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Permiso, ¿puedo ser artista?

Artistas independientes en Cuba están en contra nuevo decreto

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Campaña en redes sociales contra el Decreto 349. De izquierda a< derecha los artistas y activistas Adrián Monzón, Lia Villares, Ana Olema y Diddier Santos. (Foto de la cuenta de Twitter de Cubalex)

Nota del editor: Tremenda Nota es una revista electrónica independiente que documenta la comunidad LGBTI del país y otros grupos minoritarios. Tremenda Nota es una pareja de contenido del Washington Blade.

Esa nota salió originalmente en el sitio web de Tremenda Nota.

LA HABANA — Casi dos días después de su “toma de posesión,” el nuevo presidente cubano afiló los mecanismos de censura del arte independiente en la isla. Las protestas contra el Decreto 349, dentro y fuera de Cuba, no se tardaron.

Los artistas sin vínculos formales con ninguna institución cultural del Estado serán considerados “delincuentes” a finales de 2018, sostienen los y las activistas que abogan por la derogación del Decreto 349. El gobierno podrá multarlos, decomisar sus bienes de trabajo o, incluso, sancionar a cualquiera ― cuentapropistas o empresas — que contrate sus servicios.

“El decreto deja algo bien claro: toda persona que tenga una proyección artística va a tener que contar con el permiso y la supervisión de las instituciones,” explicó a Tremenda Nota el rapero Soandry del Río.

La nueva norma jurídica sobre política cultural y contratación de artistas fue firmada el 20 de abril de 2018, dos días después que Díaz-Canel asumiera el mando del país, y entrará en vigor en diciembre de este año.

Hasta hoy, un grupo de artistas plá[email protected] y mú[email protected] [email protected] al decreto enviaron cartas al presidente cubano, a la Fiscalía de la República y a Alpidio Alonso, el nuevo Ministro de Cultura. Intentaron un concierto callejero en la esquina de Damas y San Isidro, en La Habana Vieja. Y planearon una protesta frente al Capitolio, nueva sede del Parlamento cubano.

Obviamente, la Seguridad del Estado impidió el concierto y detuvo a [email protected] artistas antes de llevar a cabo superformance en las escalinatas del Capitolio. Solo la curadora e historiadora del arte Yanelys Núñez, a nombre de sus colegas, untó excrementos del suelo para “declarar” simbólicamente que el estado cubano considera “una mierda” a los creadores independientes.

Yanelys Núñez, el artista visual Luis Manuel Otero, el productor Michel Matos, el poeta y performer Amaury Pacheco, la actriz Iris Ruiz, y los músicos urbanos Soandry del Río y Sandol Pérez, entre otros artistas independientes, a menudo se reúnen en el Museo de Arte Políticamente Incómodo, en La Habana Vieja. Debaten los puntos esenciales de un manifiesto aún inédito, mientras afuera pocos vecinos parecen interesados en el arte.

Sin embargo, el pasado 11 de agosto, durante un concierto protesta convocado por el grupo de artistas en la esquina de Damas y San Isidro, los propios vecinos hicieron frente a la policía y filmaron los arrestos con sus celulares. Yanelys Núñez, Luis Manuel Otero y Amaury Pacheco, entre otros, fueron detenidos por varias horas.

Los activistas y artistas independientes, sin embargo, no dejan de denunciar un decreto que, según ellos, “criminaliza” el arte independiente en Cuba.

“El que preste servicios artísticos sin estar autorizado para ejercer labores artísticas en un cargo u ocupación artística” — especifica la norma legal — podrá ser [email protected] con 1,000 o 2,000 pesos. Además, “las autoridades facultadas” podrán decomisar los equipos y otros bienes de los artistas. Si incurren, la multa ascenderá a 4,000 pesos cubanos.

“Ahora te van a arrestar, te van a reprimir. Sin ley ya lo hacen, así que imagínate tú qué van a hacer con la ley,” advierte el productor independiente Michel Matos, uno de los fundadores del Rotilla Festival.

De izquierda a derecha los artistas independientes Yanelys Núñez, Nonardo Perea, Amaury Pacheco, Iris Ruiz, Luis Manuel Otero, Soandry del Río y Michel Matos, protestan contra el Decreto 349. (Foto del perfil de Facebook de Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara)

La nueva disposición legal instaura la llamada “censura previa,” según varias voces críticas. De acuerdo con la abogada y directora de Cubalex Laritza Diversent a partir de diciembre “solo podremos disfrutar de los artistas y las manifestaciones artísticas que estén aprobadas por el Estado o sus instituciones.”

El propio decreto — prosigue la especialista — “propicia su aplicación selectiva, discrecional y discriminatoria. ¿Perseguirán con el mismo ahínco, a los músicos que cobran sus servicios en las ceremonias de la religión yoruba, que a un rapero contestatario?”

El Decreto 349 faculta exclusivamente al Ministerio de Cultura (Mincult) para conceder “permiso” a los artistas. A la misma vez dispone que los supervisores-inspectores designados por el ministerio se encargarán de “imponer las medidas pertinentes.”

Las autoridades no solo tendrán potestad para multar a los artistas independientes, sino que también podrán suspender “de manera inmediata” los espectáculos públicos celebrados sin consentimiento del Mincult o de sus diferentes instancias. Además, los supervisores-inspectores podrán decomisar los equipos empleados en las actividades artísticas y cancelar la licencia a los trabajadores por cuentapropia que violen el decreto.

¿Qué cambia si nada cambia?

Hasta la entrada en vigor del Decreto 349, la contratación de los artistas se regía por el Decreto 226, de 29 de octubre de 1997, titulado “Contravenciones personales de las regulaciones sobre prestación de servicios artísticos.”

A diferencia de su antecesor, “el 349 le da categoría de lugar o institución pública no estatal a los domicilios (privados) a los espacios artísticos independientes y en especial a los cuentapropistas,” explica Laritza Diversent.

A partir de la entrada en vigor, los cuentapropistas que contraten servicios artísticos sin la autorización del Mincult “no podrían invocar su derecho constitucional de inviolabilidad del domicilio,” pues los inmuebles donde se desarrolle una actividad económica autorizada serán considerados como “institución pública no estatal.”

“En otras palabras — añade Diversent — las autoridades estatales pueden entrar, registrar y decomisar tal como los autoriza la ley de procedimiento penal.”

A varios de los integrantes del grupo de Facebook “Artistas cubanxs contra el Decreto 349” no les parece casualidad que la nueva norma aparezca en medio de una transición generacional en las estructuras de poder del país. Michel Matos, por ejemplo, cree que el decreto puede ser una de las respuestas del nuevo gobierno a la 00 Bienal de La Habana, convocada y celebrada por artistas independientes en febrero de 2018.

“Creemos que las autoridades pueden estar cerrando grietas en el espacio de la cultura,” confiesa Matos. “La transición del poder de Raúl Castro, uno de los comandantes de la Sierra, a Díaz-Canel, puede ser interpretada por los sectores críticos o disidentes como un debilitamiento del poder. Y eso obliga a cerrar puertas, incluso antes de que se abran.”

Las críticas y protestas contra la nueva disposición legal no han pasado inadvertidas para varios organizaciones regionales. A finales de agosto Erika Guevara Rosas, directora para las Américas de Amnistía Internacional, aseguró que, “en vez de afianzar su control sobre los artistas y las artistas que parecen excederse en sus críticas más allá de lo consentido por el Estado, las autoridades cubanas deben hacer cambios progresivos para proteger los derechos humanos.”

Sin embargo, uno de los defensores de la polémica norma legal redujo a los artistas independientes a “pólipos del arte y la cultura” y cerró cualquier posibilidad de diálogo entre las partes. La campaña contra el Decreto 349 “es una escaramuza de guerra cultural, sin muchas más señales de altruismo artístico ni deseos de engrandecimiento espiritual,” sostuvo el escritor cubano Jorge Ángel Hernández en la revista digital La Jiribilla.

Decreto 349: ¿El ying o el yang?

A diferencia del Decreto 226 de 1997 la nueva norma incluye varias pautas sobre política cultural. El Decreto 349 también considera como contravenciones la transmisión en medios audiovisuales de contenido pornográfico, violento, sexista, vulgar y obsceno, o el uso de los símbolos patrios, si es contrario a la legislación vigente. A la vez, penaliza la discriminación por “color de la piel, género, orientación sexual, discapacidad y cualquier otra lesiva a la dignidad humana.”

Según varios medios oficiales, el nuevo decreto se debe a las demandas históricas del gremio de los artistas.

“El Decreto 349, cuya letra y espíritu responde a insistentes reclamos de intelectuales y artistas cubanos, intenta poner orden en el siempre complejo campo de la comercialización del arte,” aseguró el escritor Antonio Rodríguez Salvador en Escambray, el periódico provincial de Sancti Spíritus.

El lunes 3 de septiembre Tremenda Nota interpeló a la Unión Nacional de Escritores y Artistas de Cuba (Uneac) vía correo electrónico. Sin embargo, el principal gremio de artistas del país no respondió ni emitió ninguna declaración.

Aunque la artista visual Sandra Ceballos, fundadora de la galería independiente Espacio Aglutinador, circuló una carta a través de las redes de correo electrónico pidiendo a sus colegas la denuncia del decreto, hasta hoy solo la compañía teatral El ciervo encantado rechazó esa disposición legal mediante un video satírico publicado en Facebook. El resto de las muestras de apoyo o adhesión a la campaña contra el Decreto 349 proviene de artistas cubanos independientes, residentes o no en el territorio nacional.

Las pocas voces que han defendido públicamente el Decreto 349 aseguran que los activistas obvian la parte de la legislación concerniente a política cultural. El rapero Soandry del Río, a nombre del principal grupo de artistas contra la disposición legal, aseguró a Tremenda Nota que “están de acuerdo en que no debe permitirse ninguna proyección xenófoba ni racista ni nada parecido.”

“Son disposiciones antidiscriminatorias, pero también forman parte de una gran estrategia ― declaró Yanelys Núñez. Las autoridades saben que una parte de la intelectualidad denigra las bocinas que pone la gente en la calle con música alta o los videos sexistas que transmiten en bares y cafeterías, por ejemplo. Se aprovechan de eso y meten lo otro [la censura del arte independiente].”

El rapero Soandry del Río es uno de los artistas que aboga por la derogación del Decreto 349. (Foto por Maykel González Vivero/Tremenda Nota)

El decreto también ha sido criticado por incluir “restricciones imprecisas,” “vagas” o “excesivamente amplias.” Por ejemplo, el artículo 3.1 sanciona la transmisión en medios audiovisuales de “contenidos” que “infrinja[n] las disposiciones legales que regulan el normal desarrollo de nuestra sociedad en materia cultural.”

Al respecto, Amnistía Internacional considera que “prohibir la expresión artística basándose en conceptos como ʻobsceno,ʼ ʻvulgarʼ o ʻlesivos a los valores éticos y culturalesʼ no cumple los criterios de finalidad legítima, necesidad y proporcionalidad que establece el derecho internacional.”

A la vez, la organización teme que las disposiciones del decreto se apliquen de manera arbitraria “para reprimir aún más las voces críticas y disidentes.”

“El decreto no está pensando en el arte ni está pensando en que la gente pague el fisco. No, aquí todo está enfocado en el control, por un problema político determinado,” cree el rapero Soandry del Río.

En el otro lado, dos artículos de opinión publicados en La Jiribilla defienden que el Decreto 349 no “va contra los artistas y sus manifestaciones de creación,” sino que solo pone cotas al intrusismo profesional, define pautas sobre la comercialización del arte. Varias publicaciones insinúan claramente que los activistas contra el Decreto 349 solo son falsos artistas sin obra o agentes financiados por el imperialismo.

A tono con ese discurso, a mediados de agosto el director del Centro de Comunicación (Creart) del Ministerio de Cultura, Alexis Triana, llamó “mercenarios” y “bandidos” a los artistas que protestan contra la polémica norma legal.

A pesar de la renuencia al debate de las instituciones culturales del Estado, Yanelys Leyva asegura que el principal objetivo del grupo de activistas contra el Decreto 349 ha sido establecer un diálogo con las instituciones sobre sus inquietudes y necesidades urgentes “en un espacio de debate abierto que no se ha establecido.”

En Cuba, sin embargo, los artistas que critican las políticas del Estado jamás han sido escuchados por el Gobierno. Desde 1961, el discurso de Fidel Castro conocido como “Palabras a los intelectuales” dejó fuera del debate a los considerados “contrarrevolucionarios,” “hipercríticos” o “disidentes.”

Con el Decreto 349, en definitiva, los que estaban fuera del canon político-cultural de la Revolución, mantendrán o reforzarán su posición marginal. El Mincult dirá quiénes se consideran artistas y quiénes no, cuáles obras se consideran arte y cuáles no. “Pero esa operación tendrá una implicación altamente ideologizada, pues el Ministerio de Cultura se debe a la misma estructura de poder que rige Cuba,” explica el productor Michel Matos.

“Si yo soy un artista crítico, si alguna vez he tenido una confrontación con las instituciones — se pregunta Matos —, ¿el Ministerio de Cultura me daría a mí esa aprobación? No hay que vivir más para saber que no.”

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Top 10 Blade news stories by web traffic

COVID breakthroughs, Equality Act, and anti-trans attacks

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

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

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

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

#9: COVID breakthrough infections strike summer tourists visiting Provincetown

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

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

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

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

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

#6: Romney declares opposition to LGBTQ Equality Act

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No political willpower to force vote or reach a compromise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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