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Voices from LGBT Catholics in Western Africa

Faithful in Ghana, Togo, Benin and Nigeria face persecution, discrimination

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Baptist, gay news, Washington Blade
Baptist, gay news, Washington Blade

LGBT Catholics in Western Africa continue to face discrimination and persecution from the church and their countries’ respective governments.

Editor’s note: This report was commissioned by the European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups being concerned, that the voices of LGBT Christians from Western Africa were not well heard in the on-going discussion about the Family Synod of the Roman Catholic Church. It presents current experiences of LGBT Catholics living in the region and their opinions on the Family Synod. The findings are based on interviews conducted by Davis Mac-Iyalla with Catholic LGBT people in Ghana, Togo, Benin and Nigeria held from 14−31 March 2015.

Ghana

I arrived safely in the city of Accra, Ghana, on the 14th of March 2015. The last time I was in Ghana was in 2008 and I still have many friends there. The day after my arrival was Sunday and Mother’s Day, and I went with some friends to Mass in Accra. After Mass I was introduced to some of the LGBTI people present at church, some of whom sing in the choir. Some were very happy to share their stories with me, while others were more reticent out of fear that the information might find its way to the authorities and bring trouble for them. Under Ghanaian criminal law, same-sex sexual activity among males is illegal and can result in long prison sentences. The situation with lesbians is less clearly defined, but still highly problematic.

Rosebud, a Christian, lesbian and midwife who works for the government hospital, leads an informal group of Catholic lesbians. It started among fellow lesbians at her church, but women from other churches are discovering her group. She currently has members from the Anglican, Presbyterian as well Pentecostal churches. Although the group is based in Accra, it is growing to be Ghana wide. They have not given the group a name, but come together once a month to pray and listen to each other’s stories. With little support from their churches on the issues that their sexuality raises in society, the group has become their only means of support as they discuss and help each other on LGBT issues. They organize parties and social events, but have to be very discrete, so as not to incur the wrath of the authorities.

Rosebud thinks that in a homophobic society, “the churches should be the first places to welcome LGBT people, not persecute them.” She commented that lesbians cannot immediately identify each other, “people usually become friends first, and then when it is appropriate, a friend will ‘come out.’ ”She was not aware of the on-going Family Synod in the Catholic Church, explaining that in Ghana people only hear what the church leaders want them to hear. “Church matters are conveyed in an authoritarian manner as orders rather than issues up for discussion.“ Although the Internet is available in Ghana, it is not cheap and frequent electricity blackouts make its use problematic for many people — making international media unavailable to most.

Rosebud has a son who is 14-years old. She has brought him up a Catholic and feels strongly that the church should see her and her son as a normal family, despite the fact she is a lesbian. “I know that God loves me. If I was standing face to face with any of the bishops who preach discrimination against LGBT people, I would look them in the eyes and tell them that I did not choose my sexuality.” She believes that God made her gay and trying to change her sexuality is like changing the will of God.

Still in Ghana, I met Kelly, who identifies himself as a Christian Charismatic, bisexual man. Kelly let me record him, and concluded by telling me that he hopes support and education can be given to Ghana’s LGBT community, and particularly education regarding blackmail. Blackmail of LGBT people is on the rise because of an increase in the use of gay dating websites. Sometimes people pretend to be LGBT online, setup a victim and then blackmail them for money. With unemployment on the rise, youths in Ghana are being driven to raise money in this manner and sometimes, even LGBT people have raised money in this way. Sometimes the Ghana police have gone undercover to trap and arrest LGBT people in a similar manner. He said that the decriminalization of homosexuality would be the best way forward to providing safety for LGBT people, but he has no idea how it can be achieved. He also thinks that education in areas of inclusive theology would be useful for the Ghanaian context.

Togo

Arriving in Togo was emotional for me, as this is a place I lived for many years, a place where I experienced much joy and also much sorrow. After settling into a guesthouse, I went to see the place where I was attacked in 2008. It had changed a lot.

Lomé, the capital of Togo, is a lively city, but the police there are particularly merciless when dealing with LGBT locals and tourists, especially during the recent period of presidential elections. However, the law against homosexuality is not very clear, although homosexuality can be punishable by 3−5 years in prison. Harassment and blackmail are on the rise.

Additionally, so Sheba (23), a Christian and a lesbian currently studying law in Lomé, there have been an increase in reports of men raping underage boys. These men are labelled gay, and the LGBT community become scapegoats for these crimes. Accusations of rape accompanied by blackmail are a common means of extorting money from rich locals and foreign tourists. Most LGBT people in Togo live in fear because they don’t want to be disowned by their family, so they go underground. In Togo, LGBT people are called by the abusive term “adowe.”

Sadly, the biggest threat to the Togo LGBT community is the church and religious leaders. The Catholic Church is very powerful there, strongly influencing moral, political and other issues. Specifically the Catholic Church and its bishops are highly regarded by people of the country. She reflects that bishops and religious leaders in Togo frequently come on air to blame any mishap or natural disaster that happens in the country on homosexuals. Therefore, she would appreciate support and work with the LGBT community in the area of lobbying at the wider international/church level.

This anti-LGBT stance drives Catholics away from the Church. Edenedi, a bisexual woman who was baptized and brought up Catholic, is now worshiping in the charismatic faith. She feels she can no longer go to church on Sunday, sit down and listen to unchristian preaching about LGBT people. Despite this she still identifies herself as Catholic.

Because of her work as an activist, she is sometimes invited as a guest on radio or TV shows. When a priest or pastor is a fellow guest, they always say negative things against LGBT people such as “homosexuality is not the will of God” and “those that indulge in it are living a sinful life.” It upsets her as a Christian to hear such things coming from the mouths of people who should be representing the loving embrace of Christ.

LGBT people in prison face appalling discrimination. There are reports of rapes by fellow prisoners, and LGBT prisoners do not have access to treatment for HIV and AIDS. Prison chaplains have refused to administer communion to LGBT people in prison services, asking them to repent of their sin of being homosexual. Edenedi is presently negotiating with the prison authorities to allow LGBT prisoners access to condoms; she said they are refused because the authorities say LGBT people should not be having sex. Because of these problems, training of activists who will act as Christian counsellors, visiting prisons and supporting the community, is needed. “Christian literature in French, which talks of an inclusive family and church, would be greatly appreciated here in Togo.”

Aziable is a well-known, prominent gay Catholic activist from Atapkame. Until recently, he was a knight of the church. Knighthood is an honour and invested upon those that the Bishop feels are actively contributing to the life of the diocese. Knights are charged by the church to utilize their potential for mission and evangelism. However, Aziable was dismissed from his knighthood once his sexuality became known. “I will never leave the church because doing so is giving victory to my oppressors,” he emotionally states. He feels that church leaders need help and education to understand properly the gospel that they are claiming to represent.

Benin

In Benin, I met with three people who identify as transsexuals and are also Christians from different backgrounds. They wanted to be interviewed together. Their words were heartfelt as they told me that all they wanted from the society and the church is acceptance. Benin does not have any anti-gay laws, but LGBT people are often disowned by their families, if their sexuality becomes known. People who are known to be LGBT are seldom employed.

The three explained that the Catholic Church, which is the dominant faith in the country and holds great power, influences social attitudes and fuels homophobic prejudice. The thing, which saddened me the most, was to hear that if a known homosexual dies, he or she is buried in a different cemetery from everyone else, a place where outcasts are buried. Marginalized and hated in life, marginalized and hated in death. The three interviewees wept as they spoke. One of them named Abib asked me to be honest in my reply and to tell them that if they died would they go to hell or heaven? “Priests say that transsexuals are demons in the kingdom of the devil.” This was very shocking for me to hear. In my years living in Nigeria and Togo I have heard much homophobia, and know well the negative attitudes of church and society towards gay people, but this priest’s words still shocked me. At this point I stopped interviewing them and spent the rest of our time together teaching and reassuring them of the unconditional love of Christ, and telling them that all baptized members of the church regardless of their sexuality, sex or gender identity are welcomed into the Kingdom of God.

Mary is a parent of a 21-year-old gay man living in Porto Novo. She is a practicing Catholic and told me that she knew that her son was different right from the age of 12. “He always wanted to play with girls and never with boys, loved wearing girl’s clothes and often told me he was a girl.” Initially Mary was worried about his behavior and consulted her priest who advised her to give him time to grow up, but continue to pray for her son. She once was told by a fellow parishioner that her son’s female behavior was because of a lack of a father figure in his life. This was so offensive to Mary that she reported it to her priest, but nothing happened as the priest agreed with what the parishioner had said. She feels angry about the attitudes of the church towards homosexuals and single parents. “I love my church and my country, but I love my child more and I will do everything to protect him.”

Many LGTB people fear that their family will disown them if their sexuality was ever known. Many are subjected to pressure from their parents to get married and have children especially if they are the firstborn son. Dossou, a 39-year-old travel agent, is so concerned about this that he is currently trying to get a job in Nigeria where nobody knows him. He understands that Nigeria is also a difficult place to live if you are homosexual, but is not planning to come out any time soon. “I want to stay in Nigeria, improve my English and then find a way to travel to Europe where I can be free to be myself.” He feels that the church, which is supposed to be a place of hope, has taken the lead in discriminating against people like him. He ends by saying, “I will always be a Catholic, just as I will always be a homosexual. I know that I am loved by God.”

Nigeria

My next journey was to Nigeria, and I had to be extremely careful at this stage of my journey for my own safety and security. It was not easy crossing the border of Benin and Nigeria since the Nigerian presidential election was coming up in few days time, so security was very high. I had wished to visit northern, southern and eastern Nigeria but could only visit Lagos, which is in the southwest. However I did meet and speak to people from all regions of the country as Lagos is the most diverse cultural city of Nigeria.

In Nigeria, the church and the government both persecute LGBT people. On the 7th of January 2014 the Nigerian president, Goodluck Jonathan, signed The Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act into law. This act imposes lengthy prison sentences of up to 14 years on any person who attempts to enter into a same-sex marriage or civil union; who participates in a gay club, society or organization; or who makes a public display of affection with a person of the same sex.

Rashidi is a trained science laboratory technician and an unapologetic human rights advocate especially for persons marginalized on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. He was brought up as Catholic. The strict observance of religion and faith in his family led him to begin to study the Bible at an early age, but the experiences and realization of his sexuality made him more questioning of the scriptures. As a young man, he was scared he was going to be consumed by fire whenever he stepped up to the altar. He feared that his homosexuality would be revealed to the church and he would become an object of mockery amongst his peers. He remarked, “Many homosexuals within the church in Nigeria still have those same feelings and are scared about people finding the truth of who they are.”

Rashidi expressed his anger over the Same Sex Marriage Act. Many LGBT Catholics in Nigeria were very disappointed to read in the press that The Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria made statements in support of the bill saying that the law was a “step in the right direction for the protection of the dignity of the human person”. Rashidi angrily commented, “I cannot understand how the church could support the persecutions of LGBT Nigerians and still call itself Christian.” There had been an increase in violent attacks against Nigerian LGBT people since the bill was signed into law. Painful for him is the lack of pastoral care and support from the Nigerian Catholic Church towards its LGBT members. While the bishop pays ‘lip-service’ to human rights and equality, the Catholic Church does not seem to put these ideals into practice.

Rashidi followed the Catholic Family Synod through the international media. “Why the Catholic Church can’t be more like Christ to give everyone a place, I do not know,” he muses. He hopes to see the Nigerian Catholic Church becoming more open and welcoming to everyone. While the priests and bishops in Nigeria are publicly opposing homosexuality, he asks, “Does this mean that there are no homosexual priests or bishops in the Catholic Church of Nigeria, or are they just too afraid to accept themselves and speak out the truth which is first and foremost their calling?” He would love to see brothers and sisters from Europe and other parts of the world visiting Nigeria, sharing their stories and supporting the LGBT of Nigeria in their journey of faith. “What is needed most in Nigeria is material that teaches liberation theology,” he concludes.

I also met Grace, a lesbian from Ojota. She is a Christian who discovered that she is a lesbian at a very young age. She is currently unemployed but does lots of voluntary work to support the LGBT community in Lagos. She is still very much in the closet but friends and family members often comment on how she dresses like a boy and behaves like a man. Her mother constantly reminds her that a woman’s place is under her husband and says she is praying for Grace to find a good husband. Since the passing of the anti-gay law in January 2014, Grace has become more careful. She recounts a story about an undercover policewoman who joined an online dating group to trap unsuspecting gay women. The policewoman met a female doctor who she subsequently reported to the authorities. The doctor lost her job and was forced to relocate outside of Nigeria. “Many people are using the anti-gay law to blackmail people for money,” Grace explains. In her eyes, Nigeria is a mob country where people are violently persecuted for being homosexual. She said, “I believe [LBGTIs] are one family and I hope that the worldwide Catholic Church and all Christians will come to realise this truth too.”

For many LBGTI persons, the only source of information is the press, which, on most occasions, condemns homosexuality. This can lead to a feeling of self-loathing, an inferiority complex and often a feeling of inadequacy in LGBTs. The condemnation of homosexuality by state and churches as well as the fear of being outed force LGBTs to hide their real sexual identity for a long time. Cynthia was one such person. The acceptance of herself only started when she found an online-group for same gender loving women. Through this group of lesbians, she became aware that love is natural and the greatest commandment of Jesus Christ. She feels that most LGBT Nigerians don’t know the full component of the anti-gay law. “The damaging effects of the anti-gay law are ‘crazy’: gay bashing, suicide, blackmail, rape and more is on the increase against Nigerian LGBT people since that law came into effect,” she explains. Cynthia wishes there was one bishop in Nigeria who was bold enough to stand up and challenge the church and government on their views and attitudes to homosexuality.

Cynthia explains, “I am born and raised Nigerian, if there is anything Nigeria needs it is answers to why a nation so blessed with natural minerals resources, is lacking and dying in poverty. What Nigeria needs is good roads, steady electricity supply, good healthcare and good social services. The problem for the ordinary Nigerian is how to have a daily meal.” In her eyes, the only people who are asking for anti-gay laws are politicians and religious leaders who are using LGBT Nigerians as a scapegoat for the problems in the country.
She asked to help drive education within the Nigerian LGBT Christian communities. This education should cut across spirituality, self and career development, and include legal and human rights. She wants LGBT Catholics from all over the world to keep close ties with the Nigeria LGBT Christians communities.

Conclusions

From the many interviews conducted, it has become clear that LGBT people in West Africa have a hard life. They are openly persecuted both by the state and the church and feel abandoned. It is sad to say that many LGBTs are “marginalized and hated in life and marginalized and hated in death.”

They fear to be excluded and disowned by their families when they come out. Unemployment and blackmailing are often mentioned problems, which turn sexual orientation into a cause for economic losses and poverty.

The anti-gay laws in these countries prevent constructive dialogue between the state, church and LGBTs. These laws are used as ammunition to justify persecution and the refusal of pastoral care and support by religious and community leaders. This isolates LGBTs and propagates fear, hatred and even violence against the LGBT community.

The Catholic Church in West Africa has not initiated the family debate in their churches and parishes. Church leaders are disconnected from reality about their LGBT members. In turn the LGBT members are ignorant of what is going on at the higher level of the Catholic Church both in their own countries and internationally.

Despite all of this, Catholic LGBT’s do not want to walk away from the Catholic Church. They want to be accepted, to be welcomed by the church, to have dialogue, and education. Above all, they want equality both in their personal lives and in their church to live in a nurturing environment not one of condemnation. They want to participate in the Family Synod discussions. They want to have a voice, to tell their stories, to relate their situations and to let the world know of their plight and their fight.

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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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