In an exchange with high school students that was caught on tape, a Republican congressman from New Jersey was tongue-tied over the prospect of same-sex couples adopting children and suggested kids would be better off in orphanages than with LGBT families.
Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) made the remarks May 29 when addressing student constituents in the auditorium of Colts Neck High School. They asked the congressman about his opposition to adoption by same-sex couples, according to a source familiar with the recording. A source familiar with the tape, who delivered the recording on Monday exclusively to the Washington Blade, said it was obtained in recent days.
The recording begins with Hannah Valdes, a senior at Colts Neck High School, telling Smith she has a gay sister who has said in the future she wants to adopt a child with her partner. The student asks the New Jersey Republican whether “based on household studies” her sister would be “less of a legitimate parent” than someone in a different-sex relationship and why she shouldn’t adopt a child.
In an apparent reference to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling for marriage equality, Smith says “the issue, legally, is moot at this point especially with the Supreme Court decision” and tells the student her sister is “free to adopt.”
Although the Supreme Court settled the issue of marriage, attempts are still underway to deprive LGBT families of the right to adopt. An increasing number of states have passed laws allowing religious-affiliated, taxpayer-funded agencies to refuse placement to LGBT homes for religious reasons. In the U.S. House, Republicans incorporated as a component of appropriations an amendment from Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.) that would penalize states and localities for having policies prohibiting anti-LGBT discrimination in adoption.
But that wasn’t enough for Valdes, who pressed Smith on why he thinks her sister shouldn’t be able to adopt. Smith, apparently having difficulty finding words for his response, said he believes “there are many others who would like to adopt who can acquire a child” and “the waiting periods are extremely long.”
When another student asks what makes these “others” more suited to become parents than her fellow student’s sister, Smith starts to reply, “in my opinion a child needs every possibility of,” without finishing his sentence. That might have been a prelude to saying a child needs every chance of being raised by a mother and a father.
That’s when Smith praised orphanages. In that context, Smith suggested even being raised in an orphanage without parents would be better for a child than having LGBT parents.
“Somebody mentioned orphanages before,” Smith said. “I mean, orphanages are still a possibility for some kids.”
One student is heard uttering an indignant response over the idea the congressman would rather have kids in orphanages than being raised by LGBT parents: “You’d rather have kids in an orphanage than with — ?”
Speaking to the Blade, Valdes said there’s more to the exchange with Smith on gay adoption than what’s heard on the tape. Earlier in the assembly, another student asked about one of Smith’s votes in 1999 in favor of an amendment that would have banned adoption by gay parents in D.C.
The student, Valdes said, asked Smith if he would still vote in support of banning gay adoption, and whether his views have changed since 1999. In response, Valdes said, Smith said his position hasn’t changed.
“Rep. Smith responded by saying that he does not approve of gay adoption because gay households are not healthy environments for children to grow up in,” Valdes said. “He then stated that ‘numerous household studies’ show that children that have heterosexual parents have better lives than children that have homosexual parents.”
It’s hard to know what “household studies” Smith was referencing. According to Cornell University, at least 75 studies have concluded children with same-sex parents fare no worse than other kids.
At that moment, Valdes said she thought of her gay sister and raised her hand for the question challenging his views on gay adoption, which was heard on the recording.
“After I asked my question and challenged him, an administrator cut in to change the topic,” Valdes said. “Rep. Smith started to discuss a recent project he was working on, but the auditorium was already filled with tension, and most of the audience was already talking about what Rep. Smith had just said. More students began to raise their hands, and the administration quickly realized that their students would likely be asking more questions regarding LGBT rights. Instead of taking further questions, the assembly was promptly ended and all of us were sent back to class.”
Valdes said Smith exhibited “prejudice and homophobic views” that “were offensive,” and the entire student body of Colts Neck High School was “in shock that someone had come to our school with these opinions.”
“We have an LGBT club at our school…which exemplifies just how accepting our school is,” Valdes said. “Prejudice in our hallways is not tolerated, so it was shocking to have an elected official — a congressman no less — stand in front of hundreds of students, openly shaming the LGBT community. I knew that there were multiple students in the auditorium who were a part of the LGBT community, and that they were simply too scared to say anything to this congressman. In a situation like this, I just simply could not stay silent.”
Despite the exchange, the school praised Smith for coming to speak with students. Brian Donahue, principal of Colts Neck High School, tweeted after the event thanking the lawmaker and saying, “Our students appreciate hearing first hand how our government functions.”
Donahue didn’t immediately respond to the Blade’s request for comment on whether Colts Neck High School was OK with Smith making comments against LGBT adoption at a student assembly.
Smith, a longtime member of Congress who has represented New Jersey’s 4th congressional district in the U.S. House since the start of the Reagan administration, has built a substantial anti-LGBT track record in Congress aside from his 1999 vote against gay adoption. In recent years, the Republican has repeatedly earned a score of “0” from the Human Rights Campaign on its biennial congressional scorecard.
Among his anti-LGBT actions include votes for the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act and a U.S. constitutional amendment that would have banned same-sex marriage nationwide. In the early years of the Obama administration, Smith voted against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and hate crimes protections legislation.
In recent years, Smith co-sponsored the First Amendment Defense Act, a federal “religious freedom” bill that would enable anti-LGBT discrimination, and voted for an amendment that would have barred the U.S. military from paying for transition-related health care for transgender service members, including gender reassignment surgery.
Smith’s office didn’t respond to the Washington Blade request for comment on the tape and either deny its accuracy or explain why orphanages are better for kids than LGBT homes. Also unanswered was an inquiry on whether Smith opposes the Aderholt measure pending before the House.
As the mid-term elections approach, Smith is facing a challenge from Democratic candidate Josh Welle, a businessperson and Navy veteran.
In a statement to Washington Blade, Welle drew on his experience as a veteran as he criticized Smith for suggesting orphanages are a better fit for children than gay parents.
“Chris Smith’s out-of-touch views might have flown in 1980 when he was elected, but his time has passed,” Welle said. “In 2018, in Central Jersey, it is unacceptable to imply a child would be better off in an orphanage than with a loving LGBTQ family. As a veteran, I fought on the front lines alongside men and women who gave their lives to protect and defend the civil liberties that our Constitution ensures for everyone, not just a few. Chris Smith takes us backwards on inclusion and basic human rights for all.”
Despite the expected “blue” wave in November, Welle faces an uphill challenge. Political observers have rated New Jersey’s 4th congressional district as a safe or solid Republican seat.
After the assembly, Valdes said other students thanked her for posing the question and called her brave, but she doesn’t see it that way.
“All students should feel safe and comfortable in their own school, and all people should feel safe and comfortable in their lives,” Valdes said. “Smith has done, and continues to do, the opposite of this.”
UPDATE: After the publication of the Blade article, the Smith re-election campaign issued a statement criticizing the reporting on the exchange caught on tape, saying the recording was edited to misrepresent him.
“Anybody can twist your words and make false representations when they splice up a tape,” Smith said. “It is despicable that someone thought they could score political points by distorting the truth and raising false questions about my record and the full range of topics at the assembly.”
The Smith campaign made public what it said was the full one-hour tape of the May 29 assembly at Colts Neck High School and a separate record of another exchange at the assembly in which he says orphanages aren’t the best option for children.
In the shorter recording, a student is heard asking, “So would you say that foster care and orphanages would be in the better interest of the child?”
Smith replies, “No. Lord, no. We have waiting periods for families to adopt children, often by years.”
The Blade stands by its initial reporting. The exchange reported by the Blade in which Smith suggests orphanages are better for children than adoption by LGBT parents is also heard in the one-hour tape. In the exchange the Smith campaign circulated, the question posed to him wasn’t about LGBT parents and Smith’s reference to “families” being better than orphanages is general and not necessarily inclusive of them. That exchange also is heard prior to the time Smith suggests orphanages are better than same-sex parents, which was the result of students seeking clarification of his initial response on families and left students with that impression.
In other words, the totality of the recording indicates Smith’s view is that different-sex family households are better for children than orphanages, but when it comes to LGBT families, orphanages are better.
Smith’s office and campaign never reached out for comment or clarification and hasn’t responded to Blade requests for clarification. The Blade was made aware of the statement and additional recording through other media sources.
In the longer, one-hour recording, Smith is also heard articulating positions against LGBT rights. In response to the previously reported question on Smith’s vote in 1999 against gay adoption in D.C., Smith talked about his opposition to same-sex marriage.
Smith said he has a “strongly held belief” and referenced former President Obama’s one-time opposition to same-sex marriage as well as Obama’s articulation of that view as a presidential candidate in 2008 at Saddleback Church.
“He said, ‘I believe marriage is between a man and a woman, and God is in the mix,’” Smith said. “That was from Sen. Barack Obama. Now he’s changed. He now supports same-sex marriage. My belief is squarely where it used to be that marriage is between a man and a woman.”
As for adoption, Smith said it’s “all about the best interests of the child,” and although “there are people who feel the best interest of the child is for gay couples to adopt,” there are studies that take into account “all kinds of factors.”
Ultimately, Smith said he’d vote the same way against gay adoption as he did in 1999: “I would vote the same way, frankly, as I did then.”
Smith also criticized LGBT rights supporters for being unconcerned about Catholic adoption agencies that say they’d have to close if forced to place children with LGBT families.
“There’s little concern from the LGBT community, which I find disconcerting, and that is that a lot of the best organizations for adoption have been put out of business because of their refusal, like in D.C., to facilitate such adoptions,” Smith said. “Catholic charities, which is one of the greatest humanitarian organizations in the United States for the poor or disabled, and for adoptions, they have now been denied the ability to do any adoption in D.C., in Illinois, in Massachusetts and in some other states because they believe the best of interest of the child is not that of adoption.”
No government is actively seeking to close Catholic adoption agencies. They have threatened to shut their doors on their own in the wake of the legalization of same-sex marriage because they feel they’ll be forced to place children with gay couples who marry.
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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