The Washington Blade recently spoke with bisexual activists in the U.S., Australia, Brazil, China, France, Kenya, New Zealand, the Philippines, Serbia, South Africa, Spain and the U.K. They all said they are fighting stereotypes while seeking more visibility.
Here is what they said.
Connecting with the global bisexual movement is often difficult for Australian advocates because of their relative isolation compared with many of the other major cities in the world, according to Sally Goldner, who is a bisexual and transgender advocate.
“It’s one of those sad things of how this planet formed that Australia seems to be a large way away from major population centers,” said Goldner. “It’s hard for us to get somewhere else and for everyone else to come here, but it’s really cool when either happens.”
“Legally, bisexual people have it as well as gays and lesbians in Australia,” added Goldner. “But it’s about making sure that people realize bisexuality is separate and that researchers separate it out from gay and lesbian.”
Goldner is the treasurer of Bisexual Alliance Victoria, a Melbourne discussion group born out of Bi Victoria, which had mainly focused on social events.
“I block out our discussion group every month to make sure I go there. It’s a safe space,” said Goldner. “I’ve heard bi people say that this is the only space I can be myself. We’ve had people talk about deep personal stuff because they know it’s safe.”
Misty Farquhar, another Australian advocate, is based out of Perth, which is across the continent from Goldner. While they often collaborate and share stories, Farquhar says Perth is quite different from the “equality bubble” of Melbourne.
“There is no funding for LGBTI issues anywhere in Western Australia,” said Farquhar. “The idea of getting funding for a bi-specific program is just not happening.”
Farquhar’s work centers around bringing people together to connect and offer each other support.
“We’re all really keen, but no one has funding,” said Farquhar. “I want people to feel like they’re not alone.”
Natasha Avital was the second person that Daniela Furtado contacted in forming Bi-Sides, a collective of bisexual people working to empower each other in São Paulo.
Bi-Sides was formed out of a frustration and anger about the lack of representation for bisexual people in LGBT spaces.
“Building our community is the most important thing for us right now,” said Avital.
“When bisexual people try to work only in LGBT groups, we get worn out really fast,” added Avital. “It feels like screaming in an empty room if you’re only working in groups that are not specific to bisexuals.”
Avital said one of the most important events that Bi-Sides has organized brought together psychologists to break myths and destroy a lot of the “pathologization of bisexuality” which is often made the scapegoat for misdiagnoses.
“There have been stories of people’s therapists who say things like ‘Oh, you only think you’re bisexual because of this trauma you faced’” said Avital, touching on the issue of sexual violence. “We’re empowering each other to be able to answer biphobia. I think a lot of people did not expect that we were not going to take it anymore.”Social media has made the work of Bi-Sides much easier. Before Facebook, they often struggled to get more than 10 people to an event or meeting, but now their reach has grown rapidly.
“People tell me that this is the only place they feel safe to talk about this,” said Avital. “I think a lot of the best discussions thinking critically about bisexuality come from Facebook and blog posts than from academic places. It makes things easier to share stories and ask questions.”
Stephanie Wang is one of the Chinese advocates behind the country’s first handbook of bisexuality created to educate LGBT and non-LGBT spaces about what it means to be bisexual.
“Being LGBT in China is actually a very foreign concept,” said Wang. “We have a very long history of same-sex eroticism in China’s dynasties, but we never really had a name for it. LGBT as distinct identity categories has a distinct political meaning.”
A lot of the work for advocates is simply around education about the existence of LGBT identities.
“One of the main challenges for the bisexual movement in China is that I think identity politics cannot work for bisexuals,” said Wang. “Bisexual as an identity category is considered as ambiguous, as a phase to either being straight or gay. Bisexuality is not really considered an essential identity by many people.”
Bisexual people face prejudice from both conservative and liberal communities who deny its existence, explained Wang.
Chinese bisexual advocates are focusing on collaboration with other community groups and in online forums to clear these rampant misunderstandings about bisexuality. They are starting to collect oral histories of bisexual people in China to share their stories and the diversity of their experiences.
“In our group, we don’t define bisexuals. We don’t define pansexuals. We have multiple meanings for people to be themselves,” said Wang. “I think the next step is to continue to welcome more stories and more experiences that cannot be shared within lesbian, gay communities which will stigmatize them for their sexual adversities.”
Hilde Vossen has become one of the threads weaving together a network for the global bisexual community. So many of the advocates who responded to the Blade’s request for interviews were sent by Vossen, a fact of which they are quite proud.
“I see that there are people longing for a global bisexual movement that is a serious exchange of information,” said Vossen. “I started typing, and I did not stop.”
Vossen has been coordinating the European Bisexual Network for more than 15 years, and is the Alternative Bisexual Secretariat for ILGA World via the Dutch Bisexual Network. But they’ve been involved in the movement for over 25 years.
“I like to get to know people better and see what they like to do, to see their creativity and see the fun they make out of their bisexual activism,” said Vossen. “That’s also very inspiring to me.”
Vossen came out while they were in university, and has not stopped working for the community since.
“I started off with simply preparing sandwiches and ended up speaking for the United Nations,” laughed Vossen, who uses gender-neutral pronouns to refer to themself.
While the Dutch bisexual community itself is still small, it have been ambitious in connecting with the broader European network.
“We had the first European bisexual conference in Rotterdam in 2001, and we had the third in 2016 in Amsterdam,” said Vossen. “So we are a bunch of crazy people here.”
“I still like to do it, because the work keeps on renewing itself,” added Vossen. “And I can do what I’m good at, which is connecting people.”
While she lives in France, Soudeh Rad’s work crosses borders to reach out to Farsi speakers around the world. She started in the feminist movement, but quickly found herself needing to carve out a space for her bisexual identity.
“Being a feminist means being active and having this belief in gender equality which comes with sexuality and all identities,” said Rad. “I constantly had to justify myself.”
Rad helped to launch dojensgara.org, which provides resources in Farsi around topics facing bisexual people.
“When we wanted to launch the website, we realized that there was absolutely no information about bisexuality and pansexuality,” said Rad. “Everyone was talking about monosexuality as though people are either homosexuals or heterosexuals, and bisexuality did not exist.”
Because of her background in the feminist movement, Dojensgara launched on International Women’s Day three years ago, but the backlash from the feminist movement was intense.
“We had an activist coming out,” said Rad. “The first reaction was to question, ‘Oh so these people are leaving our movement and launching their own thing right now? What kind of expert are you?’ I’m just a person. I didn’t change anything.”
Rad’s work covers a multitude of topics from sexual health education to training professionals around bisexuality. Her goal is to get people talking about bisexuality so that larger issues such as the stigma facing bisexual asylum seekers can be addressed.
“Bisexual and nonmonosexual asylum seekers are the people who need the most help,” said Rad. “They come from societies where bisexuality is erased and people do not know about it. We have cases where they have to say that they’re gay or lesbian so that they are sure they’re going to get their asylum accepted.”
“We should recognize that bisexuals and other nonmonosexuals are the minority being put into the minority again and again,” said Rad. “This is happening in all countries. This is the asylum-seeking and immigration crisis we are facing.”
Bisexual is a political label that Jackson Otieno has had to take on as an activist in Kenya doing work for the LGBT community.
“I and many others find ourselves in a situation to use that label until people understand it,” said Otieno.
The bisexual community in Kenya does not yet have organizing power in large part, said Otieno, to the work still remaining for the LGBT community as a whole.
“There have been attempts to organize around bisexuality but the timing is not right,” Otieno said. “It has taken a backseat but there is a bisexual community.”
“Like most former British colonies, sodomy laws are still in Kenya’s criminal codes,” said Otieno. “We are currently petitioning the government and constitutional courts to have it removed.”
Otieno sees the work needing to encompass not just laws but also begin at the grassroots level of villages to address the homophobia and violence that LGBT Kenyans face which is often religiously motivated.
“As much as these faiths don’t agree on a lot of things, anti-homosexuality is one they can agree on,” said Otieno. “They are really just scapegoats being used in this rhetoric.”
“All of the progress has been slow, but the effect is that one victory builds onto the next,” he added.
“I just have this general feeling from a lot of observation that from the minute we start organizing around bisexuality, I think we will have such a huge number of people willing to get on board,” said Otieno. “Our biggest challenge will be motivating people who do not want to engage politically in anything.”
Hattie Plant is a student at Victoria University of Wellington, and still new to the “movement.”
“I only worked out that I was bisexual last year, so I’m still easing into it,” said Plant. “I’m very much a small-scale person.”
Victoria University’s LGBT group called UniQ has provided a sense of community for Plant, even if she hasn’t been able to make it to a meeting yet due to class schedules.
“I’m active on their Facebook group,” said Plant. “There’s a lot of people on there who post questions asking our opinions – or if they’ve got questions about an identity that isn’t theirs.”
“It’s a mix of activism and community,” said Plant. “They have alternating movie nights and discussions around stuff. It’s more serious than just hanging out as a casual, like-minded group.”
Plant hopes to work with high school students one day to provide support around issues of LGBT identity and mental health.
“My teachers were no help at all,” said Plant. “I currently work with students just tutoring them, so I think it would be nice to be that voice that’s just slightly more relatable in a lot of ways.”
Fire Sia is one of three co-founders of Side B Philippines, an organization of bisexual people working to educate and advocate for the bisexual community.
“We are a young organization, just a year old but we have gained strong visibility in the LGBT activist space in Manila,” said Sia.
A lot of Side B’s work is focused on combating the widespread misunderstanding of bisexuality as an identity, even from other LGBT people.
“In the gay community, they see bisexuality as some sort of a dress code,” said Sia. “This means that many gay men identify as bi because they are masculine or straight-acting.”
“Many believe that it is a phase, which I am certain it is not — at least in my case,” said Sia.
“Being bi is also seen as a ‘single phase,’” added Sia. “This means that we are only seen as bi when we are single. Our identity and orientation is expected to change depending on the sex of our partner.”
Side B is focused on education and advocating for employment equality for bisexual people in the Philippines.
“We have a long way to go, but we feel like we’re on the right track,” said Sia.
Radica Hura is a bisexual activist taking a break from organizing.
“It’s an activist burnout,” said Hura. “People were not cruel, but they were asking me all these questions about how can you be bisexual and be from Serbia? Isn’t it a cultural thing?”
She organized two bisexual visibility days, but bisexuality is still incredibly misunderstood in Serbian society. Serbia has some laws that protect LGBT people and just elected an openly lesbian prime minister, but at the fundamental level, Hura says that there are a lot of problems.
“If you’re a non-heterosexual man living an ordinary life, then you will struggle,” said Hura. “People here accept their sexual side of their bisexuality, and they’re okay with having sex with the same sex and meeting the same sex, but they have problems accepting that it’s a part of their identity.”
“When it comes to women, [bisexuality] is not even observed seriously,” added Hura. “In their sexual identity, it is accepted because it is part of the male gaze. It is nice to see two girls kissing, but if women are accepted as sexual beings who are attracted to other women and fall in love, then they are starting to lose their mind because of it.”
“When I see how they are not observed seriously, I even start to doubt myself,” said Hura. “In one period in my life I was asking myself if I am really bisexual. People are asking that question all the time.”
“I’d like to see more bisexual people in Serbia actually say it — even just to their families and friends. Without saying it publicly, there is just silence,” said Hura. “There are so many couples who are actually bisexual, but they’re not saying it. Saying it is enough for me, it’s a step ahead.”
When Werner Pieterse came out as bisexual, he could not find any spaces that specialized in serving the bisexual community in South Africa.
He decided to create his own.
“I started by reaching out to places in South Africa that might know where i could meet other bisexual people, but no one knew of anything,” said Pieterse. “I started reaching out to support groups in the USA and Canada, which was such a liberating experience but Skype is not the same as someone that’s literally here that you can touch.”
“I’d like to believe that this support group is the first of its kind,” said Pieterse.
The group’s first meeting was in May, and they welcome people of all identities to the space to talk about issues unique to bisexual identity.
“The amount of people that are interested is just overwhelming,” said Pieterse.
Pieterse described a large gap in education and knowledge of the LGBT community due in large part to the massive jump in legislation within the last twenty years. In just 1996, the country decriminalized homosexuality. Only 10 years later, South Africa became the fifth country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage.
“So many of the bisexual people in South Africa are still closeted, and I think that’s because it’s still stigmatized,” said Pieterse. “We are ahead in some cases, but society has a lot of catching up to do as well. I think if you give it another 10 to 15 years, it will be a much different landscape.”
“It’s one of the reasons why I want to be as out as possible,” added Pieterse, showing off the pockets of his jean jacket that he had embellished with the bisexual flag. “A year ago I wasn’t even thinking about what I’m doing right now, and I’m so grateful that it happened.”
Carlos Castaño says he was one of about five bisexual advocates behind organizing the year of bisexual visibility for the LGBT Federation in Spain last year.
“None of us realized the impact this year would have on our lives,” said Castaño.
The federation had a bisexual network, but it had collapsed in part due to anger about the lack of bisexual visibility in their work.
“The bisexual network is incredibly weak and we are working to bring it back to life again,” said Castaño. “In Spain, right now, there is a lot of individual work for bisexual visibility, but there are not many groups organized for their activism.”With the help of the larger federation, Castaño and the other advocates organized events throughout the year from round tables about bisexual visibility to events that taught people inclusive sexual health.
“It was in this year that I felt that I was a part of the LGBT community which I have never felt before,” said Castaño. “When we started the bi year I felt a lot of skepticism, but month by month I could see how the main coordinators of the federation realized the importance of bi visibility.”
“Being a bisexual activist has made me feel like I’m a part of something bigger,” added Castaño.
“It’s also a lonely task. It feels lonely when there’s such a massive amount of work,” said Castaño. “Sometimes it feels like you’re working in the dark because you don’t know the needs of all the bisexual people in Spain. I didn’t know if I was the only one who was interested in all of these things that felt historical for the movement.”
For a long time, Edward Lord was afraid to come out as bisexual. He clung to a gay identity, having what he refers to as “surreptitious affairs” with women.
“I went to an all male school from the age of seven through eighteen, and my initial sexual and romantic experiences were with guys of my age. So, when I arrived at University in 1990, I immediately openly identified as gay,” said Lord.
Because of the rampant biphobia in LGBT activist spaces in which he was working, Lord remained closeted about his bisexuality.
“I vividly remember attending a national LGB students’ conference, the first one where bi people were included, and the biphobia was horrific,” said Lord. “The women’s caucus had morphed into the lesbian caucus with a clear statement that ‘we don’t want any dirty bisexuals in here.’”
Fast forward to 2017, and Edward Lord sits on the board of BiUK and is councilman and justice of the peace in London. He has been responsible for increasing diversity and inclusion work within the government, which saw him recognized by Queen Elizabeth II in 2011.
Lord also serves as deputy chair and bisexual representative on the advisory board for London Pride.
“Pride in London is a day of mixed emotions for me,” said Lord. “Part of that is because the organizers simply don’t recognize that it is harder for some LGBTQ+ people to participate in events like Pride than others. And that includes bi people.”
“It remains the case that bi people of color are less likely to attend LGBT or bi specific events, and that bi spaces are often dominated by middle class and highly educated folk,” said Lord. “This has to change and I am committed to supporting that change where I can.”
Laya Monarez, a bisexual and trans activist and artist, has experienced her bisexuality through a lot of different struggles. As a trans Mexican American woman, she grew up in a culture they describes as “super machismo.”
“Growing up was difficult because I didn’t even completely understand myself because I had so much going on,” said Monarez. “I wasn’t sure if I was gay or straight, but even more complicated than that I was also trans. I didn’t feel comfortable in my body. There was a lot of confusion.”
“The thing about Latinx communities is that our entire culture is very gendered. Even our language is gendered, and it’s deeply rooted in us,” said Monarez. “When you’re a woman, you’re expected to be a certain type of woman. When you’re a man, you’re really expected to be a certain type of man. So when you come out as bisexual, it’s really strange because people don’t know where to put you.”
If you asked Lynnette McFadzen six years ago what they would be doing in 2017, it would not have included speaking on a panel about bisexual representation at San Diego Comic Con. Nor would it have included being among the co-chairs of the National Equality March for Unity and Pride that took place last month in D.C.
“I call myself a worker bee,” said McFadzen. “It’s quite amazing with all the wonderful people I’ve met and all the accidents that have led me to this.”
McFadzen, host of a podcast called “The BiCast” and president of BiNet USA, started coming out just five years ago after a lot of soul-searching. They started a podcast about bisexuality in part because it had been really difficult to find information about bisexuality during their coming out process.
“If I could just reach a couple of people and let them know that they’re okay and there’s nothing wrong with them, then it would be so worth it,” said McFadzen, who also uses gender-neutral pronouns to refer to themselves.
“Our power is that as bisexual people, we see all of these intersections. We have to see that the black community is our community, and their struggles are our struggles,” said McFadzen. “A large population of black and brown, Pacific Islanders, indigenous people, and people of all genders and no genders have suffered in our community.”
“We cannot be exclusionary of anyone because we will be excluding ourselves,” added McFadzen. “As bisexual people, we know what it feels like to be left behind.”
Equality Act, contorted as a danger by anti-LGBTQ forces, is all but dead
No political willpower to force vote or reach a compromise
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.
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
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.
D.C. man charged with 2020 anti-gay death threat rearrested
Defendant implicated in three anti-LGBTQ incidents since 2011
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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