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Pintauro defends comments on oral sex HIV transmission

Former child actor-turned-AIDS-activist honored in D.C.

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Danny Pintauro, gay news, Washington Blade
Danny Pintauro, gay news, Washington Blade

Danny Pintauro says he’s been unfairly criticized by AIDS activists for saying he became infected with HIV through oral sex. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Former child star Danny Pintauro says he’s been unfairly criticized by some AIDS activists for saying he thinks he became infected with HIV through oral sex, and that his decision to raise the subject has drawn needed attention to HIV prevention efforts.

In an interview with the Washington Blade, Pintauro says he never made a definitive statement that he was certain that oral sex was the means through which he became infected more than 12 years ago.

“Everybody has their own version of the truth. And I’ve since said a couple of things about how I’m not 100 percent sure,” he said, recalling that he has long reflected on his intimate relations with a male partner through whom he believes he became infected.

“You never know,” he said, adding, “I spent the last 12 years sort of trying to figure out what happened that day, and that’s my best guess.”

Pintauro, 39, is well known for his portrayal of Jonathan Bower on ABC’s 1980s sitcom hit, “Who’s The Boss?” He made national headlines when he disclosed just over a month ago on Oprah Winfrey’s “Where Are They Now” show that he was HIV positive and had been addicted to crystal meth.

He has since announced he plans to tour the country to generate a renewed phase of AIDS activism and to deliver to young people his personal message on how he overcame his struggle with crystal meth abuse and how staying away from the drug scene can help people avoid HIV.

Last Saturday, Oct. 24, D.C.’s Whitman-Walker Health presented Pintauro with its annual Courage Award for a person with HIV “who has shown remarkable courage and leadership in the fight against the disease.”

Whitman-Walker Executive Director Don Blanchon presented the award to Pintauro and Atlanta AIDS and women’s rights activist Dazon Dixon Diallo at the conclusion of the organization’s Walk to End HIV, which drew close to 5,000 participants and was expected to raise more than $600,000 for Whitman-Walker’s local AIDS programs.

Pintauro and Diallo were among those who led the annual Walk to End HIV through the streets of downtown Washington.

“When you come out today and you see 5,000 people of all walks of life, the diversity of this great area, you see an expression of hope,” said Blanchon minutes before he presented Pintauro and Diallo with the Courage Awards.

The public response to Pintauro’s disclosure on the Oprah program that he was HIV positive appeared to be overwhelmingly supportive.

But his comment less than a week later on “The View” that he thought he became infected through oral sex drew immediate criticism from a number of AIDS activist bloggers. Among other things, they pointed out that no case of oral transmission of HIV has been scientifically confirmed.

Experts on HIV transmission, including researchers with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have said transmission through oral sex is theoretically possible but difficult if not impossible to confirm because virtually all of the data they have is based on personal reporting of sexual practices by people infected with HIV.

“Receiving fellatio, giving or receiving cunnilingus, and giving or receiving anilingus carry little to no risk,” the CDC says in a statement on its website. “The highest oral sex risk is to individuals performing fellatio on an HIV-infected man, with ejaculation in the mouth,” the CDC statement says.

The statement adds, “Even though oral sex carries a lower risk of HIV transmission than other sexual activities, the risk is not zero. It is difficult to measure the exact risk because people who practice oral sex may also practice other forms of sex during the same encounter.”

Dr. Raymond Martins, Whitman-Walker’s senior director of clinical training and the organization’s former chief medical officer, said his view based on the voluminous data and scientific studies on HIV transmission that he’s seen is that transmission through oral sex is “extremely unlikely.”

According to Martins, some studies based on patient interviews show that the chance of becoming infected with HIV by performing oral sex is less than one in every 10,000 acts.

He notes that the anatomy of the mouth, unlike the anal canal, has a thicker lining of protective cells, making it much harder for the virus to get close enough to either blood in the mouth or white blood cells in the mouth where the virus could enter.

“And then at the same time, the saliva is protective,” he said. “It doesn’t allow HIV to be as viable.”

Added Martins: “In the anal canal the lining is very thin and so it tears easily and so a lot of times HIV comes in direct contact with blood or with the white blood cells that are directly below the surface.”

Martins and CDC experts have said due to the easier transmission through the anal canal, people engaging in anal intercourse should always use a condom for protection.

Pintauro has said since coming out as HIV positive that he may have had sores in his mouth due to his abuse of crystal meth, which can cause mouth ulcers, and that could have facilitated his becoming infected through oral sex.

Martins said the studies showing that the risk of infection from oral sex with someone who is HIV positive is less than one in 10,000 must have included people who have had abrasions in their mouths.

“It seems not to increase the risk dramatically if at all,” he said, even when ejaculation occurs in the mouth.

Pintauro, while not disputing data showing oral transmission is unlikely, points to the CDC statement saying oral transmission is possible.

“Yeah – the chances are incredibly slim, I admit that,” he told the Blade. “But you’d be surprised about the number of people who contacted me in the last week and a half saying that that’s the same way that they believe they’ve contracted it,” he said.

“And you have to remember that I’m throwing meth into the picture. So any of these statistics are going to change or any of the chances are going to be different when you put in that factor that I’ve been doing that for God knows how many hours,” he said.

Asked if he was surprised by the criticism over his statement about oral transmission, Pintauro said he was not.

“You can’t go into doing something like this and expect to get 100 percent in support,” he said. “But I was a little surprised because the backlash was coming from the people that I wanted to become – these AIDS activists mostly.”

“And I was surprised because I didn’t expect that the negativity would come from within the community,” he said. “I thought if anything it would come from outside the community where stigma is based.”

He said he was also taken aback when some of the AIDS activist critics accused him of being uniformed on HIV transmission and the scientific data on HIV.

“And I’m saying, now wait a minute. Why don’t you go and look at the CDC’s website and look at the fact that they say that it is possible all be it very difficult,” said Pintauro. “I feel like you’re the one who’s uniformed, right?”

Added Pintauro: “But the idea is sort of to get past that and get to the bigger issues and get to the broader topics that we need to focus on. And let’s get there. It’s time to skip that and talk about taking better care of each other.”

Pintauro came out as gay in 1997, a development that also drew widespread coverage in the entertainment media. Last year he and his partner, Will Tabares, were married.

The full transcript of the Blade’s interview with Pintauro follows:

Washington Blade: It has been reported that you have begun a “Beacon of Light” tour to carry out your new role as an AIDS activist since coming out in September as HIV positive. Can you tell a little about that?

Danny Pintauro: I don’t quite know what that means yet. It was sort of a moniker given to me about this year. And I’m definitely excited to turn it into a tour. Right now I’m still just getting through the initial stuff, getting through the initial interviews and media and all that. And then once that settles down I can really focus on finding the things to go to speak at. I will try to go to every Pride that I can around the country and speak and teach and learn and make a difference in any way I can.

Blade: By Pride, do you mean LGBT Pride Day events in different parts of the country? Don’t they take place mostly in June?

Pintauro: Yes, a lot of them are in June but believe it or not there is actually a ton all throughout the year. Some of the smaller ones are in September even. Los Vegas is in early September. They’re all there for Pride and they all want to get involved so I’ll be able to talk to the most people that way I think. We’ll see.

Blade: Where are you based now, Las Vegas?

Pintauro: Yeah, Las Vegas. It’s fine. It’s just Las Vegas. One block off the strip on either side and it turns into suburbia. And it’s very boring – believe it or not.

Blade: It doesn’t have the reputation of being boring.

Pintauro: I know. But you know when you live there its quite boring. And you don’t want to go anywhere near the strip because it’s too expensive.

Blade: Can you tell a little about what prompted you to come out as being HIV positive on the Oprah show? Did you make your decision to do this when her producer called you in advance of the show or did you think about this in advance? How did it come about?

Pintauro: About five or so years ago I was living in L.A. and I thought it was a great time for me to talk about it then. And so my publicist friend and I at the time decided who would be the best person to talk to about this? Who would be the one to treat it right? And we could only decide on Oprah. I mean there was nobody who was going to do it better. So we actually made some steps. We called her show at the time to see if they would be interested. But there was only about five more months of her show left and every episode was full until then. Everyone wanted to be on those last five months.

So it didn’t work out. But I’m ok with that. It wasn’t the right time it turns out. But then cut to April and I get a call from the producers just wanting to do a regular ‘Where are they now?’ Just – he works at PF Chang’s in Los Vegas. My publicist friend said look, this is your chance. They’re coming to you now and you’re never going to have this opportunity again, at least not with Oprah.

So I made the decision to tell them what I would really want to talk about. And they were not expecting that at all, of course. But the producer was like – she said I’m so honored that you want to trust us with this information. Is it alright if I call Oprah and see if she would be excited about it? And I was like, no please, don’t call Oprah. I said of course you can call Oprah and see what she thinks. The next day she called me back and said Oprah is so, so honored and can’t wait to sit down and interview with you in person.

Blade: We now know what happened after you did it. But did it surprise you that although the public reaction appears to be overwhelmingly positive, you created a controversy among some AIDS and LGBT activists over your statement in another interview the following week about how you got infected. Could you call that reaction a backlash?

Pintauro: You can call it that, yeah. I wasn’t surprised. You can’t go into doing something like this and expect it to be a hundred percent in support. You just can’t, especially in the age of the Internet where anybody with a computer can write an article and have it posted somewhere. But I was a little surprised because the backlash was coming from the people that I want to become — these HIV activists mostly. And I was surprised because I didn’t expect that the negativity would come from within the community. I thought if anything it would come from outside of the community where stigma is based. But the fact that it came from within was really surprising.

And it is what it is. Everybody has their own version of the truth. And I’ve since said a couple of things about how I’m not one hundred percent sure – I have no idea. But that’s not the point. The point is when did your doing it wrong become more palatable than I’m sorry – I’m here for you. Let’s get through this. Let’s help you become the great activist that you want to become.

Blade: Do you still think there could be the possibility of becoming infected through oral sex?

Pintauro: Yeah – the chances are incredibly slim. I admit that. But you’d be surprised about the number of people who contacted me in the last week and a half saying that that’s the same way that they believe they’ve contracted it. And you have to remember that I’m throwing meth into the picture. So any of these statistics are going to change or any of the chances are going to be different when you put into that factor that I’ve been doing that for God knows how many hours. And you know, what’s happening in your body and the person you’re with – he’s not on any medication so his viral load is very, very high.

But yeah, it could happen anyway. It could be anything. It could just be that his viral load was so high that our fluids mixed in some other way and that was enough. You never know. But I spent the last 12 years sort of trying to figure out what happened that day, and that’s my best guess.

Blade: The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says on its website now that although oral sex carries a much lower risk of HIV transmission than other sexual activities, the risk is not zero.

Pintauro: That’s the funny part to me. These people are trying to say I don’t know what I’m talking about and that I’m not informed. And I’m saying, now wait a minute. Why don’t you go and look at the CDC’s website and look at the fact that they say that it is possible all be it very difficult. I feel like you’re the one who’s uninformed, right? Does that make sense? But the idea is sort of to get past that and get to the bigger issues and get to the broader topics that we need to focus on. And let’s get there. It’s time to just skip that and talk about taking better care of each other.

Blade: Concerning your plans to make public appearances to talk about HIV and HIV prevention, what would you say to young people about your own situation, including your crystal meth problem? Looking back, can you perhaps say what you should have done that you didn’t do?

Pintauro: I think just the fact that meth was involved in the first place is going to make for all kinds of scenarios that don’t have to happen in the first place if you’re not getting into the drug scene. But I’ve been talking to people who had been drinking so much that they blacked out and don’t remember exactly what they did. And I have friends who are not doing drugs and are still that one time getting HIV. It’s a matter of complacency. It’s a matter of making sure people are still doing what they need to do to protect themselves. And I feel like people are doing that less. And it may be because they don’t have a frame of reference for the fear and sort of the scary side of HIV. But we’re also seeing a rise in men over 50 who are also getting HIV. So it’s not just the young kids. I think everybody is taking too many steps back. It’s still a problem. It’s not going to go away. And just because you can take one pill a day doesn’t mean you can throw caution to the wind.

Blade: You’ve talked about your coming out as gay and now coming out as someone who’s HIV positive. How has that impacted your relationship with your family and your parents?

Pintauro: Coming out as gay in 1997 was hard for my parents. You know they didn’t have a lot of frames of reference at the time. PFLAG was barely in existence. They didn’t really have anyone to go to or talk to about what it means. So they had to figure out how to handle it on their own. And I thank them for doing it as well as they did considering the time we were in.

The HIV was no problem at all. By now we’ve got my lovely husband who is in the picture, and they love him. They know that we’re in a sero-discordant relationship so they get that we’re doing what we need to do to take care of ourselves. And for my parents, it was Oprah. Oprah’s involved. How exciting, you know? So they’re just proud of me for making the message and taking it out there. They’re following along. I keep calling and my dad will say like, oh, they’re not getting your messages across in that article you did. So it’s nice to sort of hear them looking for what’s coming next and paying attention.

Blade: With the name Pintauro, are you from Italian American family?

Pintauro: A little bit, yeah. One side is Italian and the other half is Polish, English, Irish, and German. So I’ve got a whole crazy mix of blood going on. But yes, the Pintauro last name is Italian.

Blade: The fact that you and your husband are married makes you a living example of how far the gay rights movement has come with marriage equality nationwide. Have you thought about where the gay and LGBT movement should be going now?

Pintauro: That hits the nail right on the head. And I’ve been saying that a lot lately, which is that we’ve been so focused on becoming socially acceptable and so focused on getting more rights as with marriage and any other sort of health benefits. You name it. We’ve been so focused on it. And we’ve been achieving amazing things and it’s wonderful that we’re achieving these things. But I think in doing that we’ve forgotten about each other a little bit. And we’ve forgotten about taking care of each other. We’re so focused externally. But now I think that we should focus internally again. And we’re really good at rallying as a community, you know? And I think it’s time that we rally within to stop the spread of HIV and make how big of a problem meth is much more apparent in our community. So that is literally where I think we should focus next – is on each other.

Blade: One aspect of the gay movement that has been talked about recently is the Stonewall riots as depicted in the recently released move called Stonewall. As someone who has experience in the film industry, have you had a chance to see it and form an opinion on it?

Pintauro: I haven’t yet, no, I haven’t. I’ve been reading the articles and reading about the controversy. It’s a really fine line because the film maker is so proud of the work. And I have to allow him to be proud of his work and I have to allow him to feel like he’s done a really great thing. I feel everyone is going to have their thoughts on if it was done right or if it was done wrong. But I think I’m also having that happen now. People are saying he isn’t doing it right or you’re not doing it the way we want you to have done it. I’m just happy – the thing I’ve been saying is people are talking. I’m getting people to talk. And I’m getting people to have that conversation again. And so if anything, I think the movie really sort of allowed us to have that conversation again, to remember where we come from. And the number of people – young gay men especially – who had absolutely no idea about Stonewall and what that meant could come across this article –even if it was a bad article. They’re still going to read that article and they’re going to want to learn more. And then they’re either going to see the movie or do some research on Stonewall that brings them back to our history. So whatever the movie is, it’s brought everyone back to our roots and sort of learning about that again. And that’s ok.

Blade: Are you thinking about seeing the movie at some point?

Pintauro: Yeah, sure. There’s just been so much going on I have not had a chance. But yes. For sure — I have to see anything that has to do with our community, especially in a historical sense. So yeah, stay tuned. I’ll post something about my thoughts on it.

Blade: As we approach 2016 the presidential election with all the candidates running, both Republicans and Democrats, do you have any preference among the candidates?

Pintauro: You know if there’s one thing I’ve never ever been very good at its politics. My husband is the politician – or the one who follows all of it. Believe it or not, he and I are both still trying to figure out who we really trust and who we really believe in. I think it’s going to depend a lot on the coming months. I definitely feel like I would trust Hillary in the White House 100 percent. But there are other people who have just as great ideas and opinions and methods for getting things done in the White House. So I’m listening to those. Of course, anybody who’s going to get into the White House and potentially take away my rights or anybody that I care about and love is not somebody who I’d want in the White House. Stay tuned. We’ll have to wait and see.

Blade: It seems that among the Republican presidential candidates, most if not all don’t support LGBT rights.

Pintauro: I mean anyone who expects a Republican to appreciate the gay community or LGBT rights is fooling themselves – at least right now. Look, we may get to a place where a Republican gets into office and they understand the impact that they have on the world and they will take some steps to learn more and to at least come to terms with the fact that the LGBT community exists. I would hope that they would do that. We’ll see.

Blade: Despite all of the existing HIV prevention programs throughout the country, no matter what they do, the new infection rate has remained the same and has not gone down, particularly with young gay men and gay men of color. Do you have any thoughts on what you might say to young gay men who are just coming out?

Pintauro: Yeah, I feel like they just need to learn more about what HIV is and what it means. But it all comes back to getting tested for me. If you don’t feel comfortable enough to get tested because you are afraid to get tested, you don’t want to know the answer, or you don’t want to become that guy who’s got HIV you’re not going to get tested. And that for me is the biggest problem. If everyone got tested and everyone knew their status we would eliminate HIV or new infections altogether because everyone would know. So it’s a matter of getting people to get tested. What you do in your bedroom – obviously I’d like for you to be taking precautions. But if you’re getting regular tests and checkups then at least we’re taking care of that aspect and at least we can hopefully prevent you from passing the virus on to someone else.

I have a close friend in Las Vegas whose partner got incredibly sick and they thought it had something to do with his blood and his heart. Nobody thought to do an HIV test at any point. He didn’t even think to do it. It turns out that he had ten T cells left because he was that far along with HIV that it had become full blown AIDS. And somewhere in that line he passed it on to the boyfriend. If they had both gotten tested long before they could have completed avoided that ever having happened in the first place. Whatever it is they did in the bedroom if they had had those tests in the first place they would already have known and would already have been able to take the precautions they needed to.

Blade: Concerning the crystal meth issue, do you have any advice for young guys who are toying with it and saying oh I can keep it under control and do it as a recreational thing?

Pintauro: It doesn’t work. Meth is not the kind of drug that you will be able to do recreationally. And even if you do your brain chemistry becomes so far off so fast that you still have a lot of recovery to go through. And then there’s that thing that happens too where a lot of the time you’re doing meth and having sex so you’re combing the two and you lose sight of what having sex without meth looks like. And that’s really hard to find again. I take that – that’s from experience for sure. If you don’t want to lose sight of what it feels like to be normal in a sexual environment don’t get into it in the first place. Whether or not it makes you feel invincible or sexy or as dirty as you want to be – not dirty as in dirty dirty but dirty as in dirty dirty – It’s not worth it. It’s just not worth it.

Blade: You mentioned in another interview that you thought there is a linkage between meth use and S&M-bondage practices. Have you gotten any flack for that?

Pintauro: Yeah, I’ve definitely gotten a little flack. And I don’t mean to say that the BDSM community is completely intertwined with crystal meth. In my experience they were always connected. I don’t know if my experience is a separate version or if it’s the norm. It doesn’t matter because the idea is the BDSM community is such a tight community, they take so much good care of each other, they’re so welcoming and accepting that I want them to do more to not welcome meth into that environment. That shouldn’t be a part of that. It’s about all of the other stuff and it’s about being in the moment. You can’t be in the moment in that kind of environment if you’re doing meth.

Blade: A lot of people have talked about your role as a child star in ‘Who’s the Boss?’ But can you tell a little about how you managed around the same age as you were in ‘Who’s the Boss’ when you appeared in the horror movie ‘Cujo,’ where your character was trapped inside a car in a garage with his mother and menaced by a huge monster dog that was killing people left and right?

Pintauro: It was a great movie. It’s got all the suspense. It’s got the actual story content. You actually end up caring for the characters. Nowadays it’s just very like slash and burn and kill. This has got that really nice edge to it. You never know what coming next.

Blade: But as a child actor was it scary for you?

Pintauro: No, no.

Blade: When you’re behind the scenes and in front of the camera it’s more like doing a job?

Pintauro: Yeah – and that’s what takes it away. Like I was acting so well that everybody kept saying it’s just pretending. And I was like I’m fine. But in the actual scene they thought I was going to be traumatized by filming it. But when you’ve got like half a car – they cut the car in half so they could put a camera inside. So when you’re seeing that and you’re seeing like these cute dogs with catchup on their face it’s not that scary.

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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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D.C. bill to ban LGBTQ panic defense delayed by Capitol security

Delivery of bill to Congress was held up due to protocols related to Jan. 6 riots

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New fencing around the Capitol following the Jan. 6 insurrection prevented some D.C. bills from being delivered to the Hill for a required congressional review. (Blade file photo by Michael K. Lavers)

A bill approved unanimously last December by the D.C. Council to ban the so-called LGBTQ panic defense has been delayed from taking effect as a city law because the fence installed around the U.S. Capitol following the Jan. 6 insurrection prevented the law from being delivered to Congress.

According to Eric Salmi, communications director for D.C. Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), who guided the bill through the Council’s legislative process, all bills approved by the Council and signed by the D.C. mayor must be hand-delivered to Congress for a required congressional review.

“What happened was when the Capitol fence went up after the January insurrection, it created an issue where we physically could not deliver laws to Congress per the congressional review period,” Salmi told the Washington Blade.

Among the bills that could not immediately be delivered to Congress was the Bella Evangelista and Tony Hunter Panic Defense Prohibition and Hate Crimes Response Amendment Act of 2020, which was approved by the Council on a second and final vote on Dec. 15.

Between the time the bill was signed by Mayor Muriel Bowser and published in the D.C. Register under procedural requirements for all bills, it was not ready to be transmitted to Congress until Feb. 16, the Council’s legislative record for the bill shows.

Salmi said the impasse in delivering the bill to Congress due to the security fence prevented the bill from reaching Congress on that date and prevented the mandatory 60-day congressional review period for this bill from beginning at that time. He noted that most bills require a 30 legislative day review by Congress.

But the Evangelista-Hunter bill, named after a transgender woman and a gay man who died in violent attacks by perpetrators who attempted to use the trans and gay panic defense, includes a law enforcement related provision that under the city’s Home Rule Charter passed by Congress in the early 1970s requires a 60-day congressional review.

“There is a chance it goes into effect any day now, just given the timeline is close to being up,” Salmi said on Tuesday. “I don’t know the exact date it was delivered, but I do know the countdown is on,” said Salmi, who added, “I would expect any day now it should go into effect and there’s nothing stopping it other than an insurrection in January.”

If the delivery to Congress had not been delayed, the D.C. Council’s legislative office estimated the congressional review would have been completed by May 12.

A congressional source who spoke on condition of being identified only as a senior Democratic aide, said the holdup of D.C. bills because of the Capitol fence has been corrected.

“The House found an immediate workaround, when this issue first arose after the Jan. 6 insurrection,” the aide said.

“This is yet another reason why D.C. Council bills should not be subject to a congressional review period and why we need to grant D.C. statehood,” the aide said.

The aide added that while no disapproval resolution had been introduced in Congress to overturn the D.C. Evangelista-Hunter bill, House Democrats would have defeated such a resolution.

“House Democrats support D.C. home rule, statehood, and LGBTQ rights,” said the aide.

LGBTQ rights advocates have argued that a ban on using a gay or transgender panic defense in criminal trials is needed to prevent defense attorneys from inappropriately asking juries to find that a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity or expression is to blame for a defendant’s criminal act, including murder.

Some attorneys have argued that their clients “panicked” after discovering the person against whom they committed a violent crime was gay or transgender, prompting them to act in a way they believed to be a form of self-defense.

In addition to its provision banning the LGBTQ panic defense, the Evangelista-Hunter bill includes a separate provision that strengthens the city’s existing hate crimes law by clarifying that hatred need not be the sole motivating factor for an underlying crime such as assault, murder, or threats to be prosecuted as a hate crime.

LGBTQ supportive prosecutors have said the clarification was needed because it is often difficult to prove to a jury that hatred is the only motive behind a violent crime. The prosecutors noted that juries have found defendants not guilty of committing a hate crime on grounds that they believed other motives were involved in a particular crime after defense lawyers argued that the law required “hate” to be the only motive in order to find someone guilty of a hate crime.

Salmi noted that while the hate crime clarification and panic defense prohibition provisions of the Evangelista-Hunter bill will become law as soon as the congressional review is completed, yet another provision in the bill will not become law after the congressional review because there are insufficient funds in the D.C. budget to cover the costs of implementing the provision.

The provision gives the D.C. Office of Human Rights and the Office of the D.C. Attorney General authority to investigate hate related discrimination at places of public accommodation. Salmi said the provision expands protections against discrimination to include web-based retailers or online delivery services that are not physically located in D.C.

“That is subject to appropriations,” Salmi said. “And until it is funded in the upcoming budget it cannot be legally enforced.”

He said that at Council member Allen’s request, the Council added language to the bill that ensures that all other provisions of the legislation that do not require additional funding – including the ban on use of the LGBTQ panic defense and the provision clarifying that hatred doesn’t have to be the sole motive for a hate crime – will take effect as soon as the congressional approval process is completed.

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D.C. man charged with 2020 anti-gay death threat rearrested

Defendant implicated in three anti-LGBTQ incidents since 2011

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shooting, DC Eagle, assault, hate crime, anti-gay attack, police discrimination, sex police, Sisson, gay news, Washington Blade

A D.C. man arrested in August 2020 for allegedly threatening to kill a gay man outside the victim’s apartment in the city’s Adams Morgan neighborhood and who was released while awaiting trial was arrested again two weeks ago for allegedly threatening to kill another man in an unrelated incident.

D.C. Superior Court records show that Jalal Malki, who was 37 at the time of his 2020 arrest on a charge of bias-related attempts to do bodily harm against the gay man, was charged on May 4, 2021 with unlawful entry, simple assault, threats to kidnap and injure a person, and attempted possession of a prohibited weapon against the owner of a vacant house at 4412 Georgia Ave., N.W.

Court charging documents state that Malki was allegedly staying at the house without permission as a squatter. An arrest affidavit filed in court by D.C. police says Malki allegedly threatened to kill the man who owns the house shortly after the man arrived at the house while Malki was inside.

According to the affidavit, Malki walked up to the owner of the house while the owner was sitting in his car after having called police and told him, “If you come back here, I’m going to kill you.” While making that threat Malki displayed what appeared to be a gun in his waistband, but which was later found to be a toy gun, the affidavit says.

Malki then walked back inside the house minutes before police arrived and arrested him. Court records show that similar to the court proceedings following his 2020 arrest for threatening the gay man, a judge in the latest case ordered Malki released while awaiting trial. In both cases, the judge ordered him to stay away from the two men he allegedly threatened to kill.

An arrest affidavit filed by D.C. police in the 2020 case states that Malki allegedly made the threats inside an apartment building where the victim lived on the 2300 block of Champlain Street, N.W. It says Malki was living in a nearby building but often visited the building where the victim lived.

“Victim 1 continued to state during an interview that it was not the first time that Defendant 1 had made threats to him, but this time Defendant 1 stated that if he caught him outside, he would ‘fucking kill him.’” the affidavit says. It quotes the victim as saying during this time Malki repeatedly called the victim a “fucking faggot.”

The affidavit, prepared by the arresting officers, says that after the officers arrested Malki and were leading him to a police transport vehicle to be booked for the arrest, he expressed an “excited utterance” that he was “in disbelief that officers sided with the ‘fucking faggot.’”

Court records show that Malki is scheduled to appear in court on June 4 for a status hearing for both the 2020 arrest and the arrest two weeks ago for allegedly threatening to kill the owner of the house in which police say he was illegally squatting.

Superior Court records show that Malki had been arrested three times between 2011 and 2015 in cases unrelated to the 2021 and 2020 cases for allegedly also making threats of violence against people. Two of the cases appear to be LGBTQ related, but prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office did not list the cases as hate crimes.

In the first of the three cases, filed in July 2011, Malki allegedly shoved a man inside Dupont Circle and threatened to kill him after asking the man why he was wearing a purple shirt.

“Victim 1 believes the assault occurred because Suspect 1 believes Victim 1 is a homosexual,” the police arrest affidavit says.

Court records show prosecutors charged Malki with simple assault and threats to do bodily harm in the case. But the court records show that on Sept. 13, 2011, D.C. Superior Court Judge Stephen F. Eilperin found Malki not guilty on both charges following a non-jury trial.

The online court records do not state why the judge rendered a not guilty verdict. With the courthouse currently closed to the public and the press due to COVID-related restrictions, the Washington Blade couldn’t immediately obtain the records to determine the judge’s reason for the verdict.

In the second case, court records show Malki was arrested by D.C. police outside the Townhouse Tavern bar and restaurant at 1637 R St., N.W. on Nov. 7, 2012 for allegedly threatening one or more people with a knife after employees ordered Malki to leave the establishment for “disorderly behavior.”

At the time, the Townhouse Tavern was located next door to the gay nightclub Cobalt, which before going out of business two years ago, was located at the corner of 17th and R Streets, N.W.

The police arrest affidavit in the case says Malki allegedly pointed a knife in a threatening way at two of the tavern’s employees who blocked his path when he attempted to re-enter the tavern. The affidavit says he was initially charged by D.C. police with assault with a dangerous weapon – knife. Court records, however, show that prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office lowered the charges to two counts of simple assault. The records show that on Jan. 15, 2013, Malki pleaded guilty to the two charges as part of a plea bargain arrangement.

The records show that Judge Marissa Demeo on that same day issued a sentence of 30 days for each of the two charges but suspended all 30 days for both counts. She then sentenced Malki to one year of supervised probation for both charges and ordered that he undergo alcohol and drug testing and undergo treatment if appropriate.

In the third case prior to the 2020 and 2021 cases, court records show Malki was arrested outside the Cobalt gay nightclub on March 14, 2015 on multiple counts of simple assault, attempted assault with a dangerous weapon – knife, possession of a prohibited weapon – knife, and unlawful entry.

The arrest affidavit says an altercation started on the sidewalk outside the bar when for unknown reasons, Malki grabbed a female customer who was outside smoking and attempted to pull her toward him. When her female friend came to her aid, Malki allegedly got “aggressive” by threatening the woman and “removed what appeared to be a knife from an unknown location” and pointed it at the woman’s friend in a threatening way, the affidavit says.

It says a Cobalt employee minutes later ordered Malki to leave the area and he appeared to do so. But others noticed that he walked toward another entrance door to Cobalt and attempted to enter the establishment knowing he had been ordered not to return because of previous problems with his behavior, the affidavit says. When he attempted to push away another employee to force his way into Cobalt, Malki fell to the ground during a scuffle and other employees held him on the ground while someone else called D.C. police.

Court records show that similar to all of Malki’s arrests, a judge released him while awaiting trial and ordered him to stay away from Cobalt and all of those he was charged with threatening and assaulting.

The records show that on Sept. 18, 2015, Malki agreed to a plea bargain offer by prosecutors in which all except two of the charges – attempted possession of a prohibited weapon and simple assault – were dropped. Judge Alfred S. Irving Jr. on Oct. 2, 2015 sentenced Malki to 60 days of incarnation for each of the two charges but suspended all but five days, which he allowed Malki to serve on weekends, the court records show.

The judge ordered that the two five-day jail terms could be served concurrently, meaning just five days total would be served, according to court records. The records also show that Judge Irving sentenced Malki to one year of supervised probation for each of the two counts and ordered that he enter an alcohol treatment program and stay away from Cobalt.

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