President Trump acknowledged Pride month via Twitter last week, but his well wishes for the LGBT community fell on skeptical ears following the extensive anti-LGBT actions of his administration.
In just the year since last Pride, the tally of anti-LGBT actions from the Trump administration dwarf the number of good things that have come from his presidency for the LGBT community.
With Pride celebrations underway, the Blade presents a list in no particular order of Trump’s positive and negative actions with direct impact on the LGBT community since 2018’s Pride celebration.
(-) 1. Embracing the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision
When the U.S. Supreme Court issued a narrow ruling last year in favor of Colorado baker Jack Phillips, many observers saw the decision as limited. After all, justices declined to find the First Amendment right Phillips asserted to refuse to make custom-made wedding cakes for same-sex couples.
But the Trump administration fully embraced the decision as a win for “religious freedom.” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the court “rightly concluded” the Colorado Civil Rights Commission “failed to show tolerance and respect” for Phillips’ religious beliefs.
Soon after, the Labor Department issued guidance to ensure enforcement of LGBT non-discrimination rules complied with the ruling’s deference to religious freedom, even though the Trump administration wasn’t required to take that action.
(-) 2. White House meeting with Ginni Thomas
President Trump continues to meet with anti-LGBT activists in the White House, including a recent high-profile discussion with Ginni Thomas, the wife of conservative U.S. Associate Justice Clarence Thomas.
The New York Times reported Trump met in January with anti-LGBT activists led by Thomas in the Roosevelt Room of the White House. As Trump was reportedly “listening quietly,” members of the group denounced transgender people serving in the U.S. military.
In addition to decrying transgender military service, the anti-LGBT activists said women shouldn’t serve in the military “because they had less muscle mass and lung capacity than men.” They also said the Supreme Court ruling for marriage equality is “harming the fabric of the United States” and sexual assault isn’t pervasive in the military, according to the New York Times.
(-) 3. Coming out against the Equality Act
In the same week the U.S. House voted to approve the Equality Act, legislation that would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to ban anti-LGBT discrimination, Trump came out against the bill.
In an exclusive statement to the Blade, a senior administration official said Trump opposes the Equality Act based on unspecified “poison pill” amendments to the legislation.
“The Trump administration absolutely opposes discrimination of any kind and supports the equal treatment of all; however, this bill in its current form is filled with poison pills that threaten to undermine parental and conscience rights,” the official said via email.
(+) 4. AIDS advisory council restaffed
One year after firing all members of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS without explanation as first reported by the Blade, Trump restaffed the advisory body with 11 new appointees.
Carl Schmid, deputy director of the AIDS Institute, and John Wiesman, secretary of health in Washington State, were named as co-chairs for the advisory council. Months later, the Department of Health & Human Services named nine additional members to PACHA from a variety of professions, including the pharmaceutical industry, activism and academia.
(-) 5. Trans military ban implemented
After the U.S. Supreme Court essentially green lighted Trump’s ban on transgender people in the military, the Defense Department implemented the policy in April.
Denying the transgender ban is, in fact, a ban, the policy prohibits anyone who has undergone gender reassignment surgery from enlisting in the military and requires anyone who identifies as transgender to serve in their biological sex (which would be a small number of transgender people.) Although transgender people who were already serving openly won an exemption, individuals who are diagnosed in the future with gender dysphoria or obtain transition-related care would be discharged.
(-) 6. Brief against trans protections under Title VII
In a brief urging the U.S. Supreme Court not to take up a case seeking clarification on whether anti-trans discrimination is a form of sex discrimination under federal law, the Trump administration asserted the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals wrongly decided transgender people have protections under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
“The court of appeals’ conclusion that gender-identity discrimination categorically constitutes sex discrimination under Title VII is incorrect,” the filing says. “As discussed above, the ordinary meaning of ‘sex’ does not refer to gender identity…The court’s position effectively broadens the scope of that term beyond its ordinary meaning. Its conclusion should be rejected for that reason alone.”
(-) 7. List of anti-LGBT appointments grows
The U.S. Senate continues to confirm Trump’s appointments, many of whom have long anti-LGBT records. The latest will reportedly be former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who once said homosexual acts are “against nature and are harmful to society,” for a position at the Department of Homeland Security
Other confirmations include U.S. District Judge Howard Nielson of Utah, who as an attorney argued a gay judge shouldn’t be able to decide the case against California’s Proposition 8, and U.S. District Judge Chad Readler of Ohio, who as acting assistant U.S. attorney general penned his name to briefs in favor of the transgender military ban and against LGBT protections under Title VII.
(+) 8. But a few are from the LGBT community
A handful of Trump’s appointments are from the LGBT community. Among them is former Log Cabin Republicans executive director R. Clarke Cooper, whom Trump appointed to a senior position at the State Department for political-military affairs. The Senate confirmed Cooper in April.
Other new LGBT appointments are Mary Rowland, a lesbian with ties to the LGBT group Lambda Legal whom Trump named to a federal judgeship in Illinois; and Patrick Bumatay, a gay federal prosecutor whom Trump named for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California. Both nominations are pending before the Senate.
(-) 9. Draconian anti-trans memo leaked
An explosive report in the New York Times last year exposed a planned memo within the Department of Health & Human Services that would effectively erase transgender people from federal law, igniting a massive outcry among transgender rights supporters.
The proposal reportedly asserts Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which bars sex discrimination in schools, doesn’t apply to transgender people and calls for government agencies to adopt an explicit and uniform definition of sex “on a biological basis that is clear, grounded in science, objective and administrable.” A dispute about one’s sex, the New York Times reported, would have to be clarified using genetic testing.
(-) 10. Anti-trans ‘conscience rule’ is final
The memo as described by the Times never came to light, but months later HHS did implement an anti-trans “conscience rule” allowing health care providers to opt out of procedures over which they have religious objections, including abortions or gender reassignment surgery.
Trump announced the rule was final during a speech in the White House Rose Garden on the National Day of Prayer.
(-) 11. HHS seeks to undo trans health rule
HHS wasn’t done. Weeks after the conscience rule was final, the department announced a proposed rule seeking to undo regulations in health care against anti-trans discrimination.
The Obama-era regulations asserted Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, which bars sex discrimination in health care, also covers discrimination on the basis of gender identity. Under the Trump rule, HHS would disavow those protections. (The Obama-era rule was already enjoined by a federal judge.)
(-) 12. Ending visas for unmarried partners of diplomats
The State Department last year cancelled visas for the unmarried same-sex partners of diplomats to the United States.
By canceling these visas for these partners, the State Department forced these partners to either marry or get out, which complicated matters if these diplomats are from countries where same-sex marriage isn’t legal. At the time of the decision, only 25 countries recognized same-sex marriage.
(-) 13. Proposal to gut trans protections at homeless shelters
Despite assurances from Secretary of Housing & Urban Development Ben Carson LGBT non-discrimination rules for federally funded housing would remain in place, HUD has proposed a rule that would gut transgender protections at homeless shelters.
The HUD proposal would allow homeless shelters with sex-segregated facilities — such as bathrooms or shared sleeping quarters — to establish policy consistent with state and local laws in which operators consider a range of factors when determining where to place individuals looking to stay, including “religious beliefs.”
(+) 14. Trump announces HIV plan in State of the Union
Trump in his State of the Union address announced an initiative to end the HIV epidemic by 2030, asserting “remarkable progress in the fight against HIV and AIDS” in recent years.
“Scientific breakthroughs have brought a once-distant dream within reach,” Trump said. “My budget will ask Democrats and Republicans to make the needed commitment to eliminate the HIV epidemic in the United States within 10 years. We have made incredible strides. Incredible. Together, we will defeat AIDS in America and beyond.”
The plan seeks to reduce new HIV diagnoses by 75 percent within five years, and by 90 percent within 10 years. Efforts will focus on 48 counties, D.C., and San Juan, Puerto Rico and seven states where the epidemic is mostly in rural areas.
(+) 15. And the budget follows through with that request
Trump’s budget request for fiscal year 2020 made good on his pledge in the State of the Union address, seeking $300 million in new funds for domestic HIV programs.
The bulk of the $300 million figure is an additional $140 million requested for HIV prevention at the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, which is a 19 percent increase in its overall budget from fiscal year 2019. The rest is $70 million for the Ryan White Health Care Program, $50 million for PrEP services at HRSA centers and $25 million to screen for HIV and treat Hepatitis C.
(-) 16. But NIH and global AIDS programs slashed
But the same budget sought to slash funds for the National Institutes for Health, which conducts HIV research, and global AIDS programs like PEPFAR. Moreover, the plan sought to make Medicaid a block-grant program, even though 40 percent of people with HIV rely on it. Congress ended up rejecting the cuts, fully funding NIH and global AIDS programs.
(-) 17. Giving Pete Buttigieg nickname of ‘Alfred E. Neuman’
Consistent with his track record of giving his political opponents nicknames, Trump gave an unflattering moniker to Pete Buttigieg, the gay presidential candidate with growing support in the Democratic primary.
Trump dubbed him “Alfred E. Neuman,” the Mad Magazine character famous for the phrase, “What Me Worry?” In a dog whistle that perhaps gay people could hear, Trump said, “Alfred E. Neuman cannot become president of the United States.”
(+) 18. Recognizing global initiative to end anti-gay laws
In his tweet recognizing June as Pride Month, Trump also acknowledged his global initiative to decriminalize homosexuality. Currently, same-sex relations are illegal in 71 countries.
The project is spearheaded by U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell, the highest-ranking openly gay person in the Trump administration.
Previously, Trump seemed unaware of the project. Asked about it by reporters, Trump said, “I don’t know which report you’re talking about. We have many reports.”
(-) 19. No State Dept. recognition of Pride Month, IDAHO
In contrast to Trump, the State Department in 2019 issued no statement recognizing Pride Month, nor weeks before did it recognize the International Day Against Homophobia & Transphobia.
In 2018, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued statements recognizing Pride Month and IDAHO. Coming off a confirmation process in which he was criticized as homophobic, Pompeo said “too many governments continue to arrest and abuse their citizens simply for being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex.”
(-) 20. Refusing to recognize birthright of child to gay couple
Consistent with the policy of cracking down on immigration, the Trump administration refused to recognize the birthright citizenship of the son of U.S.-citizen Andrew Dvash-Banks and his Israeli husband Elad Dvash-Banks.
The couple had two twin boys conceived via a surrogate mother in Canada. The State Department, however, required a DNA test to prove the children were related to the couple to provide them U.S. passports. One child, Aiden, was deemed a citizen because he’s the biological son of Andrew, but the other, Ethan, wasn’t because he’s the biological son of Elad.
(-) 21. And appealed a court ruling for the couple
When the couple sued the Trump administration, a court sided with the couple in granting birthright citizenship to Ethan.
However, the State Department refused to accept the decision and appealed the ruling to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, where the case remains pending. A mediation document reveals the State Department insists on its policy of “a biological relationship between a U.S. citizen parent and a child born outside the United States” to grant citizenship.
(-) 22. LGBT protections watered-down in USMCA
An initial version of the USMCA trade agreement with Canada and Mexico contained at the behest of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau language a call for countries to adopt policies “against sex-based discrimination, including on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.”
But Trudeau publicly buckled when asked about his commitment. After additional negotiations with the Trump administration, a footnote was added to USMCA stating Title VII in the United States, which bars discrimination on the basis of sex in the workforce, was sufficient to meet the requirements of the deal.
(-) 23. DOJ’s ‘Religious Liberty Task Force’
Before he was sacked by Trump, former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions held a summit at the Justice Department on religious freedom featuring Masterpiece Cakeshop’s Jack Phillips and Catholic leaders.
At the summit, Sessions established the Religious Liberty Task Force. The goal of the task force was to ensure his memo on “religious freedom” — widely seen as guidance in support of anti-LGBT discrimination — was being implemented throughout the federal government.
(+) 24. Hailing PrEP deal with Truvada as ‘great news’
The Department of Health & Human Services reached a deal with Gilead to make PrEP available for generic production one year earlier and to secure a donation of the medication for up to 200,000 individuals each year for up to 11 years.
Trump took to Twitter to hail the agreement: “Great news today: My administration just secured a historic donation of HIV prevention drugs from Gilead to help expand access to PrEP for the uninsured and those at risk. Will help us achieve our goal of ending the HIV epidemic in America!”
(-) 25. Deleting trans employee guidance on OPM website
In a little-noticed development over the holidays, guidance on the Office of Personnel Management’s website for federal workers who are transgender was deleted without explanation.
The Obama-era guidance spelled out the definition of terms for transgender identities and expectations for respecting transgender workers. The guidance ensured transgender people could dress according to their gender identity, be addressed by their preferred gender pronouns and use restrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity.
(+) 26. U.S. joins OSCE in calling for Chechnya investigation
Under the Trump administration, the United States joined 15 allied countries at the U.S. Organization for Security & Cooperation in Europe in the creation of a probe to investigate alleged anti-gay human rights abuses in Chechnya.
The report concluded, as the United States and human rights organizations long believed, Chechen government officials engaged in human rights violations, including “harassment and persecution, arbitrary or unlawful arrests or detentions, torture, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions.” Victims were LGBT people, human rights defenders, journalists and members of civil society.
(-) 27. But U.S. didn’t sign U.N. statement against atrocities
Months later, the United States was nowhere to be found on a United Nations statement signed by more than 30 countries calling for a thorough investigation of the Chechnya atrocities. The State Department said the United States didn’t sign because it withdrew from the U.N. Human Rights Council “and no longer participates in its sessions.”
(-) 28. State Department proposes ‘natural law’ commission
LGBT rights supporters are viewing with skepticism a State Department proposal to create a “natural law” commission, which is set to “provide fresh thinking about human rights discourse where such discourse has departed from our nation’s founding principles of natural law and natural rights.”
The term “natural law” has been used to express condemnation of LGBT identities in religious discourse.
(-) 29. Eliminating LGBT youth data question in foster care
The Trump administration has proposed eliminating requirements for case workers to ask LGBT youth in foster care about their sexual orientation of youth for data collection purposes.
Although the Department of Health & Human Services concluded it was “intrusive and worrisome,” LGBT rights advocates say the questions are necessary to ascertain disparities facing LGBT youth in the foster care and adoption systems.
(-) 30. Trump stands with anti-LGBT adoption agencies
In a speech at the National Prayer Breakfast, Trump expressed solidarity with religious-affiliated adoption agencies, who are bristling over LGBT non-discrimination requirements to obtain federal funding.
“My administration is working to ensure that faith-based adoption agencies are able to help vulnerable children find their forever families while following their deeply held beliefs,” Trump said.
(-) 31. And defends Karen Pence teaching at anti-LGBT school
In the same speech, Trump also defended second lady Karen Pence for her decision to teach art at a Christian school in Virginia, which has a policy against employing LGBT teachers or admitting LGBT students.
“She just went back to teaching art classes at a Christian school,” Trump said, “Terrific woman.”
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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