The father of a Silver Spring, Md., transgender woman who died on Jan. 8 says he and his wife are hopeful that their daughter’s legacy will live on through two pending lawsuits she filed to challenge what he calls “shocking” abuse and discrimination she encountered in 2014 while an inmate at a federal prison in West Virginia.
Attorneys representing Paris Leibelson, who was 32 when the alleged prison abuse occurred, filed the lawsuits in 2015 and 2016 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia.
The lawsuits say Paris Leibelson was incarcerated at the prison following a violation of probation stemming from an earlier arrest for purse snatching in D.C. in December 2004, a conviction for the offense in 2005, and subsequent multiple probation violations that landed her back in jail after having been released.
Michael Leibelson, Paris’ father, said her legal problems stemmed mostly from complications associated with heroin addiction with which she struggled since the time she was a teenager.
He said Paris was found dead in the backyard of the family’s Silver Spring house on Jan. 8 behind a cluster of trees and shrubs from an apparent drug overdose. The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of Maryland listed the cause of death as methadone, heroin, and cocaine “intoxication with benzodiazepine use complicated by hypothermia.”
Michael Leibelson said the death was the sad culmination of Paris’ long struggle against addiction that he believes was exacerbated by the abuse she suffered in prison.
The lawsuits charge that officials at the all-male Federal Correctional Institution at Beckley, West Virginia, where Paris Leibelson was placed, failed to take steps to safeguard her from abusive and discriminatory treatment to which she was subjected as a transgender woman.
Among other allegations, the lawsuits say she was subjected to assault, battery, sexual assault, threats of violence, ongoing harassment, and emotional trauma between November 2013 and March 2014.
“Leibelson is female in physical appearance and feminine as regards all external aspects of her gender behavior and identity,” one of the two lawsuits states. “Leibelson has undergone hormone therapy and other treatments prior to and at all times relevant to the matters at issue herein,” it says.
“Beginning February 2014 and continuing for the pendency of her incarceration at FCI Beckley, Plaintiff Leibelson was chronically starved and deprived of food,” the lawsuits states. It says the denial of food was due to the “unavailability of adequate seating at dining tables that were not controlled by prison gangs who demanded sexual favors in return for ‘permitting’ Plaintiff to take her food in the FCI Beckley mess hall dining area.”
The lawsuit adds, “Plaintiff was required to either smuggle food out of the dining area or depend on others to bring her food, both of which were against FCI Beckley rules. As a result, Plaintiff often went for days without nourishment and her health and emotional, physical and mental well-being suffered from being chronically starved when confronted with the choice between avoiding being used as an object of sexual gratification by fellow inmates or not eating.”
It says that on Feb. 6, 2014 Paris Leibelson was sent to the prison’s Special Housing Unit, which is where prisoners are sent as a form of discipline for violating prison rules. The lawsuit says Leibelson claims she was sent there in yet another effort by prison guards to harass her. Shortly after arriving there on Feb. 6, the lawsuit says a guard identified as Federal Correctional Officer Christopher Cook ordered her to submit to what it says was an illegal strip search.
After ordering her to disrobe Cook told her to “bend over” and Leibelson complied, the lawsuit says. “Cook then commanded Plaintiff to ‘open that hole wide,’ whereupon F.C.O. Cook forcibly and without Leibelson’s consent or foreknowledge, rammed his finger into Plaintiff’s anus thereby sexually assaulting and digitally anally raping Plaintiff,” the lawsuit states.
“Defendant’s intentional or negligent action was to humiliate and degrade Plaintiff and to satisfy F.C.O. Cook’s craven lust for sexual gratification,” according to the lawsuit.
In referring to prison authorities who are named as defendants, the lawsuit states, “The acts, policies, practices and omissions of the Defendant and its employees that injured Plaintiff were knowing, deliberate, intentional, sadistic and motivated in whole or in substantial part because of Plaintiff’s transgender status and gender identification.”
In one of its court filings responding to the lawsuit government lawyers dispute the sexual assault allegation, saying Cook denied it ever happened. In other court filings the government lawyers point out that Leibelson was cited for numerous violations of prison rules during her stay at Beckley, including at least two instances where she deliberately broke a water sprinkler causing flooding in her cell area.
U.S. District Court Judge Irene Berger, who is presiding over the case of the two lawsuits, stated in one of two rulings upholding the lawsuits that Leibelson acknowledged in a deposition that “she was not a model inmate” and “sometimes used insulting or insolent language with staff.”
Nevertheless, Berger states in both rulings that Leibelson’s allegations could be viewed as credible if the cases were to go to trial.
In handing down one of two rulings denying the government’s request for dismissal of the lawsuits on summary judgment, Berger states, “The court finds that the Plaintiff has put forth sufficient evidence of damages and causation to survive summary judgement.”
Berger adds, “Ms. Leibelson’s testimony, as well as her treating psychiatrist’s testimony, would be sufficient to permit a fact-finder to find that abuse at FCI-Beckley caused her emotional damages and/or worsened existing mental health conditions.”
In mentioning Paris Leibelson’s testimony Berger was referring to Leibelson’s lengthy deposition or pre-trial testimony that her lawyers said included grueling questions by the government’s lawyer seeking to question her credibility. The lawyers representing her said she did exceptionally well and that her deposition testimony, which was recorded, would be used to support the lawsuit should the case go to trial.
One of the two lawsuits named as defendants at the time it was filed more than a dozen individual officials and employees at the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the Beckley federal prison. In response to motions by government attorneys, Berger has since dismissed the case against all but two of the individual defendants.
Among the two Berger refused to dismiss from the case is Christopher Cook, the guard accused of committing the sexual assault.
In denying the government’s request that she dismiss the case against all of the individual defendants Berger allowed the lawsuit to continue to trial by jury or to a possible settlement.
The second lawsuit names the U.S. government as the defendant, saying high-level federal government officials, including those in charge of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, were responsible for not taking steps to prevent the abusive treatment to which Paris Leibelson was subjected. Under court rules, that case goes before a non-jury trial presided over by Berger if a settlement isn’t reached.
Two D.C.-based lawyers and other attorneys in West Virginia who filed the lawsuit on Paris’s behalf have arranged for Michael Leibelson to replace Paris as the plaintiff so the lawsuits can continue. Court records show that Judge Berger has approved that change.
Michael Leibelson said his and his wife’s aim is to bring about justice for the abuse and suffering they believe Paris experienced in jail and to make at least some effort to challenge what Paris believed to be widespread discrimination and abuse against transgender and gay people in the federal prison system.
He said they also plan to use any monetary return they receive should they win the lawsuit or in a possible settlement to create an endowment for a scholarship in Paris’s name.
Attorneys William Bruce DelValle and Bruce Fein of the D.C. law firm Fein & DelValle, who have represented Paris and are now representing the father, told the Washington Blade that following her denial of two motions by government lawyers on Dec. 27 and Jan. 3 seeking to have the two cases dismissed, Berger set a tentative date for a trial for one of the cases in May. He said she also ordered the parties to enter into mediation and attend a formal settlement conference over which Berger will preside.
DelValle called Berger’s decision to deny dismissal of the cases and to quickly set a potential trial date “a clear signal” that she believes the cases have sufficient merit to go to trial. He said Berger also made it clear that she wants the two sides to try to reach an out of court settlement.
Another development that is highly unusual, according to DelValle, is that lawyers from the main U.S. Department of Justice headquarters in Washington are heading the government’s effort to fight against the lawsuit that named the individual government and prison officials as defendants. In most cases like this, DelValle said, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the location where a lawsuit is filed handles the case and not the DOJ in Washington.
The decision to designate the DOJ to lead the defense against the one lawsuit, which is known as a “Bevins” case, took place under then-U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch during the last two years of the Obama administration.
Representatives of the Justice Department and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in West Virginia who are working on the case did not respond to a request this week by the Blade for comment.
In their court briefs and motions seeking to have the case dismissed, the government attorneys have argued that Paris Leibelson’s allegations of prison abuse could not be substantiated and that she made contradictory statements about the alleged sexual assault she claims a prison guard committed against her in a statement she made to a psychiatrist who counseled her during her stay at the prison.
Michal Leibelson, a retired government worker, and his wife Elyse, a retired school teacher, treated the person they continued to view as their son whom they continued to call Benjamin with unconditional love throughout Paris’ life, Michael Leibelson told the Blade in an interview earlier this month.
“He was diagnosed when he was a little kid of having Asberger Syndrome, which is on the autistic scale,” Michael Leibelson said. “When he was in preschool he was dressing up in women’s clothes when they were doing dress up,” Leibelson continued. “When he was in junior high school he told us he was gay and we said OK, OK, no biggie.”
Not long after finishing high school Paris came to the realization that she wanted to live her life as a woman, the father said.
“He stated to me and my wife that he was transgender and he was wearing women’s clothes,” Michael Leibelson said. “He was six foot seven and he was as skinny as a rail, a real string bean. And he wore size 13 shoes and he was very proud of himself when he walked around in high heels and women’s clothes, and we didn’t care.”
“We had no problem with it,” Leibelson continued. “But everybody else seemed to have a problem with it. And when he was in Beckley, West Virginia they had a problem with it.”
Leibelson said Paris suffered mental health problems most of her life, including depression. “And he had a drug problem from about the age of 12 or 13. He had been a user. And he was 36 when he died.”
Despite these challenges, Leibelson said Paris had a strong drive to fight for her rights and for her fellow members of the LGBT community, with whom she identified. He said he and his wife want to continue that fight by doing all they can to make sure the lawsuit succeeds “for social justice purposes” because gay and transgender people “in federal prisons all over this country are being abused.”
DelValle, the attorney working in support of the lawsuit, said he got to know Paris through meetings and phone conversations they had in preparation of the lawsuit.
“She was a very strong person and a very bright person,” said DelValle, who added that he believes her time in a federal prison was far too long for an initial offense of purse snatching.
“She was not a menace to society. She was not dangerous,” he said. “She basically came from an upper middle class Jewish community but had this dark street side because of her addiction” and possible rejection by society because of her status as a transgender person, DelValle said.
The National Center for Transgender Equality and Lambda Legal, an LGBT litigation group, did not immediately respond to a request by the Blade for comment on the Paris Leibelson lawsuit and the fact that the abuse she faced in a federal prison took place during the Obama administration, which expressed strong support for LGBT and transgender rights.
Top 10 Blade news stories by web traffic
COVID breakthroughs, Equality Act, and anti-trans attacks
Each year our staff gathers in late December to review the highest trafficked stories of the year and there’s more than a little bit of competitive spirit as we review the results. Here are the top 10 stories by web traffic at HYPERLINK “http://washingtonblade.com”washingtonblade.com for 2021.
#10: Mark Glaze, gun reform advocate, dies at 51
The sad, tragic story of Glaze’s death captivated readers in November.
#9: COVID breakthrough infections strike summer tourists visiting Provincetown
This one went viral in July after a COVID outbreak was blamed on gay tourists.
#8: Thank you, Kordell Stewart, for thoughtful response to ‘the rumor’
This opinion piece thanked the former NFL quarterback for writing a personal essay addressing gay rumors.
#7: Elliot Page tweets; trans bb’s first swim trunks #transjoy #transisbeautiful
The actor created excitement by posting his first photo in swim trunks back in May.
#6: Romney declares opposition to LGBTQ Equality Act
Mitt Romney disappointed activists with his announcement; the Equality Act passed the House but never saw a vote in the Senate.
#5: White House warns state legislatures that passing anti-trans bills is illegal
The year 2021 saw a disturbing trend of GOP-led legislatures attacking trans people.
#4: Lincoln Project’s avowed ignorance of Weaver texts undercut by leaked communications
The Lincoln Project’s leaders, amid a scandal of co-founder John Weaver soliciting sexual favors from young men, have asserted they were unaware of his indiscretions until the Blade obtained electronic communications that called that claim into question.
#3: FOX 5’s McCoy suspended over offensive Tweet
Blake McCoy tweeted that obese people shouldn’t get priority for the COVID vaccine.
#2: Transgender USAF veteran trapped in Taliban takeover of Kabul
Among the Americans trapped in the suburban areas of Kabul under Taliban control was a transgender government contractor for the U.S. State Department and former U.S. Air Force Sergeant. She was later safely evacuated.
#1: Amid coup chaos, Trump quietly erases LGBTQ protections in adoption, health services
And our most popular story of 2021 was about the Trump administration nixing regulations barring federal grantees in the Department of Health & Human Services from discriminating against LGBTQ people, including in adoption services.
CDC still falling short on LGBTQ data collection for COVID patients: expert
Despite requests since the start of the COVID pandemic for the U.S. government to enhance data collection for patients who are LGBTQ, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention is still falling short on issuing nationwide guidance to states on the issue, a leading expert health on the issue told the Blade.
With a renewed focus on COVID infections reaching new heights just before the start of the holidays amid the emergence of Omicron, the absence of any LGBTQ data collection — now across both the Trump and Biden administrations — remains a sore point for health experts who say that information could be used for public outreach.
Sean Cahill, director of Health Policy Research at the Boston-based Fenway Institute, said Wednesday major federal entities and hospitals have been collecting data on whether patients identify as LGBTQ for years — such as the National Health & Nutrition Examination Survey, which has been collecting sexual orientation data since the 1990s — but the CDC hasn’t duplicated that effort for COVID even though the pandemic has been underway for two years.
“It’s not like this is a new idea,” Cahill said. “But for some reason, the pandemic hit, and all of a sudden, we realize how little systematic data we were collecting in our health system. And it’s a real problem because we’re two years into the pandemic almost, and we still don’t know how it’s affecting this vulnerable population that experiences health disparities in other areas.”
The Blade was among the first outlets to report on the lack of efforts by the states to collect data on whether a COVID patient identifies as LGBTQ, reporting in April 2020 on the absence of data even in places with influential LGBTQ communities. The CDC hasn’t responded to the Blade’s requests for nearly two years on why it doesn’t instruct states to collect this data, nor did it respond this week to a request for comment on this article.
Cahill, who has published articles in the American Journal of Public Health on the importance of LGBTQ data collection and reporting in COVID-19 testing, care, and vaccination — said he’s been making the case to the CDC to issue guidance to states on whether COVID patients identify as LGBTQ since June 2020.
Among those efforts, he said, were to include two comments he delivered to the Biden COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force in spring 2021, a letter a coalition of groups sent to the Association of State & Territorial Health Officers asking for states to collect and report SOGI in COVID in December 2020 as well as letters to HHS leadership and congressional leadership in spring and summer 2020 asking for them to take steps to encourage or require SOGI data collection in COVID.
Asked what CDC officials had to say in response when he brought this issue to their attention, Cahill said, “They listen, but they don’t really tell me anything.”
“We’ve been making that case, and to date, as of December 22, 2021, they have not issued guidance, they have not changed the case report form. I hope that they’re in the process of doing that, and maybe we’ll be pleasantly surprised in January, and they’ll come up with something…I really hope that’s true, but right now they’re not doing anything to promote SOGI data collection and reporting in surveillance data.”
Cahill, in an email to the Blade after the initial publication of this article, clarified CDC has indicated guidance on LGBTQ data collection for COVID patients may come in the near future.
“HHS leaders told us this fall that CDC is working on an initiative to expand SOGI data collection,” Cahill said. “We are hopeful that we will see guidance early in 2022. Key people at CDC, including Director Walensky, understand the importance of SOGI data collection given their long history of working on HIV prevention.”
In other issues related to LGBTQ data collection, there has been a history of states resisting federal mandates. The Trump administration, for example, rescinded guidance calling on states to collect information on whether foster youth identified as LGBTQ after complaints from states on the Obama-era process, much to the consternation of LGBTQ advocates who said the data was helpful.
The White House COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force has at least recognized the potential for enhancing LGBTQ data collection efforts. Last month, it published an implementation plan, calling for “an equity-centered approach to data collection, including sufficient funding to collect data for groups that are often left out of data collection (e.g….LGBTQIA+ people).”
The plan also calls for “fund[ing] activities to improve data collection…including tracking COVID-19 related outcomes for people of color and other underserved populations,” and specifically calls for the collection of LGBTQ data.
The importance of collecting LGBTQ data, Cahill said, is based on its potential use in public outreach, including efforts to recognize disparities in health population and to create messaging for outreach, including for populations that may be reluctant to take the vaccine.
“If we see a disparity, we can say: Why is that?” Cahill said. “We could do focus groups of the population — try to understand and then what kind of messages would reassure you and make you feel comfortable getting a vaccine, and we could push those messages out through public education campaigns led by state local health departments led by the federal government.”
The LGBTQ data, Cahill said, could be broken down further to determine if racial and ethnic disparities exist within the LGBTQ population, or whether LGBTQ people are likely to suffer from the disease in certain regions, such as the South.
“We have data showing that lesbian or bisexual women, and transgender people are less likely to be in preventive regular routine care for their health,” Cahill said. “And so if that’s true, there’s a good chance that they’re less likely to know where to get a vaccine, to have a medical professional they trust to talk to about it today.”
Among the leaders who are supportive, Cahill said, is Rachel Levine, assistant secretary for health and the first openly transgender person confirmed by the U.S. Senate for a presidential appointment. Cahill said he raised the issue with her along with other officials at the Department of Health & Human Services three times in the last year.
In her previous role as Pennsylvania secretary of health, Levine led the way and made her state the first in the nation to set up an LGBTQ data collection system for COVID patients.
“So she definitely gets it, and I know she’s supportive of it, but we really need the CDC to act,” Cahill said.
Although the federal government has remained intransigent in taking action, Cahill said the situation has improved among states and counted five states — California, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Nevada and Oregon — in addition to D.C. as among those that have elected to collect data on sexual orientation and gender identity of COVID patients.
However, Cahill said even those data collection efforts are falling short because those jurisdictions have merely been public about collecting the data, but haven’t reported back anything yet.
“Only California has reported data publicly, and the data that they’re reporting is really just the completeness of the data,” Cahill said. “They’re not reporting the data itself…And they’re also just asking people who tests positive. So, if somebody says positive COVID in California, a contact tracer follows up with that individual and asks them a battery of questions, and among the questions that are asked are SOGI questions.”
As a result of these efforts, Cahill said, California has data on the LGBTQ status of COVID patients, but the data is overwhelmingly more complete for the gender identity of these patients rather than their sexual orientation. As of May 2021, California reported that they had sexual orientation data for 9.5 percent of individuals who had died from COVID and 16 percent of people who tested positive, but for gender identity, the data were 99.5 percent.
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.
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