March 18, 2019 at 7:26 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Manchin explains why he’s the only Senate Dem not supporting Equality Act
Joe Manchin, gay news, Washington Blade
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has explained why he’s the only Senate Dem not supporting the Equality Act. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has come out with an explanation for why he’s the only Senate Democrat who has declined to support the Equality Act, citing concerns about potential problems for local schools.

Manchin issued the statement to media outlets ton Monday in the aftermath of reintroduction of legislation last week in both chambers of Congress, insisting he “support[s] equality for all people and do[es] not tolerate discrimination of any kind.”

“After speaking with local education officials in West Virginia, I am not convinced that the Equality Act as written provides sufficient guidance to the local officials who will be responsible for implementing it, particularly with respect to students transitioning between genders in public schools,” Manchin said. “I will continue working with the sponsors of the bill to build broad bipartisan support and find a viable path forward for these critical protections so that I can vote in support of this bill.”

Manchin also said “no one should be afraid of losing their job or losing their housing because of their sexual orientation,” notably leaving out anti-transgender discrimination from those words.

The West Virginia Democrat, who has history of siding with President Trump and voted to confirm U.S. Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court, is the only Senate Democrat not to co-sponsor the Equality Act. The bill has 47 co-sponsors in the Senate, including Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine).

Within Manchin’s state of West Virginia, an anti-transgender incident at high school was recently exposed in the Daily Beast. A 15-year-old transgender boy — Michael Critchfield — contends his assistant principal confronted him in a bathroom stall, telling him to “come out here and use the urinal” to prove he was a boy. 

The principal, who also refused to use male pronouns when talking to Michael during the incident, was suspended without pay.

Manchin has a mixed history on LGBT issues. In 2013, he was among the bipartisan group of senators to vote for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which have banned anti-LGBT employments in workplace, but had a big exemption for religious institutions.

Manchin also has the distinction of being the only Senate Democrat to never come out in favor of same-sex marriage. 

Nearly four years after the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of same-sex marriage, the last word from Manchin was affirmation from his spokesperson in 2015 his opposition “has not changed” as his fellow Senate Democrats signed a friend-of-the-court brief in favor of marriage equality.

In 2010, Manchin declined to vote on legislation to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” although he later said skipping out on that vote was a mistake.

Sarah Kate Ellis, CEO of GLAAD, urged Manchin in a statement to come out in favor of the Equality Act.

“While it’s easy to understand Senator Joe Manchin’s concerns about the federal government’s power over local authorities, 58,000 LGBTQ West Virginians cannot have their safety remain on the line as they wait for their state government to defend them,” Ellis said. “The Equality Act presents an opportunity to protect LGBTQ people from harassment at schools, at work, or even in their homes in his home state of West Virginia – and that’s about as local as it gets.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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