tuesday she’s “not sure” if her organization would be able to support the Equality Act.

Cronk cited concerns that the proposal would open up the Civil Rights Act to amendments, which she said is “way past dangerous,” but also said the bill doesn’t go far enough to protect LGBT people.

Amid frequent media reports of police brutality and harassment, Cronk said black LGBT people have unique challenges in the criminal justice system that should be addressed as part of the proposal. Additionally, Cronk faulted the measure for not addressing detention and deportation of LGBT immigrants, who face unusually high rates of violence in the immigration system.

“We’ve been really clear that we don’t support amending the Civil Rights Act because there’s so many potential downfalls, but also because amending the Civil Rights Act actually doesn’t fully protect LGBTQ folks in the unique way that we need, and so we continue to advocate for a standalone bill,” Cronk said.

But the mainstream view of LGBT advocates is praise and excitement ahead of the introduction of the bill. Amid media reports the legislation would be introduced in the coming days, the Human Rights Campaign and the Center for American Progress issued statements in support of the measure.

HRC President Chad Griffin said in a statement the non-discrimination bill would “create permanent and clear protections to ensure that all employees are hired, fired or promoted based on their performance.”

“No one in our community should be at risk of being fired, evicted from their home, or denied services because of who they are or whom they love,” Griffin said. “There is an unacceptable patchwork of state-level protections for LGBT people, and more than half of LGBT Americans live in a state that lacks fully-inclusive non-discrimination laws. The time has come in this country for full, federal equality, and nothing less.”

The Center for American Progress statement cites statistics on the importance of passing the legislation. According to the organization, one in 10 lesbian, gay, and bisexual workers reports being fired because of their sexual orientation, one in four transgender workers reported being fired because of their gender identity and one in four same-sex couples experienced discrimination when trying to buy a home according to one study.

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, told the Blade she’s in the camp of advocates supporting the bill as it has been proposed.

“In a nutshell, I’ll say that I’ve been very interested for 10 years in expanding anti-discrimination away from just being about employment and becoming other things, and I think this bill really will expand our baseline to be about more than just about employment,” Keisling said.

Although Keisling acknowledged changes could be made to the bill, she wouldn’t immediately identify them and said legislation often is altered in the days before introduction anyway.

Responding to concerns raised by GetEQUAL, Keisling said her organization also supports efforts to change the immigration and criminal justice system — in addition to updating the Voting Rights Act and insurance coverage for transgender people — but doesn’t expect that to be part of the Equality Act.

“This isn’t a message bill where we’re just dumping the LGBT stuff and hoping we get it all,” Keisling said. “This is a bill that will be cohesive, something that we all really want and need and expect to pass. Not that putting that in would make it unpassable, [but] anytime you add something to a bill you make it harder to pass because someone’s going to have a complaint with every tiny bit of it.”

National Center for Transgender Equality, gay news, Washington Blade

Executive Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality Mara Keisling (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

For now, GetEQUAL may be unique in its reasons for withholding support for the bill. But in 2013, the group was first to withhold support for ENDA over the legislation’s religious exemption — a position that virtually every LGBT group later adopted with the exception of HRC, NCTE and Freedom to Work.

Yet another concern, cited by Log Cabin Republicans, is the lack of GOP involvement in the legislation. According to a “Dear Colleague” letter from Cicilline, lawmakers have until Thursday at noon to sign on as an original co-sponsor, but no Republican supporter is expected.

Gregory Angelo, Log Cabin’s executive director, slammed the process leading to the introduction of the bill as a partisan attempt to make Republicans look bad.

“Considering Republicans control the House and the Senate — and will control at least the House for years to come, if not both chambers — it is deeply concerning that this legislation has been drafted with next to zero input from Republicans,” Angelo said. “Even Republican LGBT allies feel they were alienated by the process, which indicates this bill was drafted more to be a partisan cudgel than a pragmatic LGBT non-discrimination bill.”

Angelo declined to comment on whether his organization will support the legislation, saying Log Cabin would issue a statement on Thursday.

The offices of Cicilline and Merkley haven’t responded to repeated requests for comment on the bill or criticism over the proposal.

LGBT advocates weren’t the only groups set to meet Tuesday about the Equality Act. Senate Democrats were set to receive a briefing from Merkley on the bill during their weekly closed-door caucus, but had to reschedule the discussion because they ran out of time.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) noted plans for the discussion during his weekly news conference on Tuesday when the Washington Blade asked if he’d be an original co-sponsor of the Equality Act.

Reid said co-sponsoring the Equality Act “sounds like something I would agree to,” but he needs to know more about the legislation. Further, he said Merkley would speak on the bill during next week’s all-caucus lunch.

Also on Tuesday, Drew Hamill, a spokesperson for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), confirmed his boss would be an original co-sponsor of the House version of the Equality Act.

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

  • Gee, Log Cabin not supporting pro-LGBT legislation that they know that Republicans in Congress will oppose. How shocking! That NEVER happens!

    Do they actually think that they matter in any way? Maybe when they actually do something for LGBT rights, instead of ONLY fighting again Democrats, they’ll be relevant again.

  • The Log Cabin Republicans continue to make themselves less and less relevant. If they can’t get behind a comprehensive LGBT anti-discrimination law, then they are utterly useless as a political group standing for LGBT equality. One could even say they are “traitorous.”

    Where are the republicans stepping up to the plate to advance LGBT rights? If they truly existed, it wouldnt always have to be the Democrats bringing bills to the floor.

    If they really believe that they can bring Republican support to LGBT causes, then they should step up to the plate now and win bipartisan votes for this bill – without watering it down. I doubt that it is possible, beyond a small handful of votes.

    • Why can’t groups like Log Cabin take the lead in obtaining GOP sponsors for the bill instead of whining about it? What’s the sense of identifying as a gay group if you’re not going to push for GLBT issues within the GOP?

      Instead of being lap dogs to make conservatives look compassionate, they should be more aggressive and vocal for our rights rather than settling for whatever bone of recognition is tossed to them. Stop wagging your tails and being petted by the GOP leadership, rolling over on command and actually start barking and biting when necessary! They need to stop acting like leeches sponging off of the rights that other GLBT activist achieve for them and start doing some actual work to achieve those rights!

      Either GOP sponsors agree that discrimination against GLBT in the areas the bill seeks to address is wrong or they don’t. What can the GOP add that hasn’t already been covered?

      Their social conservatives will try and add amendments to it if anything to water the legislation down and give Huge concessions to our enemies. That is assuming the bill gets a fair up and down vote in the first place. You know they will use the religious liberty card to justify it.

      At least this should be a wake up call that despite having achieved marriage equality, hate crimes legislation, ending Sodomy laws and DADT, we are persona non grata in general when it comes to the GOP. We are the wedge issue they exploit to win votes against us.

      • totally agree.

        i predict, the bill is introduced. Republicans try to amend it with the religious liberties nonsense, then that either succeeds (and the whole bill passes, until it is vetoed by Obama) or the amendment fails and then the Republicans blame Democrats for not being able to compromise. Either way, we get nothing this time around.

  • So because House and Senate Republicans will not support this bill, it’s a “partisan attempt to make Republicans look bad?” Wanting protections in employment, public accommodations, etc. is actually just a ploy to make “Republicans look bad?” Give me a break! No one has to lift a finger to make Republicans look bad, they do it themselves every day!

  • Here’s the deal, it’s usually your fat ass, and not your clothes, that makes your ass look fat and it’s usually the bad things that Republicans say and do, and not nefarious Democratic schemes, that make Republican’s look bad.

  • This is incorrect. There were no bisexual organizations or leaders invited to attend these meetings so they were only interested in lesbian, gay, and transgender opinions. Yet again, a huge percentage of the people that make up the entire LGBT community (statistics show up to 50%) we left out of the discussion and out of any strategizing around The Equality Act. Why doesn’t the press ever ask these major organizations why they continually ignore bisexual organizations, leaders, and issues?

    • I’m curious about your perspective on this.

      It is certainly true that bisexuality gets left out of many social conversations, and people continue to rehearse the tired old myths about bisexuals. I’m with you on that – totally!

      However, what I’m not clear on is if in our political battles for marriage, and now non-discrimination laws, bisexual interests are substantively different from gay and lesbian interests.

      In other words, I guess I’m saying that unless there are substantive matters of rights and law specific to bisexual life that are separate from those of lesbians and gays, I don’t know that can really say bisexuals’ interests aren’t being represented.
      I’m all for inclusion and collaboration. But please let me in on what “bisexual issues” are getting left out. (I’m sincere in asking, here.)

      • Thank you for asking, sincerely. I wonder if, with your
        reasoning, the same could be said if all the representation of the community was by gay men. Well, lesbians have the same issues so they really don’t have to be at the table. Hmmm, I doubt it.

        Let’s look at the statistics from the Williams Institute: “Among adults who identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual, bisexuals comprise a slight majority (1.8% compared to 1.7% who
        identify as lesbian or gay).” So the majority of our community identifies as bisexual, but no bisexual organizations or leaders were invited to this meeting. Does that seem fair to you? It says distinctly LGBT, so the leadership ought to reflect that.

        In terms of issues, of course bisexual issues overlap with the gay and lesbian community. In fact, seeing that there are actually more bisexual people than gays and lesbians it really could be said that lesbians and gays have similar issues to
        bisexuals. It’s all in the perspective.

        My last point is that bisexuals experience all the same discrimination, harassment, bullying, and pressures to not live totally out lives as gays and lesbians. The effects of those experiences are reflected in the statistics that show bisexual people have even higher suicide, mental health, and substance abuse rates than lesbians and gays. We deserve to be at the table discussing the policies that will affect our lives.

        • Thanks for you answer. I would never imply that bisexuals shouldn’t be represented at the table when discussion matters of mutual concern are underway. – or lesbians for that matter.

          It just strikes me as possible, at least in principle, that each group (L G or B) is perfectly able to speak on behalf of the other with respect to the kind of matter at hand, in this instance: strategy for passing a comprehensive anti-discrimination law. In principle, at least.

          That said, I am concerned about reports of white gay male dominance at organizations such as the HRC – and, in general, in the way that even in the LGBTI coalition, we can easily identify instances where male, monosexual, cis, white, and/or middle-class privilege seems to bubble up to the surface. If we allow that to happen, we could end up in the troubling situation of leaving certain less-priviledged groups behind… So, please consider me an ally to any internally marginalized constituencies.

          I was unaware of the stats you cite that show higher suicide, mental health, and substance abuse rates for bisexuals. That is unfortuntate – and surprises me. I would have guessed the cultural problems confronting the bi community (the way so many people still rehearse the old bi myths; the effects of heteronormativity in the lives of bisexuals) would be the biggest issues *specific* to bisexuals.

          In any event, in this instance, the anti discrimination law wouldn’t be addressing any of those.

          It would be great to have balanced representation around the table at such meetings, ideally, sure. But, I also think that L, G, and B groups have a shared history of understanding each other’s political and legal needs. Call me an optimist.

          Nevertheless, once we get those remaining legal fights squared away, I think we’ll have to turn and focus on the social, cultural and psychiatric issues that remain for the bi community.

          • There are legal issues clearly specific to the bisexual community… immigration cases, for example, in which the legitimacy of an applicant’s marriage to a different sex partner is questioned, because they are “really gay” (see Ivo Widlak), or their bisexuality is questioned (and thus risk of persecution), because they have a record of different sex attractions (which invalidates any record of same sex attractions).

            Research shows that outreach and programing aimed at gay men and lesbians often fails to reach or serve bisexuals, who often don’t see themselves as part of the queer community due to biphobic experiences with peers and service providers (they tell medical professionals they are gay, lesbian, or straight, for example, to avoid questioning of their attractions and biphobic comments).

            Bisexual (and transgender) are terms that are completely missing from the Supreme Courts decision on marriage equality. Certainly, our same-sex marriages are now legal everywhere, but being omitted from possibly the most significant historical document in American queer history would seem to be an issue specific to our communities as well.

            The assumption that when gay and lesbian interests are served, bisexual interests are served, is based on a model of bisexuality that treats us as “part gay” or “part lesbian”, rather that distinctly and holistically bisexual.

          • Oh. Interesting. Thank you for pointing those out. That is exactly the kind of information on bi legal causes I wanted to hear.

          • One other thought though to add to that. With regards to the Obergefall decision on marriage, it has been covered in odd ways in the press. It is not actually a case about “same-sex marriage” or “gay marriage”. Both of those would exclude transgender people. The latter seems to ignore bisexual identities.

            In fact, the ruling establishes a right to “marriage without regards to gender.” That is inclusive of all groups. I remember readings about cases that were out there in a holding pattern which involved a heterosexual married couple, one of whom had transitioned within the marriage. Prior to Obergefall, transitioning nullified the marriage if they were in the wrong state. The report indicated that such cases are now set aside and the marriages are intact.

            So, it seems to be clear that Obergefall is inclusive of B’s and T’s.

            However, how that will play out in immigration cases of the kind you mention is uncertain.

  • Log cabin republicans are nothing more than self hating collaborators who would vote against their own rights if Mitch McConnell asked them too.

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