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‘Establishment’ criticism of HRC strikes a chord

Some say leading LGBT rights group ‘represents the 1 percent’

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Chad Griffin, HRC, Human Rights Campaign, gay news, Washington Blade
Chad Griffin, Bernie Sanders, HRC, Human Rights Campaign, gay news, Washington Blade

HRC President Chad Griffin and Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) (Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

Sen. Bernard Sanders retracted his comments about the Human Rights Campaign days after he made them, but labeling the nation’s leading LGBT advocacy group as part of the “establishment” last week struck a chord with some LGBT critics.

Some said Sanders was correct in labeling as “establishment” the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBT group known for black-tie fundraising dinners, lauding corporations with pro-LGBT records in its Corporate Equality Index, close ties to Democratic Party leaders and support for Republicans who back LGBT rights (even when their Democratic opponents are stronger on LGBT issues).

The day after Sanders made the comments, Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, was in Davos, Switzerland, to attend the World Economic Forum where Vice President Joseph Biden spoke in support of international LGBT rights.

Andrew Miller, a member of the New York-based grassroots group Queer Nation, said Sanders’ comments were accurate.

“I’m surprised Chad Griffin wasn’t flattered that Bernie Sanders labeled HRC ‘part of the political establishment,'” Miller said. “Griffin, who has just returned from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, certainly runs the organization as if that’s what they aspire to. It’s gratifying that at least one American politician understood — at least for a moment — that HRC represents the 1 percent, not the majority of the LGBT community nor the values of LGBT Americans.”

On Monday during an interview on MSNBC’s “Rachel Maddow Show,” Sanders called the Human Rights Campaign — as well as the women’s health group Planned Parenthood — part of the “establishment” in response to a question about those groups endorsing Hillary Clinton during the increasingly competitive Democratic primary.

“What we are doing in this campaign, and it just blows my mind every day, because I see it clearly, we’re taking on, not only Wall Street, and the economic establishment, we’re taking on the political establishment,” Sanders said. “So, I have friends and supporters in the Human Rights Fund, in Planned Parenthood. But, you know what, Hillary Clinton has been around there for a very, very long time, and some of these groups are, in fact, part of the establishment.”

Sanders’ comments echoed remarks his campaign spokesperson Michael Briggs made to the Washington Blade immediately after the Human Rights Campaign announced it had endorsed Clinton. Dismissing the endorsement as consistent with establishment organizations, Briggs said the decision “cannot possibly be based on the facts and the record” of Sanders’ support for LGBT rights.

One of the chief criticisms of the Human Rights Campaign is the view that it has been historically reluctant to insist on the inclusion of transgender people in the LGBT movement. In 2007, HRC ignited a firestorm by declining to oppose a version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act that prohibited discrimination only on the basis of sexual orientation and omitted gender identity.

In 2014, Griffin apologized to the transgender community at the Southern Comfort Conference, which serves as an annual gathering for transgender advocates. The Human Rights Campaign has since emerged as a stronger voice for transgender people and has promoted transgender advocates likes Blossom Brown and Jazz Jennings.

Rebecca Juro, a New Jersey-based transgender advocate and Sanders supporter, said she thinks Sanders calling the Human Rights Campaign “establishment” is a “net-gain” for the progressive movement and the transgender community.

“Especially those who are a little older, my age, believe the HRC is exactly that, they are the establishment,” Juro said. “They’ve constantly resisted change, they’ve consistently resisted going beyond the rich, white gay level of support. They had to basically be forced into it, embarrassed into it by journalists, columnists and protests. So, I think especially within the trans community, I think calling HRC ‘establishment’ will help [Sanders] a lot because that’s exactly the way transgender people see HRC.”

But Sanders’ characterization of HRC and Planned Parenthood as “establishment” was short-lived. At an event in Burlington, Iowa, Clinton said she was “somewhat confused” by Sanders calling those groups “establishment,” adding “I wish it were.” Both the Human Rights Campaign and Planned Parenthood said on Twitter they were “disappointed” in Sanders for his remarks.

On Thursday, Sanders walked back his comments, denying he ever said the Human Rights Campaign and Planned Parenthood were establishment groups. According to Sanders, he intended to convey the confusion of grassroots supporters who were wondering why those groups were backing Clinton when Sanders has a 100 percent supportive voting record on LGBT and abortion rights issues.

“They are standing up and fighting the important fights that have to be fought,” Sanders said of both groups.

Michael Petrelis, a gay San Francisco-based blogger who has been critical of HRC, said “much truth was spoken” by Sanders in his initial comments.

“As a longtime observer and critic of the HRC for its too-close ties and reluctance to criticize Democratic politicians, I wish the senator had not rescinded his remarks,” Petrelis said. “With HRC boss Chad Griffin again in Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum, and the group’s sucking up to Goldman Sachs and hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer among too many examples of HRC maintaining good establishment ties, it’s clear they like hobnobbing with the 1 percent. Despite the controversy of Bernie’s comments, I’d still vote for him in a primary election.”

JoDee Winterhof, the Human Rights Campaign’s senior vice president for policy and political affairs, responded to assertions that Sanders was right in calling her organization “establishment” by defending its endorsement of Clinton.

“While we’ve heard from passionate supporters of other pro-equality candidates in this race, HRC’s board of directors voted unanimously to endorse Hillary Clinton because of her strong record on LGBT equality as a senator and Secretary of State, her robust LGBT policy platform, and her ability to win in November,” Winterhof said. “The leading candidates on the Republican side have threatened to not only block progress — but to revoke, repeal, and overturn the gains made during President Obama’s two terms in office. The stakes couldn’t be higher in this election, we can’t afford to sit on the sidelines, and we believe that Hillary Clinton is the champion we need to fight for us as president.”

There’s evidence Sanders’ initial “establishment” remarks may have hurt him politically in the Democratic primary as the race tightens.

Gabriel Debenedetti, a reporter for Politico, on Twitter said the day after Sanders called the Human Rights Campaign and Planned Parenthood “establishment” was one of the Clinton campaign’s top 10 online fundraising days, which was confirmed to the Washington Blade by a Clinton campaign source.

But Briggs said “donations went up” for the Sanders campaign immediately after the “establishment” remarks and criticism of the candidate.

“It’s hard to pinpoint a particular cause because there’s so much enthusiasm and energy out there for lots of reasons, but generally speaking our supporters don’t like it when they think Bernie’s being unfairly attacked,” Briggs said.

Richard Socarides, a gay New York-based Democratic activist who supports Clinton, was critical of Sanders’ initial “establishment” remarks as well as the candidate’s clarification.

“I think his view is anyone who doesn’t support him is the establishment,” Socarides said. “I’m not sure he really took it back as much as amended it to apply to the leaders of those groups.”

Others LGBT advocates who spoke out in opposition to Sanders’ remarks on Twitter were Jim Obergefell, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit that led the U.S. Supreme Court to rule for marriage equality nationwide, and Roberta Kaplan, the lesbian who successfully argued against the Defense of Marriage Act before the court.

Both Obergefell and Kaplan have ties to the Human Rights Campaign and have spoken at the organization’s fundraisers. The Human Rights Campaign handled Obergefell’s public relations as his lawsuit seeking marriage recognition reached the Supreme Court and Kaplan participated with the Human Rights Campaign in “The People’s Brief” that encouraged the court to rule for same-sex marriage nationwide.

Despite the controversy over Sanders’ comments, polls this week showed he has the lead in the early primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire. In New Hampshore, a CNN/WMUR poll found Sanders leading Clinton by 27 points, 60 percent to 33 percent. In Iowa, A CNN/ORC poll found Sanders has an eight-point lead over Clinton among likely Democratic presidential caucus-goers, 51 percent to 43 percent.

Logan Casey, who’s transgender and a Ph.D. candidate in political science at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, nonetheless said Sanders’ initial remarks were “definitely unwise,” especially in the case of Planned Parenthood.

“HRC clearly represents establishment politics – something that has been well documented and critiqued by many in the LGBTQ community and beyond,” Casey said. “However, Sanders’ original comment doesn’t articulate any of those specific critiques of HRC, and falls even flatter in the context of Planned Parenthood. His more recent comments point out the differences between HRC’s leadership and the grass-roots movement (which is more in line with these queer critiques), but I think the general public isn’t understanding or listening to that depth, and so instead it just makes Sanders seem unsympathetic to LGBT and women’s issues, or even seemingly petty over lost endorsements.”

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33 Comments

33 Comments

  1. Cambel

    January 24, 2016 at 9:11 am

    HRC previously would defend anti-gay democrats saying that the community should still support them and that they were still our friends, they just couldn’t say so publicly. The executives there bought into the idea that being LGBT was something it was ok to be ashamed of so nobody should mind politicians voting against the community. Remember the head of HRC told LGBTS to sit down and shut up and not pressure democrats about Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and DOMA, but another group pressured Pelosi and the white house and supported the lawsuits and both are gine, HRC also was opposed to the marriage lawsuitsand they were wrong there too. They have been wrong on every major civil rights issue in the last 10 years.
    Now, you have TWO candidates right now that support LGBT rights in a primary. If HRC was NOT and establishment shill they would have endorsed neither, or both in the primary with the goal of bringing the loses voters into the fold for the general. The fact that they endorsed this early showed that there was never any other plan. They are doing exactly what they have been told.

    • Greg

      January 24, 2016 at 1:56 pm

      Thank you!

    • Jaina

      January 24, 2016 at 2:51 pm

      Nailed it

    • ShadrachSmith

      January 28, 2016 at 9:55 am

      A parable on point

      Hillary Clinton goes to a gifted-student primary school in New York to talk about the world. After her talk she offers question time. One little boy puts up his hand. Hillary asks him what his name is. “Kenny.” “And what is your question, Kenny?”

      “I have three questions:

      First – whatever happened in Benghazi? Second – why would you run for President after your husband shamed the office? Third – whatever happened to the missing 6 billion dollars while you were Secretary of State?”

      Just then the bell rings for recess.

      Hillary Clinton informs the kiddies that they will continue after recess. When they resume Hillary says, “Okay where were we? Oh, that’s right, question time. Who has a question?” A girl—Sally—puts her hand up; Hillary points to her and asks what her name is. “Sally.” “And what is your question, Sally?”

      “Where’s Kenny?”

      ht Bee Fohe

  2. Doug Allen

    January 24, 2016 at 11:32 am

    The HRC’s new slogan…”Be on the wrong side of history”

  3. Harshan

    January 24, 2016 at 11:35 am

    In many people’s personal dictionaries, the word “establishment” can be replaced in text with the phrase “bad thing” without a change in meaning, but aside from any connotations that word may have, the degree to which it is even possible for a presidential candidate to say that HRC is part of the establishment is the degree to which HRC has succeeded.

  4. I'm Just Sayin'

    January 24, 2016 at 1:00 pm

    Facts are facts. Grassroots advocacy organizations don’t have a fancy standalone headquarters buildings in Washington. So yes, HRC has become “establishment,” but not sure that requires some sort of apology or act of contrition on their part. What they need to atone for is their decades long track record of unsuccessful advocacy and lack strategic sense. As lobbyists go, they are pretty ineffective by any standard, gay or straight, conservative or liberal. Who knows, maybe Chad Griffin found the answer to what went wrong in Houston while schmoozing in Davos.

    However for any lobbyist, their currency is access. So in an election, you go with the person you think is going to win so they take your calls after they get elected. If Sanders wins, then HRC sits on the sidelines for the next four years as Bernie pays them back for the slight. HRC knows that they just made a calculated move, not some highly principled stance. Early endorsements get the biggest return because they come with the biggest risk.

    Also, all the whining about HRC not representing their “constituency” is laughable. HRC’s constituency as this article so aptly indicates are gays and lesbians who don fancy duds and drop big bucks to sit in a crowded ballroom, be entertained by minor celebs, buy auction items they don’t need and dine on bad food once a year. HRC’s money people are for the most part elated with the endorsement of Hillary Clinton otherwise it wouldn’t have happened.

    • ShadrachSmith

      January 24, 2016 at 6:09 pm

      If establishment Ds don’t support Hillary, I fear for their pets.

  5. Greg

    January 24, 2016 at 1:56 pm

    Establishment all the way. Would cover the *sses of anti-gay Dems; didn’t support marriage equality for a long time, and on and on. Have never supported this corporate partner.

  6. Jaina

    January 24, 2016 at 2:50 pm

    Why no mention of the CHAOS breaking out on Human Rights Campaign’s Facebook page? Why no mention of their 4.6 star rating plummeting to 1.7 within days?

    • Katrina Rose

      January 24, 2016 at 3:30 pm

      Why no mention of the Pipeline Report?

    • gaylib

      January 25, 2016 at 7:24 am

      Because online bullying just makes you all look like jackass trolls?

  7. Rebecca Juro

    January 24, 2016 at 3:28 pm

    I think it’s important to note (and I should have said this to Chris) that progressive orgs which went to their greater memberships to vote on endorsements, such as MoveOn and Democracy For America, went for Sanders in huge numbers, while those which reserved the right to vote on endorsements exclusively to their own board members and leaders, such as HRC, went for Clinton.

    I think that says something in terms of which orgs should be justifiably labelled “establishment” as well as where the progressive grassroots is politically versus movement elites.

    Call it a hunch of you like, but I suspect that if HRC had actually polled its own membership, rather than just 32 board members, the results would have been very different.

  8. Katrina Rose

    January 24, 2016 at 3:32 pm

    “In 2014, Griffin apologized to the transgender community at the Southern Comfort Conference”

    Apologized, yes – but for what specific acts?

    “The Human Rights Campaign has since emerged as a stronger voice for transgender people and has promoted transgender advocates likes Blossom Brown and Jazz Jennings.”

    But how many trans people does HRC hire for positions of gainful employment?

  9. SU - Root

    January 24, 2016 at 3:47 pm

    The HRC has been a hostile place for trans employees, at least up until very recently. Of course they are part of the establishment. They suck unless you are white, gay and cis male. Screw that org.

  10. David Biviano

    January 24, 2016 at 10:49 pm

    I think Sanders’ remark came from his being hurt, having such a strong record on both issues, long before they became mainstream, and consistently since the 80s. It’s all in the game, and he sought to mend fences when the remark hurt those constituencies – and perhaps himself as well. This race isn’t going to be decided by endorsements – it’s going to be the people! Let the voting begin!

    • gaylib

      January 25, 2016 at 7:25 am

      He’s a thin skinned asshole

  11. disqus_6zz82yE4Jy

    January 24, 2016 at 11:41 pm

    I wouldn’t give HRC onesinglepenny and i am a gay male

  12. Lee Rowan

    January 25, 2016 at 12:28 am

    I just have one question: Did HRC poll its members before endorsing? Move On did. Democracy for America did. My impression was that the endorsement came from management and only management. I’ll vote for whatever Democrat is running against the GOP psychos, but I don’t think the endorsement necessarily represents the membership. HRC is far more establishment than it may want to think.

    • Katrina Rose

      January 25, 2016 at 10:59 am

      “Did HRC poll its members before endorsing?”

      Just the dead ones? Or the ones whose ‘membership’ is based on $1.00?

  13. gaylib

    January 25, 2016 at 7:23 am

    A 74 year old straight white man from the whitest state in the country, who has been in congress for 40 years has the nerve to call ANY lgbt organization establishment and you self righteous queens eat it up. Unbelievable.i’m a 45 year old who marched on Washington, worked for multiple AIDS service agencies, and fought for marriage for 20 years. HRC may not be perfect, but I remember hearing about them as part of the struggle. Bernie Sanders? Not so much.

    • Anthony Willroth

      January 25, 2016 at 1:23 pm

      you arent looking very hard, then.

      • I'm Just Sayin'

        January 25, 2016 at 3:22 pm

        I looked and here is what I saw: When given the chance to endorse marriage equality in Vermont, Sanders deemed it “too divisive” and had no issue with relegating his LGBT constituents to the lesser status of civil unions. When faced with tough gun control legislation, he found the precepts “too divisive” and worked to dilute the law. When called on recently to address persistent black inequality and reparations, the so-called democratic socialist deemed the topic “too divisive” and retreated to the political safe zone of providing “more opportunities.” Yet when it comes to pushing the most divisive of all healthcare reform ideas, a single payer system, Sanders is all in. The difference? Bernie actually believes in a single payer healthcare and is willing to expend his political capital to make it happen. The others not so much.

        • Katrina Rose

          January 25, 2016 at 4:49 pm

          “When given the chance to endorse marriage equality in Vermont, Sanders deemed it “too divisive” and had no issue with relegating his LGBT constituents to the lesser status of civil unions.”

          That’s more than what HRC has consistently demonstrated it is willing to relegate trans people to.

          • I'm Just Sayin'

            January 25, 2016 at 6:28 pm

            Your disappointment in HRC regarding their support for trans people is understandable. Far be it from me to defend their ineptitude, but I do understand why they supported a “T-less” ENDA, and why they risked enraging the transgender community over it.

            HRC had been championing ENDA legislation for years and with Democratic majorities in both Houses in 2007 they were on the brink of getting it passed. Maybe they were wrong in not pushing a fully inclusive bill, but politics is more often about what’s possible than what’s principled. The history of the civil rights movement was one of protections that evolved and expanded over time, adding age discrimination in 1967 and paving the way for groundbreaking disability protections in 1990. So an incremental approach to ENDA was a legitimate strategy, not some sinister plot against the trans-community by HRC.

            However HRC has now proclaimed their mea culpa so there is little chance that they will take a backseat on trans issues ever again guaranteeing that there will be no ENDA without trans protections. House republicans are happy to make sure that a broadbased ENDA bill will never see the light of day regardless of which Democrat HRC endorses or possibly wins the presidency. So, L’s, G’s and B’s can once again join hands with T’s, sing Kumbaya, and suffer discrimination equally for years to come. Happy now?

          • Rebecca Juro

            January 25, 2016 at 6:55 pm

            However, let’s not forget that HRC and everyone paying attention at the time already knew that Bush intended to veto ENDA if it ever made it to his desk, so the effort was a guaranteed exercise in futility from Day One yet they did it anyway.

            Let’s also not forget that HRC Prez Joe Solmonese had sworn up and down in front of an audience of 900 trans people that HRC would no longer endorse non-inclusive legislation, a promise that didn’t even last 2 full weeks before they reneged on it.

            Part of why trans folks are angry and distrust HRC is because we didn’t like their promotion of non-inclusive legislation, but the other part, the part that really enraged us at the time, was that they lied their tails off about it and didn’t even bother to try to honor the public promises they’d made to the trans community.

            If Solmonese had at least been honest, people would have still been angry, but the way that went down made, the way they made promises to a poor and harshly discriminated against community and then casually broke them just days later made the situation 100 times worse.

          • I'm Just Sayin'

            January 26, 2016 at 8:23 am

            A position of “if it won’t fly then lot’s not try” is too simplistic for the political arena. The threat of a veto should not stop an advocacy organization from putting ideological legislation on the President’s desk if they have the votes to make it happen. They are making a statement, demonstrating the depths of their influence, forcing lawmakers on the record and setting the scene for future battles. So strategically HRC pushing ahead made total sense. Losing in the Senate was the bungle in this case.

            For example, Democrats argue that argue that putting ACA repeal legislation on the President’s desk was a waste of time. Again a simplistic view if you think the intent was in fact repeal. However, what that legislation really telegraphs is that Paul Ryan is not John Boehner, that Ryan has control of his members and that Obama is going to have to go through Ryan not around him if he wants to get anything done in his final year.

            HRC lying about supporting an all-inclusive ENDA was clumsy and amateurish and in many ways characterized the way HRC operated during Solmonese’s tenure. We were all underserved and poorly represented during his “leadership,” not just trans-people.

          • Katrina Rose

            January 26, 2016 at 6:28 pm

            “The threat of a veto should not stop an advocacy organization from putting ideological legislation on the President’s desk ”

            And yet you do believe that the threat – still unproven – of ‘not enough votes’ to pass a legitimate ENDA is sufficient to not move forward with a legitimate ENDA.

            Please refer back to my comment about diseased hypocrisy.

          • Katrina Rose

            January 26, 2016 at 6:25 pm

            “HRC had been championing ENDA legislation for years and with Democratic majorities in both Houses in 2007 they were on the brink of getting it passed”

            FAIL.

            Dubya would not have signed it under any circumstances. End of story. End of revisionist political history.

            Now, for the diseased hypocrisy of HRC, all of Gay, Inc. and their defenders: Trans people were told how selfish we were, that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Right? Right.

            Well, there are many more trans people than there are LGBs who have the specific want of a career in the military – and there damn sure are more LGBs over all than there are LGBs who have the specific want a career in the military. But in 2009-10, the specific wants of that specific few were ramrodded into falsely outweighing the needs of the many LGBs and Ts who needed – and, contrary to people who should know better, still need – ENDA.

          • I'm Just Sayin'

            January 26, 2016 at 9:50 pm

            Not sure if you’re just zealous or simply angry Katrina Rose but it’s doubtful that either will translate into an effective strategy for advancing equality for trans people. It must be difficult holding HRC and “Gay Inc.” in such disdain knowing that an inclusive ENDA isn’t possible without their support. My advice is to figure out how to deal with your disappointment in a way that doesn’t involve poking them in the eye with a stick.

  14. Jeremy Hodder

    January 25, 2016 at 11:54 am

    bernie was right, he should have just clarified his statement by saying the ultimate truth the heads of these organizations are the establishment. rather than paint the whole organization call out the ones at the top who are the problem

  15. jeff4justice

    January 26, 2016 at 12:24 am

    HRC = tool of the 1% 2 party system charade.

  16. Daniepwils

    January 27, 2016 at 12:04 pm

    Some gays seem to think that the HRC is all about gays. IT IS NOT. It is called the Human Rights Campaign for a reason. These three things (listed below) alone should disqualify her from even working with the HRC let alone an endorsement for her.

    acquiring hefty sums from Wall Street and the private prison industry: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/hillary-clinton-private-prisons_us_562a3e3ee4b0ec0a389418ec

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/clintons-earn-more-than-25-million-in-speaking-fees-since-january-2014/2015/05/15/52605fbe-fb4d-11e4-9ef4-1bb7ce3b3fb7_story.html

    exporting commercial weapons to foreign countries, who’ve donated to the Clinton Foundation: http://www.ibtimes.com/clinton-foundation-donors-got-weapons-deals-hillary-clintons-state-department-1934187

    and using Iraq as a “business opportunity” http://www.ibtimes.com/campaign-2016-hillary-clinton-pitched-iraq-business-opportunity-us-corporations-2121999

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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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