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LGBT rights vs. ‘religious freedom’ on full display at hearing

Frank, Obergefell testify against First Amendment Defense Act

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First Amendment Defense Act, gay news, Washington Blade
First Amendment Defense Act, gay news, Washington Blade

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho) spoke at a hearing for ‘religious freedom’ on July 12, 2016. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The national debate between LGBT rights and anti-LGBT discrimination in the name of “religious freedom” was on full display Tuesday during a congressional hearing on the First Amendment Defense Act.

The House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform held the three-and-a-half hour hearing on the federal legislation on the one-month anniversary of the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., that left 49 people dead and 53 wounded.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), chair of the committee, said during his opening statement he convened the hearing because free exercise of religion “has been and still is the fundamental part of the foundation of our nation.”

“Religion is part of what so many Americans believe in, that is their choice to believe in,” Chaffetz said. “It does not mean I want to hurt or restrict somebody else of their rights, their pursuit of happiness.”

Introduced by Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) in the U.S. House and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) in the U.S. Senate, the First Amendment Defense Act would block federal government action against individuals and businesses that oppose same-sex marriage on religious grounds, but critics contend it would legalize anti-LGBT discrimination in the name of “religious freedom.”

Opponents of the First Amendment Defense Act say it would allow businesses to withhold benefits from LGBT employees, allow companies to deny time off to an employee to care for a same-sex spouse and permit housing discrimination against same-sex couples.

The legislation has undergone changes since it was first introduced. Among other things, it now would prevent federal government action against individuals and businesses that oppose same-sex marriage and sexual relations outside of marriage as well as action against individuals who support gay nuptials.

Also now excluded from the religious protections the bill affords are federal employees acting within the scope of government, for-profit federal contractors acting within the scope of that contract as well as hospitals and nursing homes for the purposes of visitation and medical treatment.

Both Labrador and Lee testified in favor of the bill before the committee, but didn’t stay to take any questions from committee members.

Lee said the First Amendment Defense Act is necessary as a result of uncertainty felt by opponents of same-sex marriage in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court decision last year in favor of marriage equality nationwide.

“What an individual or an organization believes about marriage is not and never should be any of the government’s business,” Lee said. “It certainly should never be part of the government’s eligibility rubric in distributing licenses, awarding accreditations or issuing grants, and the First Amendment Defense Act simply ensures that this will always remain true in America.”

The legislation has 171 co-sponsors in the House and 37 co-sponsors in the Senate, but only one, Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.), is a Democrat.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), top Democrat on the committee, said during his opening statement the hearing marks a “terribly sad day” for LGBT people and the nation because of the one-month anniversary of the Orlando shooting.

“As I sit here now, it is difficult to imagine a more inappropriate day to hold this hearing,” Cummings said. “Even if you truly believe that being gay is morally wrong, or that people should be allowed to discriminate against gay people, why in the world would you choose today of all days to hold a hearing on this discriminatory legislation? To say this hearing is ill-timed is the understatement of the year.”

Cummings asked during his opening statement for Labrador and Lee to address what is the difference between discriminating against someone for being gay and being black.

“With everything going on in the country right now — these horrific shootings of gay people, black people, police officers — what we should be doing is coming together as a nation, not tearing each other apart, which is exactly what this bill does,” Cummings said.

Responding to Cummings, Labrador insisted in his testimony “our bill does not take away anyone’s rights” or enable discrimination against LGBT people.

“We have gone through painstaking time and effort to make sure that this takes nothing away from any individual, but in a measured way, we protect the right enshrined in the Constitution,” Labrador said.

Representing conservative concerns that inspired the legislation during the hearing was former Atlanta fire chief Kelvin Cochran, who was suspended without pay, then terminated last year after he distributed to subordinates a book he wrote that expressed a biblical condemnation of homosexuality.

“Only a few paragraphs of the 162-page book address teachings, biblical teachings, on marriage and sexuality, verses taken directly from the Holy Scripture,” Cochran said. “Yet the City of Atlanta’s officials, including Mayor Reed made it clear that it was those beliefs that resulted in my suspension, the investigation and my termination.”

Recalling the racial discrimination he faced at the start of his firefighting career, Cochran said he “made a promise that if I were ever in charge no one would have to go through the horrors of discrimination that I endured because I was different from the majority.”

Cochran said that’s why he created a doctrine for Atlanta fire rescue personnel that he said protected every member of the department and the community it serves.

Counterbalancing Cochran among the minority witnesses was Jim Obergefell, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit that won same-sex marriage before the Supreme Court. During the hearing, Obergefell talked about his story as he cared for his dying spouse, John Arthur, but was unable to obtain state recognition of his marriage.

“As important that it is that same-sex couples like John and I have the ability to obtain a civil marriage license in any state of the country, it is also critically important that this constitutional right is not undermined by proposals like this legislation that would subject loving couples like me and John and other LGBTQ people to discrimination,” Obergefell said.

First Amendment Defense Act, gay news, Washington Blade

Jim Obergefell speaks at a hearing about the First Amendment Defense Act. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Former Rep. Barney Frank, who’s gay and in a same-sex marriage, offered testimony against the legislation that was characteristically colorful, saying the measure is “very personal” because it singles out a particular religious tenet for protection under current law.

“This is a legislative enactment that essentially the fact that I live in a loving, committed marriage with another man is somehow a threat to other people’s freedom, and that Congress has to single that out to act against it,” Frank said.

Among other things, Frank condemned the legislation because it would allow a non-profit housing organization to collect taxpayer money, including from LGBT people, and subsequently deny that housing to them on the basis of opposition to same-sex marriage.

Frank also said the legislation would disadvantage children being raised by gay couples by allowing agencies receiving federal grants to deny benefits to same-sex households and, even though the bill excludes federal workers, would allow state workers administering federal programs to discriminate against LGBT people.

Under questioning, Frank said he doesn’t think Cochran should have been fired and admitted he’d support a bill prohibiting the termination of an employee from expressing opposition to same-sex marriage, so long as that opinion isn’t relevant to the position, but doesn’t think the First Amendment Defense Act accomplishes that.

Katherine Franke, a law professor and director of Columbia University’s Center for Gender & Sexuality Law, testified against the legislation on the basis that it “creates an absolute immunity for opponents of same-sex marriage.”

“Even more worrisome than the fact that FADA is creating a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist, FADA does not defend, but rather violates the First Amendment,” Franke said. “It does so by unsettling the delicate balance our Constitution and our courts have struck between protecting the free exercise of religion and preventing the establishment of religion by the federal government.”

Under any reading of the bill, Franke said the First Amendment Defense Act wouldn’t provide relief to Cochran because it would “never address” the facts of his termination as Atlanta fire chief.

Kristen Waggoner, senior counsel and senior vice president of U.S. legal advocacy for the anti-LGBT Alliance Defending Freedom, testified in favor of the bill on the basis the protections it affords are narrowly crafted.

“We’ve already today heard tall tales that Americans will lose rights under FADA if it is adopted,” Waggoner said. “Let us be clear that is not true. FADA is very limited in scope and it does not take away civil rights protections. Any suggestion to the contrary is not supported by the bill’s text.”

Matthew Franck, a political science professor from the New Jersey-based Witherspoon Institute, said the bill is needed because the Supreme Court’s marriage decision “cast a shadow” on “religious freedom.”

“The reasonable belief that the true meaning of marriage is its traditional meaning, the conjugal union of a man and a woman, can be expected to persist among millions of our fellow citizens,” Franck said. “In part, this is because that view is supported by their religious faith, though moral convictions on this subject can be strongly held for non-religious reasons, too.”

Franck compared the First Amendment Defense Act to the Hyde Amendment, which passed in 1976 to bar federal government payments on abortion after the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed a woman’s right to the procedure in the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.

Republicans on the committee expressed support for the bill as a means to protect “religious freedom” while Democrats said it would undermine LGBT rights. Generally, the committee members sought validation of their views by questioning witnesses in line with their perspective without seeking comment from the other side.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said language in the First Amendment Defense Act defining D.C. as part of the federal government would effectively “make the capital of the nation a discrimination zone” for LGBT people.

“On behalf of the people that I represent in the District of Columbia of every sexual orientation, I’m deeply offended by this bill because it is not only an attack an our own LGBTQ community’s rights we have gone very far in protecting, but it is an attack on the sovereignty of the District of Columbia itself,” Norton said.

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), a committee member and founder of the House Freedom Caucus, was among the Republicans expressing indignation over Cochran’s firing, saying “people like Cochran are heroes.”

“That is exactly why we have a First Amendment,” Jordan said. “You do not have to check your beliefs, right? That’s what this country is about when you talk about the First Amendment. You have to check your beliefs at the door? Are you kidding me? That’s why this bill is so important.”

The next steps for the legislation weren’t immediately known. Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), who filled in as chair of the committee after Chaffetz departed, obtained commitments from Franke and Waggoner to come to an agreement on a change to the bill that would ensure it doesn’t impinge on federal civil rights law.

House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform didn’t respond to the Washington Blade on when, if at all, the committee would seek to move the legislation for a vote on the House floor.

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Top 10 Blade news stories by web traffic

COVID breakthroughs, Equality Act, and anti-trans attacks

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Elliot Page created excitement by posting his first photo in swim trunks back in May.

Each year our staff gathers in late December to review the highest trafficked stories of the year and there’s more than a little bit of competitive spirit as we review the results. Here are the top 10 stories by web traffic at  HYPERLINK “http://washingtonblade.com”washingtonblade.com for 2021.

#10: Mark Glaze, gun reform advocate, dies at 51

The sad, tragic story of Glaze’s death captivated readers in November. 

#9: COVID breakthrough infections strike summer tourists visiting Provincetown

This one went viral in July after a COVID outbreak was blamed on gay tourists.

#8: Thank you, Kordell Stewart, for thoughtful response to ‘the rumor’

This opinion piece thanked the former NFL quarterback for writing a personal essay addressing gay rumors. 

#7: Elliot Page tweets; trans bb’s first swim trunks #transjoy #transisbeautiful

The actor created excitement by posting his first photo in swim trunks back in May.

#6: Romney declares opposition to LGBTQ Equality Act

Mitt Romney disappointed activists with his announcement; the Equality Act passed the House but never saw a vote in the Senate.

#5: White House warns state legislatures that passing anti-trans bills is illegal

The year 2021 saw a disturbing trend of GOP-led legislatures attacking trans people.

#4: Lincoln Project’s avowed ignorance of Weaver texts undercut by leaked communications

The Lincoln Project’s leaders, amid a scandal of co-founder John Weaver soliciting sexual favors from young men, have asserted they were unaware of his indiscretions until the Blade obtained electronic communications that called that claim into question.

#3: FOX 5’s McCoy suspended over offensive Tweet

Blake McCoy tweeted that obese people shouldn’t get priority for the COVID vaccine. 

#2: Transgender USAF veteran trapped in Taliban takeover of Kabul

Among the Americans trapped in the suburban areas of Kabul under Taliban control was a transgender government contractor for the U.S. State Department and former U.S. Air Force Sergeant. She was later safely evacuated.

#1: Amid coup chaos, Trump quietly erases LGBTQ protections in adoption, health services

And our most popular story of 2021 was about the Trump administration nixing regulations barring federal grantees in the Department of Health & Human Services from discriminating against LGBTQ people, including in adoption services.

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CDC still falling short on LGBTQ data collection for COVID patients: expert

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COVID-19 vaccine, gay news, Washington Blade
The CDC is still not issuing guidance to states on LGBTQ data collection among COVID patients.

Despite requests since the start of the COVID pandemic for the U.S. government to enhance data collection for patients who are LGBTQ, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention is still falling short on issuing nationwide guidance to states on the issue, a leading expert health on the issue told the Blade.

With a renewed focus on COVID infections reaching new heights just before the start of the holidays amid the emergence of Omicron, the absence of any LGBTQ data collection — now across both the Trump and Biden administrations — remains a sore point for health experts who say that information could be used for public outreach.

Sean Cahill, director of Health Policy Research at the Boston-based Fenway Institute, said Wednesday major federal entities and hospitals have been collecting data on whether patients identify as LGBTQ for years — such as the National Health & Nutrition Examination Survey, which has been collecting sexual orientation data since the 1990s — but the CDC hasn’t duplicated that effort for COVID even though the pandemic has been underway for two years.

“It’s not like this is a new idea,” Cahill said. “But for some reason, the pandemic hit, and all of a sudden, we realize how little systematic data we were collecting in our health system. And it’s a real problem because we’re two years into the pandemic almost, and we still don’t know how it’s affecting this vulnerable population that experiences health disparities in other areas.”

The Blade was among the first outlets to report on the lack of efforts by the states to collect data on whether a COVID patient identifies as LGBTQ, reporting in April 2020 on the absence of data even in places with influential LGBTQ communities. The CDC hasn’t responded to the Blade’s requests for nearly two years on why it doesn’t instruct states to collect this data, nor did it respond this week to a request for comment on this article.

Cahill, who has published articles in the American Journal of Public Health on the importance of LGBTQ data collection and reporting in COVID-19 testing, care, and vaccination — said he’s been making the case to the CDC to issue guidance to states on whether COVID patients identify as LGBTQ since June 2020.

Among those efforts, he said, were to include two comments he delivered to the Biden COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force in spring 2021, a letter a coalition of groups sent to the Association of State & Territorial Health Officers asking for states to collect and report SOGI in COVID in December 2020 as well as letters to HHS leadership and congressional leadership in spring and summer 2020 asking for them to take steps to encourage or require SOGI data collection in COVID.

Asked what CDC officials had to say in response when he brought this issue to their attention, Cahill said, “They listen, but they don’t really tell me anything.”

“We’ve been making that case, and to date, as of December 22, 2021, they have not issued guidance, they have not changed the case report form. I hope that they’re in the process of doing that, and maybe we’ll be pleasantly surprised in January, and they’ll come up with something…I really hope that’s true, but right now they’re not doing anything to promote SOGI data collection and reporting in surveillance data.”

Cahill, in an email to the Blade after the initial publication of this article, clarified CDC has indicated guidance on LGBTQ data collection for COVID patients may come in the near future.

“HHS leaders told us this fall that CDC is working on an initiative to expand SOGI data collection,” Cahill said. “We are hopeful that we will see guidance early in 2022. Key people at CDC, including Director Walensky, understand the importance of SOGI data collection given their long history of working on HIV prevention.”

In other issues related to LGBTQ data collection, there has been a history of states resisting federal mandates. The Trump administration, for example, rescinded guidance calling on states to collect information on whether foster youth identified as LGBTQ after complaints from states on the Obama-era process, much to the consternation of LGBTQ advocates who said the data was helpful.

The White House COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force has at least recognized the potential for enhancing LGBTQ data collection efforts. Last month, it published an implementation plan, calling for “an equity-centered approach to data collection, including sufficient funding to collect data for groups that are often left out of data collection (e.g….LGBTQIA+ people).”

The plan also calls for “fund[ing] activities to improve data collection…including tracking COVID-19 related outcomes for people of color and other underserved populations,” and specifically calls for the collection of LGBTQ data.

The importance of collecting LGBTQ data, Cahill said, is based on its potential use in public outreach, including efforts to recognize disparities in health population and to create messaging for outreach, including for populations that may be reluctant to take the vaccine.

“If we see a disparity, we can say: Why is that?” Cahill said. “We could do focus groups of the population — try to understand and then what kind of messages would reassure you and make you feel comfortable getting a vaccine, and we could push those messages out through public education campaigns led by state local health departments led by the federal government.”

The LGBTQ data, Cahill said, could be broken down further to determine if racial and ethnic disparities exist within the LGBTQ population, or whether LGBTQ people are likely to suffer from the disease in certain regions, such as the South.

“We have data showing that lesbian or bisexual women, and transgender people are less likely to be in preventive regular routine care for their health,” Cahill said. “And so if that’s true, there’s a good chance that they’re less likely to know where to get a vaccine, to have a medical professional they trust to talk to about it today.”

Among the leaders who are supportive, Cahill said, is Rachel Levine, assistant secretary for health and the first openly transgender person confirmed by the U.S. Senate for a presidential appointment. Cahill said he raised the issue with her along with other officials at the Department of Health & Human Services three times in the last year.

In her previous role as Pennsylvania secretary of health, Levine led the way and made her state the first in the nation to set up an LGBTQ data collection system for COVID patients.

“So she definitely gets it, and I know she’s supportive of it, but we really need the CDC to act,” Cahill said.

Although the federal government has remained intransigent in taking action, Cahill said the situation has improved among states and counted five states — California, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Nevada and Oregon — in addition to D.C. as among those that have elected to collect data on sexual orientation and gender identity of COVID patients.

However, Cahill said even those data collection efforts are falling short because those jurisdictions have merely been public about collecting the data, but haven’t reported back anything yet.

“Only California has reported data publicly, and the data that they’re reporting is really just the completeness of the data,” Cahill said. “They’re not reporting the data itself…And they’re also just asking people who tests positive. So, if somebody says positive COVID in California, a contact tracer follows up with that individual and asks them a battery of questions, and among the questions that are asked are SOGI questions.”

As a result of these efforts, Cahill said, California has data on the LGBTQ status of COVID patients, but the data is overwhelmingly more complete for the gender identity of these patients rather than their sexual orientation. As of May 2021, California reported that they had sexual orientation data for 9.5 percent of individuals who had died from COVID and 16 percent of people who tested positive, but for gender identity, the data were 99.5 percent.

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Equality Act, contorted as a danger by anti-LGBTQ forces, is all but dead

No political willpower to force vote or reach a compromise

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Despite having President Biden in the White House and Democratic majorities in both chambers of Congress, efforts to update federal civil rights laws to strengthen the prohibition on discrimination against LGBTQ people by passing the Equality Act are all but dead as opponents of the measure have contorted it beyond recognition.

Political willpower is lacking to find a compromise that would be acceptable to enough Republican senators to end a filibuster on the bill — a tall order in any event — nor is there the willpower to force a vote on the Equality Act as opponents stoke fears about transgender kids in sports and not even unanimity in the Democratic caucus in favor of the bill is present, stakeholders who spoke to the Blade on condition of anonymity said.

In fact, there are no imminent plans to hold a vote on the legislation even though Pride month is days away, which would be an opportune time for Congress to demonstrate solidarity with the LGBTQ community by holding a vote on the legislation.

If the Equality Act were to come up for a Senate vote in the next month, it would not have the support to pass. Continued assurances that bipartisan talks are continuing on the legislation have yielded no evidence of additional support, let alone the 10 Republicans needed to end a filibuster.

“I haven’t really heard an update either way, which is usually not good,” one Democratic insider said. “My understanding is that our side was entrenched in a no-compromise mindset and with [Sen. Joe] Manchin saying he didn’t like the bill, it doomed it this Congress. And the bullying of hundreds of trans athletes derailed our message and our arguments of why it was broadly needed.”

The only thing keeping the final nail from being hammered into the Equality Act’s coffin is the unwillingness of its supporters to admit defeat. Other stakeholders who spoke to the Blade continued to assert bipartisan talks are ongoing, strongly pushing back on any conclusion the legislation is dead.

Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said the Equality Act is “alive and well,” citing widespread public support he said includes “the majority of Democrats, Republicans and independents and a growing number of communities across the country engaging and mobilizing every day in support of the legislation.”

“They understand the urgent need to pass this bill and stand up for LGBTQ people across our country,” David added. “As we engage with elected officials, we have confidence that Congress will listen to the voices of their constituents and continue fighting for the Equality Act through the lengthy legislative process.  We will also continue our unprecedented campaign to grow the already-high public support for a popular bill that will save lives and make our country fairer and more equal for all. We will not stop until the Equality Act is passed.”

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), chief sponsor of the Equality Act in the Senate, also signaled through a spokesperson work continues on the legislation, refusing to give up on expectations the legislation would soon become law.

“Sen. Merkley and his staff are in active discussions with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to try to get this done,” McLennan said. “We definitely see it as a key priority that we expect to become law.”

A spokesperson Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who had promised to force a vote on the Equality Act in the Senate on the day the U.S. House approved it earlier this year, pointed to a March 25 “Dear Colleague” letter in which he identified the Equality Act as one of several bills he’d bring up for a vote.

Despite any assurances, the hold up on the bill is apparent. Although the U.S. House approved the legislation earlier this year, the Senate Judiciary Committee hasn’t even reported out the bill yet to the floor in the aftermath of the first-ever Senate hearing on the bill in March. A Senate Judiciary Committee Democratic aide, however, disputed that inaction as evidence the Equality Act is dead in its tracks: “Bipartisan efforts on a path forward are ongoing.”

Democrats are quick to blame Republicans for inaction on the Equality Act, but with Manchin withholding his support for the legislation they can’t even count on the entirety of their caucus to vote “yes” if it came to the floor. Progressives continue to advocate an end to the filibuster to advance legislation Biden has promised as part of his agenda, but even if they were to overcome headwinds and dismantle the institution needing 60 votes to advance legislation, the Equality Act would likely not have majority support to win approval in the Senate with a 50-50 party split.

The office of Manchin, who has previously said he couldn’t support the Equality Act over concerns about public schools having to implement the transgender protections applying to sports and bathrooms, hasn’t responded to multiple requests this year from the Blade on the legislation and didn’t respond to a request to comment for this article.

Meanwhile, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who declined to co-sponsor the Equality Act this year after having signed onto the legislation in the previous Congress, insisted through a spokesperson talks are still happening across the aisle despite the appearances the legislation is dead.

“There continues to be bipartisan support for passing a law that protects the civil rights of Americans, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” said Annie Clark, a Collins spokesperson. “The Equality Act was a starting point for negotiations, and in its current form, it cannot pass. That’s why there are ongoing discussions among senators and stakeholders about a path forward.”

Let’s face it: Anti-LGBTQ forces have railroaded the debate by making the Equality Act about an end to women’s sports by allowing transgender athletes and danger to women in sex-segregated places like bathrooms and prisons. That doesn’t even get into resolving the issue on drawing the line between civil rights for LGBTQ people and religious freedom, which continues to be litigated in the courts as the U.S. Supreme Court is expected any day now to issue a ruling in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia to determine if foster care agencies can reject same-sex couples over religious objections.

For transgender Americans, who continue to report discrimination and violence at high rates, the absence of the Equality Act may be most keenly felt.

Mara Keisling, outgoing executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, disputed any notion the Equality Act is dead and insisted the legislation is “very much alive.”

“We remain optimistic despite misinformation from the opposition,” Keisling said. “NCTE and our movement partners are still working fruitfully on the Equality Act with senators. In fact, we are gaining momentum with all the field organizing we’re doing, like phone banking constituents to call their senators. Legislating takes time. Nothing ever gets through Congress quickly. We expect to see a vote during this Congress, and we are hopeful we can win.”

But one Democratic source said calls to members of Congress against the Equality Act, apparently coordinated by groups like the Heritage Foundation, have has outnumbered calls in favor of it by a substantial margin, with a particular emphasis on Manchin.

No stories are present in the media about same-sex couples being kicked out of a restaurant for holding hands or transgender people for using the restroom consistent with their gender identity, which would be perfectly legal in 25 states thanks to the patchwork of civil rights laws throughout the United States and inadequate protections under federal law.

Tyler Deaton, senior adviser for the American Unity Fund, which has bolstered the Republican-led Fairness for All Act as an alternative to the Equality Act, said he continues to believe the votes are present for a compromise form of the bill.

“I know for a fact there is a supermajority level of support in the Senate for a version of the Equality Act that is fully protective of both LGBTQ civil rights and religious freedom,” Deaton said. “There is interest on both sides of the aisle in getting something done this Congress.”

Deaton, however, didn’t respond to a follow-up inquiry on what evidence exists of agreeing on this compromise.

Biden has already missed the goal he campaigned on in the 2020 election to sign the Equality Act into law within his first 100 days in office. Although Biden renewed his call to pass the legislation in his speech to Congress last month, as things stand now that appears to be a goal he won’t realize for the remainder of this Congress.

Nor has the Biden administration made the Equality Act an issue for top officials within the administration as it pushes for an infrastructure package as a top priority. One Democratic insider said Louisa Terrell, legislative affairs director for the White House, delegated work on the Equality Act to a deputy as opposed to handling it herself.

To be sure, Biden has demonstrated support for the LGBTQ community through executive action at an unprecedented rate, signing an executive order on day one ordering federal agencies to implement the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year in Bostock v. Clayton County to the fullest extent possible and dismantling former President Trump’s transgender military ban. Biden also made historic LGBTQ appointments with the confirmation of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Rachel Levine as assistant secretary of health.

A White House spokesperson insisted Biden’s team across the board remains committed to the Equality Act, pointing to his remarks to Congress.

“President Biden has urged Congress to get the Equality Act to his desk so he can sign it into law and provide long overdue civil rights protections to LGBTQ+ Americans, and he remains committed to seeing this legislation passed as quickly as possible,” the spokesperson said. “The White House and its entire legislative team remains in ongoing and close coordination with organizations, leaders, members of Congress, including the Equality Caucus, and staff to ensure we are working across the aisle to push the Equality Act forward.”

But at least in the near-term, that progress will fall short of fulfilling the promise of updating federal civil rights law with the Equality Act, which will mean LGBTQ people won’t be able to rely on those protections when faced with discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

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