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10 years later, firestorm over gay-only ENDA vote still informs movement

Controversy over bill helped ensure commitment to inclusion

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Protesters demonstrate against the Human Rights Campaign in 2007 over support for a gay-only ENDA.(Washington Blade file photo by Henry Linser)

Ten years ago, a firestorm ignited in the LGBT community over a vote in the U.S. House that many transgender people remember vividly because it excluded them in favor of advancing employment non-discrimination protections to lesbian, gay and bisexual people.

The vote on the “gay-only” version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act on Nov. 7, 2007, rocked the LGBT movement and prompted protests against the Human Rights Campaign and gay former Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who backed the bill, arguing it was the best that could be done at the time. The 10th anniversary of the vote is Tuesday.

But the omission galvanized transgender rights advocates to such an extent that for the next 10 years the LGBT movement committed to moving forward only legislation that included the full community — both at the state and federal level — and today advancement of a sexual-orientation only bill is impossible to imagine.

Dana Beyer, a Chevy Chase, Md.-based transgender activist who’s running for state Senate in Maryland, said the vote on the gay-only version of ENDA was “a landmark” for trans inclusion in the LGBT movement.

“Whenever I discuss the progress that we’ve made, which has been remarkable, I begin there because that was basically the first real battle for the trans community on the national stage and over the succeeding decade, we’ve made incredible progress,” Beyer said.

Beyer added from that time forward after the creation of United ENDA — an unprecedented coalition of more than 400 organizations that emerged to fight against trans exclusion —there have been with few exceptions “no instances of any gay activism or legislation that did not include trans people.”

Rebecca Juro, a New Jersey-based transgender activist and radio show host, said the reaction to the vote on the sexual-orientation only version of ENDA was a significant turning point.

“The reason why Barney Frank was able to introduce and get the kind of support he did in Congress was because there was a feeling [of] who cares, nobody knows about these people,” Juro said. “What that did was it said, ’No, no, no,’ you’re wrong.’ and people are going to call you out and it’s going to cost you politically and people are going to show up at the Human Rights Campaign galas and make it difficult for you to solicit money for your campaign.”

In the year Democrats assumed control of the U.S. House after more than a decade of Republican majorities, then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) brought the gay-only version of ENDA to the floor after Frank determined an initial version of the bill that included protections based on gender identity wouldn’t get a majority vote in the chamber.

That version of ENDA would pass on the House floor by a vote of 235-184. (Among those voting in favor of the bill was Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), although he also voted in favor of a motion to recommit that would have killed the legislation.)

Voting “no” on the legislation were 25 Democrats, many of whom — such as Rep. Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.), former Rep. Anthony Weiner (N.Y.) and former Rep. Michael Michaud (Maine) — rejected the measure on the basis it lacked protections for transgender people. Then-Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), now a U.S. senator and still the only out lesbian in Congress, proposed an amendment to insert gender identity, but withdrew the measure before it could come to a vote.

Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign at the time of the vote, backed ENDA and 10 years later stood by his decision as a means to develop the legislation, citing “no hope of passing any legislation into law” with George W. Bush as president.

“It was a tactical decision to take a step in the direction of getting what we ultimately wanted, which was maybe a non-inclusive bill in the House, and inclusive bill in the Senate that would end up as a fully inclusive bill or that would end up as a fully inclusive bill by the time Obama became president,” Solmonese said.

Recalling a “great deal of debate within the community and the House” about whether sufficient votes for transgender inclusion were present, Solmonese said lawmakers pledged to LGBT activists support for a trans-inclusive bill before, then told Pelosi not bring such a measure to the floor.

“They sort of wanted it both ways,” Solmonese said. “They knew what they were supposed to do, but they didn’t want to do it.”

Frank said the vote on ENDA was “very important” because it paved the way for legislative victories on hate crimes protections and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

“One of the problems we’ve had historically — we don’t have it anymore — is members being afraid to vote for us because they thought they could be defeated, that it would be a tough vote,” Frank said. “So, here we had members voting for a bill that was a broad protections for LGB people and nobody lost because of it. That was very helpful in setting the foundation.”

In his book “A Life in Politics,” Frank recounts the deliberative process that went into bringing the gay-only version of ENDA to the House floor, maintaining Republicans would have sought to amend the bill to remove the transgender protections.

Baldwin disagreed with moving forward without transgender inclusion, Frank wrote, even though she ultimately voted for the bill. (Baldwin’s office didn’t respond to a request to comment for this article.)

“As we approached the final vote, Tammy did her own informal whip count and concluded we would have enough Democratic votes,” Frank wrote. “Speaker Pelosi, a strong supporter of the bill, asked Tammy for her count, checked it herself with the members, and decided that Tammy had been too optimistic — a conclusion that [former Rep. George Miller and I, based on our own work, fully agreed with. We did not have the votes for the inclusive-bill. It was sadly but unmistakably clear to Pelosi, Miller and me that we could pass ENDA only in its earlier form, covering only lesbian, gay and bisexual workers.”

Backing that move was the Human Rights Campaign, which continued to support the gay-only measure as one of five co-signers in a letter to Congress dated Nov. 6, 2007 organized by the Leadership Conference on Civil & Human Rights.

“With each significant step toward progress, the civil rights community has also faced difficult and sometimes even agonizing tradeoffs,” the letter said. “We have always recognized, however, that each legislative breakthrough has paved the way for additional progress in the future. With respect to ENDA, we take the same view.”

That vote sent a shockwave through the transgender community, which quickly marshaled opposition to the bill and protested any further advancement without their protections. Many angrily accused the Human Rights Campaign and Frank of abandoning the transgender community.

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said the vote was “one of the most important things that happened in the movement in the last 20 years.”

“We wanted everything to be about setting up for what the movement was after this vote happened, after the bill died for the year,” Keisling said. “What were the lessons the movement was going to learn, what was the lesson HRC was going to learn, what was the lesson Barney Frank was going to learn?”

The night before the vote, Keisling said, she received a call from Frank’s office and was informed “it was over” a for trans-inclusive version of ENDA. Together with Dave Noble, then policy director of the National LGBTQ Task Force, Keisling said she planned to write a letter to Baldwin in hopes she could influence the vote, but was told the gay-only ENDA would move forward.

That night, Keisling and Noble reached out to the National Center for Lesbian Rights and other groups to form a coalition against the trans omission. By morning more than 60 organizations had joined United ENDA, Keisling said, a coalition that refused to support the gay-only bill and pledged to work with lawmakers to support a trans-inclusive measure.

Keisling said other groups “were calling up slightly annoyed that they hadn’t been asked to sign on” and soon the coalition grew to several hundred members.

“It essentially was because Barney Frank and HRC had totally lost touch with what the community was,” Keisling said. “So they did not understand that this would not be alright with the community and we all found out very quickly in a matter of hours that it really was not, that the movement had really become an LGBT movement and it wasn’t going to fly to take trans people out. So not only were we against the vote happening, we were the leaders of being against the vote happening.”

The gay-only version of ENDA never reached Bush’s desk for his veto, nor did any version of the bill — trans-inclusive or otherwise — come up in the U.S. Senate even though Democrats controlled both chambers of Congress.

Had ENDA been brought to the floor for a vote in the Senate, the sponsor would likely have been the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, who was one of the rare champions of LGBT rights at the time.

Solmonese said he didn’t immediately remember why ENDA never came up in the Senate and said it “may have had to do with timing,” but said Kennedy would only have moved forward with a trans-inclusive bill, not a gay-only ENDA, as part of the strategy for the House vote.

“He understood and supported the rationale of having an overarching strategy,” Solmonese said. “George Bush is the president. This thing’s not going to get passed into law. You do one version in the House, an inclusive version in the Senate, the leadership of both chambers is such that the conference committee would likely end up with something that was fully inclusive, right?”

Keisling, however, said “there was no Senate plan” because the Democratic majority in the chamber was seen as too marginal to advance ENDA, nor did Kennedy ever express an aversion to the gay-only version of the bill.

“The plan was that Barney Frank and HRC thought that it was worth passing the gay-only bill through the House, just move the ball forward and get members on the record as Barney said many times,” Keisling said. “Everyone else believed that since it would never become law that year, we shouldn’t exclude anyone.”

Do the backers of the bill at that time have any regrets? Solmonese acknowledged a few even though he stood by his decision to support ENDA in 2007.

“I regret that I saw it one way, which was a step in building towards what all of us ultimately wanted and by no means a signal that that was the legislation that anybody would ultimately support, but the fact that many people didn’t see it that way and many people simply saw the symbolism around the act as one that was divisive to the community, that was never the intention of HRC or my intention, but I certainly regret that that’s the way that it unfolded,” Solmonese said.

Frank said his “regret was we didn’t have the votes” when asked about his approach and blustered at the suggestion anything else could have been done.

“I think to do nothing at all — that was the argument, if you can’t include everybody, you can’t include anybody — in the first place, that’s not the history of the civil rights movement,” Frank said. “I voted to help protect African Americans and immigrants and women. The civil rights movement…you move as much as you can as soon as you can and you build on that. So do I regret not trying hard to get votes? No, I tried as hard as I could to get the votes.”

‘The pendulum is all the way the other way’

Over the course of 10 years since that vote, it’s hard to imagine Congress — or any other legislative body — passing legislation that excluded transgender people. Each successful version of ENDA introduced and advanced in Congress has been trans inclusive and its supporters have defended that language against any objection it. The Equality Act, the successor to ENDA that would ban anti-LGBT discrimination in employment and in all aspects of civil rights law, has consistently been trans inclusive.

Keisling said the commitment to trans inclusion among LGBT groups is “almost total.”

“Most of the big LGBT organizations, including the legal organizations, the lion’s share of their work now is trans work and, no, I don’t think any of them would intentionally do work to cut trans people out. In fact, there are times that we have to talk people into doing things because they’re afraid trans people will think it means cutting them out when it doesn’t. So, yeah, the pendulum is all the way the other way, and then probably some extra.”

Drew Hammill, a Pelosi spokesperson, pointed to enactment of the Matthew Shepard & James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act and his boss’ support for the Equality Act as evidence of her support for trans inclusion.

“Leader Pelosi was proud to lead the Congress as speaker in passing a fully inclusive hate crimes bill signed into law by President Obama in October of 2009,” Hammill said. “A top priority for the leader is the Equality Act, comprehensive legislation to amend the Civil Rights Act and protect LGBT Americans from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and sex. The leader believes that this legislation would pass the Congress now should Speaker Ryan allow a vote.”

Times have changed for the Human Rights Campaign as well. In 2014, Chad Griffin, the current president of the Human Rights Campaign, apologized on behalf of his organization at the Southern Comfort transgender conference for having “done wrong by the transgender community in the past.”

Transgender work has become a major component of the LGBT group’s work. In recent years, the organization has opposed a gay-only non-discrimination bill in Michigan, worked to thwart the anti-trans House Bill 2 in North Carolina and successfully blocked an anti-trans bathroom bill in Texas. The organization has also opposed non-discrimination measures in Pennsylvania and Charlotte, N.C., without public accommodations protections, which were seen as a backdoor way of leaving out transgender people because of controversy over bathroom use.

Sarah McBride, who’s transgender and press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign, said in the past 10 years the organization is “proudly and unequivocally continuing to fight for trans-inclusive protections” and will only back legislation that is fully inclusive.

“From Michigan to North Carolina to Birmingham, HRC has forcefully and aggressively blocked laws and policies that don’t protect every LGBTQ person from discrimination while fighting to extend robust protections across the country,” McBride said. “We are also working to accelerate the pace of progress in other ways, from raising the visibility of the transgender community, to incentivizing trans-inclusive healthcare through our Corporate Equality Index, to shining a spotlight on the epidemic of anti-transgender violence which is taking the lives of so many trans women of color.”

But 2007 wasn’t the last time there would be fighting within the LGBT community over ENDA. In 2013, major LGBT groups (again with the exception of the Human Rights Campaign) dropped support from a version of ENDA over the scope of its religious exemption, which would have provided leeway for religious institutions, like churches or religious schools, to discriminate against LGBT workers in non-ministerial positions even if the bill were to become law. In a reversal from 2007, the Senate passed the legislation, but it didn’t come up for a vote in the Republican-controlled House.

Although ENDA has never become law, a growing consensus has emerged in the courts that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of sex, also applies to anti-trans discrimination. Four federal appellate courts — the First, Sixth, Ninth and Eleventh circuit courts of appeals — have determined employment discrimination against transgender people is barred under Title VII, as has the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Keisling cautioned against too much reliance on laws against sex discrimination because “things are in flux,” noting U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ withdrawal of support for transgender protections under Title VII and President Trump’s appointment of anti-LGBT judges.

“We’re still convinced that the courts are on our side, cases and decisions have been building up to support us and actually [the idea] trans people are supported by sex discrimination is better supported than that gay people are,” Keisling said. “We just don’t exactly know how that’s going to maintain. We do know that there’s a handful of both sexual orientation and gender identity cases moving up through the court system, so what I say now might not be true a month from now and certainly will be changed somewhat in a year.”

Confidence in the legal landscape for trans protections under Title VII is at such a point that a pending petition filed by Lambda Legal before the U.S. Supreme Court seeking a nationwide ruling for gay protections under the law, but not explicit trans protections, hasn’t registered as trans exclusion. The petition was filed on behalf of lesbian plaintiff Jackie Evans after the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against her.

Beyer said she’s not bothered by the petition and it should only upset transgender activists “who don’t bother to parse the specifics” and recognize the transgender victories in lower courts.

“We could have easily won [trans protections] nationwide first,” Beyer said. “In this case, sexual orientation has been viewed differently and most courts haven’t wanted to touch it until the Hively case in the 7th Circuit took it, and now we’ve got Evans. That’s beginning to change. I’m certainly not at all offended by that because this is the way you go. You have a case and the case can’t equally be broadened to include different classifications simply because the community would like it.”

The social scene, in contrast to advocacy groups and the legal landscape, may not be as advanced in accepting transgender inclusion despite the explosion over ENDA 10 years ago. Transgender rights advocates noted a distinction between the LGBT community at large in accepting transgender people and advocacy groups.

Beyer said she doesn’t see transgender inclusion at the social level “anywhere near as advanced” as the current legal landscape.

“Acceptance, affirmation in the general culture is one thing, but the fact that, say, 35 percent of Americans do know a trans person, doesn’t mean that people are that much more comfortable with trans people,” Beyer said. “I think on balance they are, but not overwhelmingly so.”

Efforts to resist trans inclusion in the movement on occasion still emerge, although they’re rare and don’t represent mainstream LGBT views. In 2015, a petition was posted on Change.org titled “Drop the T” urging major LGBT organizations to “disassociate themselves from the transgender movement and return to representing their base support of gay men and lesbians.” The petition, signed by 3,227 people, had no impact on transgender advocacy at LGBT groups.

But transgender advocates also saw a generational divide in the approach to trans inclusion on the social scene that meets what is now seen at the advocacy level.

Juro said college-aged LGBT activists just beginning to come into the movement have a much different view of trans inclusion than their LGBT elders.

“They’re all like, no, you cannot separate, we’re all in this together and trying to say we’ll get rights for gay people without trans people is unacceptable,” Juro said. “And our youth, let’s be honest, are the ones who are driving the community. There the ones who get out there with the signs and the marches. People my age, 55, and old farts, we’re not always as active as we used to be and these are the kids who are driving the movement.”

In some respects, the transgender movement has evolved in strength to take on challenges on its own. Just recently, the National Center for Transgender Equality formed a 501(c)(4) political arm and the Breakthrough Fund, a political action committee and offshoot of the Trans United Fund run by transgender activists, launched with the goal of electing transgender people to public office.

Beyer said the transgender movement is rising to the occasion now that transgender issues have become the focus after many victories on gay rights.

“I think the grassroots trans community has seized the initiative simply because after marriage, after Obergefell, it seemed like the air went out of the gay balloon,” Beyer said. “On a local level, there are still black trans women being murdered. There’s still difficulty getting jobs for many trans people, particularly the younger ones. So, there’s a lot of work that needs to be done.”

With the LGBT movement changing dramatically, Keisling said “the LGBT movement is quickly becoming a trans movement,” and now she’s concerned “we’re sending signals to the gay community that trans work is more important than gay work.”

Nonetheless, Keisling cited concerns about insufficient trans presence in places where existing infrastructure is based on gay rights, such as states that have state LGBT equality groups, but no trans groups.

“That’s fine as long as the LGBT movement is strong, but after marriage, if the movement’s weakening…that means trans people don’t have enough support from the LGBT group because it’s weakening but they don’t have the ability to have a strong trans group because there’s an LGBT group,” Keisling said. “I think that’s a conversation we have to start having more explicitly.”

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15 Comments

15 Comments

  1. lnm3921

    November 6, 2017 at 11:10 pm

    Will we ever have an ENDA law with all our so-called leadership always derailing it because it’s not pristine and perfect? Recall the last time they derailed it because they felt it was too lenient on religious exemptions. Do you regret that now that you are threatened with religious liberty laws instead that if enacted would likely be used as an excuse for not being able to pass ENDA?

    You had a rare opportunity with the Congress in the hands of the Dems and Obama in office willing to sign it into law. Of course, passing such a law would seemingly undermine the need for GLBT rights organizations, except that like the NAACP, it can never be dissolved because our rights are always under siege and threatened by the likes of the Trump administration!

    • Johnson

      November 7, 2017 at 6:42 pm

      Spot on. Take what you can get to get it off the plate and stop expending resources on it. Then re-focus on what’s left. And I say this as a trans guy.

    • Kemwit Tall Tree

      November 7, 2017 at 9:57 pm

      Ha! At least with Trump you know where you stand! Pretty much doesn’t care.

      Not like with these backstabbing Democrats who love to take all your money and then throw a few crumbs your way!!

      With gay lobbyist groups like the HRC, maybe they’ll convince Congress to pass a law allowing gay men the right to have an abortion. Now that’s real political progress!

      • lnm3921

        November 7, 2017 at 11:55 pm

        You’re an idiot and your assessments a bunch of useless bs! You told me dems could never win elections again yet they won bigly in Virginia and New Jersey tonight and will continue to win going into the mid-terms in 2018! The trump backlash has begun and we’ll Put a stop to his destructive agenda! This is what happens when the true majority gets out to vote!

        The polls also predicted the Dems would win just like they tell us your fake potus has the lowest approval rating since ww2! He wasn’t loved in Virginia or New Jersey you loser!

        • Kemwit Tall Tree

          November 8, 2017 at 7:18 pm

          I could care less if an establishment Republican in the Bush camp loses to a Democrat. I’m an Independent and like Trump.

          Whether you realize it or not, Trump Republicans and the establishment Republicans are enemies and almost diametrically opposed.

          I support Trump cause he will bring change that we need in the political process.

          • lnm3921

            November 8, 2017 at 9:30 pm

            Dimwit, your fake potus only brings division, obnoxiousness and an unwanted agenda! He’s raised the level of the swamp not drained it! You’re still too blind to realize that many Americans are fed up with his antics, his hatred and his lies and his ego! He needs to go and he will! Let the GOP destroy itself with infighting as America is better off! Drums will fill the void which is better for the LGBT community!

            Give it up! Trump is going down! Liberals will learn you!

          • Kemwit Tall Tree

            November 8, 2017 at 9:42 pm

            You’re a buffoon and have no clue what is going on outside of your little bubble world.

            Trump is very popular with everyday folk and will bring more Trumpists into Congress next year. Trumpism as a movement has real momentum! It’s just incredible. YOU can’t stop talking about him either!

            I’m waiting to see the Democratic establishment foundations start to shake in 2018 too! Throw the bums out!

          • lnm3921

            November 9, 2017 at 8:15 pm

            Your god trump could croak tomorrow and there goes your religion! He’s over 71 years old and as fat as a cow!

            There is no difference to people between establishment republicans and trump republicans except to you s”trump”ettes! You all want to screw over the middle class and poor for your selfish tax cut for the rich and corporations! We’re fed up with you and your agenda and you’re going down in 2018!!!

          • Kemwit Tall Tree

            November 9, 2017 at 9:02 pm

            Lol…the DNC will just rig the primaries again and present weak candidates who will get beaten by Republicans!

            If Trump can win the presidency, pretty much anyone can run against and win in contests with the Dems at any level!

          • lnm3921

            November 9, 2017 at 10:21 pm

            The only rigging was done by Russian trolls for trump! Trump was a fluke due to low voter turnout and apathy! Hillary had too much baggage!

            The dnc candidates weren’t weak in Virginia and New Jersey and they won many mayoral races, too! You said they never would wn elections again! You were WRONG about that and are wrong about the future! The backlash against the fake potus will not abate! It will grow in intensity like a tsunami and sweep fens into power again and trump and the. GOP out!

          • Kemwit Tall Tree

            November 10, 2017 at 6:00 am

            More Russia scare-mongering right out of the pages of 1950’s style McCarthyism?

            Now they’re going after Donna Brazile for telling the truth about the total, extreme corruption at the DNC? Tsk Tsk!

            We’ll see!

          • lnm3921

            November 10, 2017 at 12:58 pm

            People have been indicted for Russia and it’s far from over for your Fake POTUS. The Donna Brazile book is just passing distraction only Trump supporters care about like Benghazi!

            As for fear-mongering that’s what you’ve used Muslin for Dimwit. Tsk Tsk that up your glory hole!

  2. PESEL

    November 7, 2017 at 10:37 am

    Excellent piece, especially historically—–

  3. Kate Phillips

    November 7, 2017 at 8:23 pm

    Well, since the Trumpstapo is in office now, this is pretty much moot.

  4. MichaelBedwell

    November 11, 2017 at 1:59 pm

    Sadly, Mr. Johnson proves yet again that size doesn’t matter. For, despite some 3,600 words he repeatedly mischaracterizes both yesterday and today on the subject, beginning with his first sentence which SHOULD read: ” . . . it excluded them in favor of [TRYING to advance] employment non-discrimination protections to lesbian, gay and bisexual people.”

    Again and again, his sloppy writing is exacerbated by his editorial slant. As for Barney Frank, while I disagree with him on a number of things and HRC on MANY things, one CAN fully support transgender equality AND believe *he and HRC was right on this issue. *“I think to do nothing at all—that was the argument, if you can’t include everybody, you can’t include anybody—in the first place, that’s not the history of the civil rights movement. I voted to help protect African Americans and immigrants and women. The civil rights movement…you move as much as you can as soon as you can and you build on that.”

    Their critics are willfully blind to the fact that time has proven them right repeatedly. The LGB-only ENDA failed to pass under Bush—so imagining that a trans inclusive version would have succeeded is ludicrous. Even frequently hyperbolic Rebecca Juro has previously acknowledged it wouldn’t have; that the insistence on “inclusion” was merely symbolic (much like armchair Einsteins’ insistence that Bill Clinton “veto” DADT and DOMA despite the fact their supporters had more than enough votes to override him).

    Even under Obama and with, initially, a Democratically controlled Congress, Frank’s then trans inclusive version failed.That Mr. Johnson doesn’t bother to even mention that Frank introduced that bill is indefensible. Again, even his most rabid critic here, Juro, has praised him for that.

    The Lesson: MORAL Right—and inclusiveness certainly was—is not to be confused with STRATEGIC Right making success possible.

    Further—along with multiple other ridiculous claims such as “35% of Americans know a trans person”—the assertion by the specific transgender activists quoted that not only ALL transgenders agreed with them but also “everyone else” asserts facts not in evidence. More importantly, their argument that the transgender rights movement is stronger BECAUSE of the LGB-only version of ENDA controversy is preposterous; an example of the logical fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc.

    Conversely, logic stands with the fact that the successful advance of LGB rights…….the end of the ban on their open military service and marriage quality……..paved the way for greater support for trans rights. When many in the Movable Middle of politicians saw that the sky did not fall after those changes they became supportive.

    BUT, obviously not enough have (at least among those currently in office), and one thing negatively reinforcing that is one fact the author does get right: “Transgender rights advocates noted a distinction between the LGBT community at large in accepting transgender people and advocacy groups.”

    The often-wiser-in-most-things Kiesling speaks to at least one of the reasons for that— “we’re sending signals to the gay community that trans work is more important than gay work.” That—along with confusing Moral Right with Political Might—has been building walls between our peoples faster than it has been building bridges.

    SELF-righteousness might feel good but if it were enough EVERY oppressed group would have been freed centuries ago. To the contrary, self-righteous is a part of the problem not a part of the solution. And all of us—whether L or G or B or T—deserve better.

    Forward.

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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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