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U.S. Civil Rights Commission reiterates support for Equality Act

Commission approves resolution before presentation on Stonewall

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Commission on Civil Rights, gay news, Washington Blade

David Carter speaks before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. (Washington Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights on June 7 approved an official resolution praising the House of Representatives for passing the LGBT civil rights bill known as the Equality Act and urging the Senate to move expeditiously to pass the legislation.

The Commission’s action came on the same day gay historian David Carter, author of the widely acclaimed book Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked The Gay Revolution, appeared before the commission at its invitation to give a presentation on the historical significance of Stonewall and its impact on the LGBT civil rights movement.

“The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, by majority vote, applauds the passage of the Equality Act by the House of Representatives as an important first federal step in securing the equal rights of the LGBT community,” the resolution states.

“The bill amends the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other civil rights laws to explicitly ban discrimination against LGBT people in public accommodations, education, federally funded programs, employment, housing, credit opportunities, and jury service,” the resolution says.

The resolution goes on to say that the Commission recognizes that existing federal law “properly interpreted already protects LGBT persons from discrimination in the workplace.” But it says that given “inconsistent federal court decisions” on the issue and conflicting state laws federal legislation like the Equality Act is needed to ensure equality under the law for LGBT people.

In his presentation before the Commission, Carter provided detailed historical background on the discrimination and persecution faced by LGBT people prior to the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City that have been credited with triggering the modern LGBT rights movement.

Carter pointed out, however, that a fledgling gay rights movement that he credited D.C. gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny with starting in the early 1960s made it possible for activists to convert the spontaneous street protests that followed the Stonewall riots into a focused and effective political movement for LGBT rights.

He noted that Kameny and his supporters modeled their efforts on the African American Civil rights movement.

“The Stonewall Uprising is historic for one reason,” Carter said in his presentation. “It inspired the creation of a new phase of the movement for the rights of gay men and lesbians (and later, for bisexuals and the transgendered) and this new phase, the gay liberation movement, created a mass movement, making most of the gains over the past five decades possible,” he said.

“The narrative of the Stonewall Uprising is a very powerful story for a number of reasons,” Carter said. “It seemed to come out of nowhere and was totally unexpected. It was a spontaneous event, totally unplanned and undirected,” he continued.

“And what happened in a seedy club run by the Mafia, and the groups that first turned against the police were primarily effeminate boys who lived on the streets, sissies rejected by their families and by society, prostitutes, a butch lesbian, and transgendered [women] – that such a group could not only lead an effective revolt against the police but also terrify them seemed too good to be true,” Carter said.

“Yet this is what happened,” said Carter, as Commission members and about 25 visitors listened intently. “Thus Stonewall symbolizes both gay people standing up for themselves en masse for the first time – spontaneously – and winning,” he said. “And this is the kind of raw material from which legends have always sprung.”

Presentation before the United States Civil Service Commission

On the History of the Stonewall Uprising and the LGBT Civil Rights Movement

 

 

By David Carter

 

 

June 7, 2019

 

 

Good afternoon.  I want to thank Catherine E. Lhamon, the chair of the Commission, as well as the other members of the Commission for according me the honor of appearing before you.

 

I have been asked to speak about my work on the history of the Stonewall Uprising, which is, of course, the best-known single event in the history of this movement, a 6-day rebellion that began as a result of a police raid on June 28, 1969 on the Stonewall Inn, a popular gay club in Greenwich Village. The facts of the Stonewall Uprising are well established as is general information about the Stonewall club and how it operated.  However to understand the meaning of the event requires information that goes beyond these sets of facts, including information that has not become integrated into media accounts, documentaries, and museum exhibitions.  Because one needs to be aware of a much greater context of the history beyond the events of the Uprising to interpret the Uprising’s meaning and its historical implications accurately, I will not spend much time today on the Uprising itself but on this larger context.

 

Homosexual acts had been illegal since the nation’s founding but an increase in the intolerance of homosexuality seems to have taken root around the time of the Great Depression.  After World War II, with the advent of the Cold War and the Red Scare, exemplified by a virulent anticommunism and the demand for total conformity that characterized the 1950s, laws aimed at homosexuals became so harsh that at times they were draconian.

 

The Defense Department hardened its policy of excluding homosexual servicemen and women, tripling the World War II discharge rate and reversed prior practice by generally giving less-than-honorable “blue discharges.”  These punitive discharges stripped thousands of veterans of the benefits that had been promised them in the G.I. Bill of Rights.  After Lieutenant Roy Blick of the Washington, DC vice squad testified before the Senate in 1950 that 5,000 homosexuals worked for the government (a figure he had fabricated), the Senate authorized an investigation into the matter by a subcommittee chaired by North Carolina Senator Clyde Hoey. The Hoey subcommittee’s report stated: “those who engage in overt acts of perversion lack the emotional stability of normal persons.”  Having concluded that “One homosexual can pollute an entire office,” the subcommittee urged that the military’s recent purge of homosexuals be the model for civilian agencies.

 

The Civil Service Commission and the FBI complied by initiating an intense campaign to ferret out homosexuals by correlating morals arrests across the United States with lists of government employees and checking fingerprints of job applicants against the FBI’s fingerprint files.

 

After Dwight Eisenhower became president, he signed Executive Order 10,450, in April, 1953, which added “sexual perversion” as a ground for government investigation and dismissal.  The government shared police and military records with private employers, resulting in the dismissal of hundreds.

 

While McCarthyism encouraged the toughening of laws toward homosexuals because they were believed to be security risks, America’s Puritan tradition was producing a furor over child molestation.  Homosexuals were believed to be the main culprits.  As the right-wing demonization proceeded apace, the negative qualities attributed to homosexuals overlapped until it became a common assumption that any man or woman who was homosexual was so beyond the pale that she or he must also partake of the most forbidden ideological fruit of all, communism.

 

As homosexuals became handy scapegoats for both of these postwar preoccupations, antihomosexual laws were made more severe.  Twenty-nine states enacted new sexual psychopath laws and/or revised existing ones, and homosexuals were commonly the laws’ primary targets.  In almost all states, professional licenses could be revoked or denied because of homosexuality, so that professionals could lose their livelihoods.  In 1971 twenty states had “sex psychopath” laws permitting them to detain homosexuals.  In Pennsylvania and California, sex offenders could be locked in a mental institution for life, and in seven states they could be castrated. At California’s Atascadero State Hospital, men convicted of consensual sodomy were given electrical and pharmacological shock therapy, castrated, and had lobotomies performed on them, as authorized by a 1941 law.

 

It has been pointed out that no specific statute outlawed being homosexual and that only homosexual acts were illegal.  While this is technically true, the effect of the entire body of laws and policies that the state employed to police the conduct of homosexual men and women was to make being gay a crime de facto.  The harshness of these laws made judges generally unwilling to sentence homosexual men, lesbians, and transvestites to such inhumane sentences and instead they tended to hand out light fines or to place those convicted on probation.  But the random or selective use of far harsher penalties, and the potential threat of their use, combined with other sanctions and harassments, major and minor, official and nonofficial, were more than sufficient to keep the vast majority of homosexual men and women well with the lines that society had drawn for them.

 

Having created all manner of sanctions to make it difficult for homosexuals to meet their own kind, the police aggressively patrolled the few places where homosexuals could mingle:  bars, bath houses, and outdoor cruising places such as streets, parks, and beaches.  Some jurisdictions planted microphones in park benches and used peepholes and two-way mirrors to spy on homosexuals in public restrooms.

 

While the law classified homosexuals as criminals and the scientific establishment used psychology to medicalize homosexuality into an illness, gay men and lesbians found almost universal moral condemnation from religions, whether mainstream or obscure.  Thrice condemned—as criminals, as mentally ill, and as sinners—homosexuals faced a social reality in post-World War II America that was bleak if not grim.

To shift from the national perspective to that of a single state, namely New York, one place that gay people sought as a refuge was Greenwich Village. The Village’s Bohemian reputation first attracted gay people to the area around the turn of the 20th century, as they sensed that a place known for wide tolerance might accept even sexual nonconformists.

 

As word increasingly got out nationwide that there were large numbers of gay people in Greenwich Village, more and more gay men and lesbians were drawn there.  Eventually New York had the largest gay population in the United States, and the Village increasingly served as a center for the growing homosexual subculture.

 

But New York was also the city that most aggressively and systematically targeted gay men as criminals. Police vice squads—which New York City was the first to create—attempted to control homosexuals by observing locales where people congregated, using decoys to entice them, and raiding gay bars and baths.

 

When Prohibition ended, New York created the State Liquor Authority (SLA) and gave it practically total leeway in administering and enforcing these laws.   The SLA interpreted the laws so that even the presence of homosexuals—categorized as people who were “lewd and dissolute”—in a bar made that place disorderly and subject to closure. The result was that New York City was the most vigorous investigator of homosexuals before World War II. Responding to right-wing pressure after the war, New York City modernized its stakeout, decoy, and police raid operations and continued to haul in thousands of homosexuals, sometimes just for socializing at a private party.  More commonly the police arrested them at bars and in cruising areas.  By 1966 over one hundred men were arrested each week for “homosexual solicitation” as a result of police entrapment.

 

Making it impossible for bars to legally serve homosexuals created a situation that could only lead to criminals stepping in.  The Mafia entered into the vacuum to run gay bars, which in turn set up a scenario for police corruption and the exploitation of the bars’ customers.  These last were not likely to complain because they had nowhere else to go and because they feared the mob.  The corruption spread as the police and SLA agents were paid off by the Mafia, and lawyers charged homosexual clients caught between the Mafia, the police, and the SLA exorbitant fees, part of which was then used to bribe judges.

 

Such repression resulted in resistance.  The first organization to begin organized ongoing political resistance to the oppression of gay people was the Mattachine Society, founded in 1951.  However, because of the intense rightward shift the nation experienced in the 1950s, the early radical spirit of that organization was lost. The approach then changed to relying on psychiatrists to say that homosexuals were not criminals but mentally ill persons who needed therapy.  The Mattachine, or homophile, movement, also hoped to educate the public to be more tolerant. These approaches constituted a strategy that became known as the education and research approach.

 

Frank Kameny was one of those citizens caught up in the federal dragnet.  A Harvard-educated astronomer, Kameny had been hired by the Army Map Service but was summarily fired when the government discovered that he was homosexual.  After failing to get his job back in spite of doing all he could as an individual, he turned to an organizational approach.  His last gambit had been a petition he sent to the US Supreme Court to hear his case. Inspired by basic principles of American democracy, the black civil rights movement, and sociologist Edward Sagarin’s assertion that homosexuals are a valid minority, Kameny argued that the government should not only not persecute homosexuals but should work to end discrimination against them.  Kameny used the analysis from his Supreme Court petition when he started an organization in Washington, DC, the Mattachine Society of Washington, to argue that the homophile movement is a civil rights movement that must settle for nothing less than full legal and social equality.

 

Kameny’s was at first a lonely voice, but he soon won a few activists over to his side, and with each passing year won more support.  In 1964 Kameny was invited to give a speech to the Mattachine Society of New York.  There he articulated publicly the arguments he had crafted in his Supreme Court petition. He also urged that New York City activists work to accomplish two goals: to end police entrapment and to legalize gay bars.  The speech so electrified the Mattachine-NY membership that the next year they threw out the officers who supported the education and research approach and elected a slate of militants to pursue a civil rights strategy.

 

Dick Leitsch became president of Mattachine-NY and, following Kameny’s advice, succeeded in ending the NYPD entrapment of gay men and gradually made significant progress toward legalizing gay bars.

 

The Stonewall Inn club opened during this period of progress toward the legalization of gay bars.  It became popular because it was the only gay club in New York City where dancing was allowed regularly but more particularly where slow dancing was allowed.  It was also the city’s largest gay club and was located just a block and half from the very heart of the male gay social area, the intersection of Christopher Street and Greenwich Avenue.  The club was broadly tolerant about who was admitted and thus became popular with a wide cross-section of the community.

 

At the same time, it was a Mafia bar that was run only to exploit a community ripe for exploitation, so it charged exorbitant prices for drinks.  It was also dirty and sold questionable Mafia alcohol. But while most customers were willing to put up with these features to have a place to dance and socialize, some customers fared worse.  One of the managers of the Stonewall was a career criminal named Ed Murphy who was arrested in the mid-sixties for running an extensive national operation blackmailing homosexuals Murphy found via a prostitution ring.  He used an office above the Stonewall in the late 1960s to run a prostitution ring. The Stonewall’s waiters were also used to collect information on their customers, especially those with more lucrative careers.

 

When the New York Police Department received a query from Interpol about bonds surfacing on European streets, they investigated and determined that they were stolen by a Wall Street employee who had been blackmailed because of his homosexuality.  Further investigation pointed to the area around the Stonewall as the likely origin of the blackmailing operation.  At a time of extensive investigation into police corruption in New York City, Seymour Pine, a police officer with a reputation for being honest, had been transferred against his wishes to head the First Division of the Public Morals police.  Soon thereafter he was summoned to a meeting with his captain and ordered to put the Stonewall out of business because of its connection with the Mafia blackmail operation.

 

After some more routine raids on the Stonewall, Pine organized a large raid early in the morning of June 28, 1969, but the real reason for the raid was not made public. By this time, Pine had gathered from previous raids on the Stonewall that the local Sixth Precinct was informing the club when a raid was planned, so for this larger raid Pine did not inform the Sixth Precinct, which was supposed to assist in the raid after it was underway.

 

When the raid began, almost everything went wrong from the beginning from the police perspective.  Pine, who was used to raiding early when there were few occupants in the club, this time ran into an unusual degree of resistance from patrons.  Also, the 6th Precinct did not respond to Pine’s signals for help later when the crowd began to get out of control.  

 

The crowd that had gathered in the street outside the Stonewall was made up of the club’s customers and passersby.  Initially, the reaction of the crowd to the police went back and forth between expressions of anger and humor.  As the crowd witnessed the police be rough with some of the club’s patrons, they became more angry.  The culmination came when a lesbian being carried out of the club was treated brutally by the police.  After she escaped twice from a patrol car, she was thrown inside the vehicle.  The lesbian’s harsh treatment was the tipping point that caused the crowd to become furious.  Pine, sensing the danger to his officers after the patrol wagon left with the initial group of prisoners, thought it too dangerous to remain on the sidewalk. He retreated into the club, where the remaining prisoners were being held for the next patrol wagon.  One reason for the great anger was a belief that the gay persons held inside the club were being beaten by the police.  A loose parking meter was uprooted and used as a battering ram on the club, cobblestones and bricks were thrown, and lighter fluid was used to try to set the club on fire.

 

Pine finally managed to get an undercover policewoman out through a back window.  She went to a fire station and put in a call for help from the Tactical Police Force, or riot police.  Soon firetrucks arrived as well as the riot police and a patrol wagon from the 6th Precinct.  The police inside the Stonewall were rescued and the prisoners taken away.  The police wrecked the bar and the riot police were brutal in clearing the streets of protestors.

 

But the crowd was not cowed by the large numbers of helmeted police brandishing batons. When the police formed a phalanx and cleared Christopher Street, the street the Stonewall club was on, the crowd merely used the highly irregular Village street layout to come back around behind the police.  This was a scenario that was repeated many times.  On the next day, the crowds were much larger and the violence was even greater.  On Sunday, the third day, the police were less confrontational, the crowds smaller, and there are no reports of violence.  There were only sporadic skirmishes between the police and small numbers of civilians on Monday and Tuesday.  The following day, the Village Voice appeared, featuring the Uprising but using derogatory terms such as “faggot” and “dyke” to describe members of the crowd.  The Voice coverage brought the Uprising to the attention of a much larger group of people and angered the gay population.  The result was that the sixth and last night of the Stonewall Uprising was much like the first two nights: a large crowd and much violence.

 

When the Uprising was over those who witnessed it sensed that nothing would ever be the same for the movement. There was much discussion about what should be done.  A handful of people realized that it was urgent that something be made of this event before the unleashed energy dissipated.  After a series of meetings, a decision was made to form a new organization, the Gay Liberation Front or GLF.  The GLF was modeled in large part on New Left groups of the 1960s. However those who became the leaders of the GLF were generally those with extreme views; some were avowed Marxists, and the organization wanted to take on all issues of oppression.  Meetings tended to break down into long theoretical discussions, ad hominem attacks, and there was a lack of democratic process.  Soon many of the founders and early members quit.

 

Some of these founded a new organization, the Gay Activists Alliance or GAA.  GAA decided to work only on the issue of rights for gay people, to adhere to democratic principles at meetings, and to eschew the use of violence.  GAA also used tactics that it called zaps—creative demonstrations that combined guerilla theater and camp humor—to undermine its opponents.  To give one example, when Harper’s published a vicious essay attacking gay people and refused to publish a rebuttal written by homosexuals, GAA occupied their offices but brought along coffee and doughnuts, approaching members of the staff saying, “I’m a homosexual. Would you like a doughnut?”  With zaps and other subversive and creative tactics, GAA was soon in the national media, growing rapidly, and starting new chapters nationwide.

 

Because of GAA, GLF, and other new gay liberation organizations that sprang up, such as Radical Lesbians, there was soon a mass movement for the civil rights of lesbians and gay men.  Having a mass movement made possible the passage of new legislation to decriminalize same-sex behavior and changes by nongovernmental organizations to end discriminatory practices.

 

So why is the Stonewall Uprising historic and what are the lessons from the Uprising?

 

The Stonewall Uprising is historic for one reason: it inspired the creation of a new phase of the movement for the rights of gay men and lesbians (and later, for bisexuals and the transgendered) and this new phase, the gay liberation movement, created a mass movement, making most of the gains over the past 5 decades possible.  Stonewall and the gay liberation movement also inspired similar new organizations around the world, so that globally LGBT people have more civil rights than they did 50 years ago.  This is why I often say that to study the Uprising without learning about the gay liberation phase of the GLBT civil rights movement is like studying the fall of the Bastille while knowing nothing about the French Revolution.

 

Second, I would like to note that while there are many factors that came together to create the Stonewall Uprising, the most important of all these causes is the progress made during the homophile phase of the movement, particularly locally in New York City.  This was a conclusion reached by none other than Craig Rodwell, a man whose perspective is of primary importance for he was the chief critic of the Stonewall club, he was the main propagandist of the Stonewall Uprising, and it was he who had the idea to celebrate the event annually with a march commemorating the revolt.  In other words, had it not been for the work done by Dick Leitsch to end entrapment and legalize gay bars, following up on Kameny’s earlier suggestions, the explosion at Stonewall would in all likelihood not have occurred.  I say this because of a series of reflections I had after I finished the first draft of my history of Stonewall because the narrative did not make sense to me: why did the explosion occur after all the progress under the Lindsay administration? The answer is that, as historians have noted, revolutions tend to occur after periods of liberalization.  Or, to put it another way, while it took many factors coming together to create Stonewall, the longer I have lived with this history, the more I have come to feel that the most important cause in the long list of causes that created the matrix for the Uprising, the most fundamental was that work began as a result of  Kameny’s  civil rights approach, the local movement’s success in ending entrapment and the progress it made toward legalizing gay bars.

 

Immanuel Kant famously wrote about the French Revolution in “The Contest of Faculties” that “The occurrence in question does not involve any of those momentous deeds or misdeeds of men which make small in their eyes what was formerly great or make great what was formerly small. . . . No, it has nothing to do with all this. We are here concerned only with the attitude of the onlookers as it reveals itself in public while the drama of great political changes is taking place.”  In other words, the French Revolution had the impact it did not because of its effects on those who participated in it but rather upon those who witnessed it.  It was the same phenomenon with Stonewall: the event derived its power from the emotional shock it created in those who heard about it.

 

All of the above goes far to explain the powerful symbolism of Stonewall.  But why does that power endure?

 

I believe that the answer lies in the meaning of historic or national symbolism itself.  All nations and important movements have moments that have a power that exceeds what can be expressed by mere rational analysis of their historic effect. This is because these moments are symbolic, because they express the deepest truths experienced by the human heart. They become emblematic of the best in us, they symbolize our hopes and dreams, our feelings and yearnings, and all that we sense is our potential: the vision of a world as it should be or could be or as it needs to be. Thus when we learn about American history, certain stories, events, people, and moments are emphasized. For example, all school children learn the story of how Francis Scott Keyes watched through the night to see if Fort McHenry would fall under the intense British bombardment to which it was being subjected. When he saw the flag still flying in the morning, he knew that an important battle had not been lost and expressed this moment of hope and the triumph of faith in the words that became our national anthem. The stories—or images—of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., giving his “I Have a Dream” speech, or of the American flag being raised over Iwo Jima, or of Rosa Parks refusing to move to a seat at the back of the bus are all moments and images that help define who we are, moments that exemplify our best and highest values and thus are potent symbols.

 

The narrative of the Stonewall Uprising is a very powerful story for a number of reasons. It seemed to come out of nowhere and was totally unexpected. It was a spontaneous event, totally unplanned and undirected. And it happened in a seedy club run by the Mafia, and the groups that first turned against the police were primarily effeminate boys who lived on the streets, sissies rejected by their families and by society, prostitutes, a butch lesbian, and transgendered men—that such a group could not only lead an effective revolt against the police but also terrify them seemed too good to be true. Yet this is what happened. And the police were astonished and terrified at the anger that they witnessed. Pine, who led the raid, had written the manual for hand-to-hand combat in World War II and been seriously injured in the Battle of the Bulge, yet he said he was never more afraid than he was inside that bar surrounded by hundreds of homosexuals. Thus Stonewall symbolizes both gay people standing up for themselves en masse for the first time—spontaneously—and winning.  And this is the kind of raw material from which legends have always sprung.

 

All who witnessed the Stonewall Uprising were transfixed by it. That is the reason that less than half a year after the Uprising a homophile conference voted to celebrate the event annually. And the movement spawned by Stonewall continues to surge around the nation and the world. There was little international movement for LGBT civil rights before Stonewall, but the liberation movement inspired by the Stonewall Uprising has known no boundaries and has continued to overturn discriminatory and unjust policies in Europe, Asia, Africa, and every other part of the world. Thus the Stonewall Uprising is the most celebrated and symbolic event, both nationally and internationally, in the history of the LGBT movement for civil rights and equality from its earliest beginnings in Germany in the 19th century down through the present day.

 

Given the preeminence of Stonewall in the history of the LGBT civil rights movement, the event has been widely commemorated and celebrated within the movement.  But until very recently the history of this movement has generally been ignored or given very limited recognition outside of the movement.  This has begun to change, especially since the ruling establishing the right to marriage for same-sex couples by the Supreme Court, which seemed to say to many people that this is a legitimate moral movement.  The two major speeches in which President Barack Obama linked the LGBT movement with those of the black civil rights movement and the movement for women’s rights helped the public to recognize the movement as legitimate American and civil rights history.

 

As for as official recognition of the Stonewall Uprising by the US government, this began with the Uprising site being listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1999, being declared a National Historic Landmark in 2000, and being made a national monument in 2016.

 

I thank the Commission for its time, and I will be happy to respond to any questions that you may have.

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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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D.C. bill to ban LGBTQ panic defense delayed by Capitol security

Delivery of bill to Congress was held up due to protocols related to Jan. 6 riots

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New fencing around the Capitol following the Jan. 6 insurrection prevented some D.C. bills from being delivered to the Hill for a required congressional review. (Blade file photo by Michael K. Lavers)

A bill approved unanimously last December by the D.C. Council to ban the so-called LGBTQ panic defense has been delayed from taking effect as a city law because the fence installed around the U.S. Capitol following the Jan. 6 insurrection prevented the law from being delivered to Congress.

According to Eric Salmi, communications director for D.C. Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), who guided the bill through the Council’s legislative process, all bills approved by the Council and signed by the D.C. mayor must be hand-delivered to Congress for a required congressional review.

“What happened was when the Capitol fence went up after the January insurrection, it created an issue where we physically could not deliver laws to Congress per the congressional review period,” Salmi told the Washington Blade.

Among the bills that could not immediately be delivered to Congress was the Bella Evangelista and Tony Hunter Panic Defense Prohibition and Hate Crimes Response Amendment Act of 2020, which was approved by the Council on a second and final vote on Dec. 15.

Between the time the bill was signed by Mayor Muriel Bowser and published in the D.C. Register under procedural requirements for all bills, it was not ready to be transmitted to Congress until Feb. 16, the Council’s legislative record for the bill shows.

Salmi said the impasse in delivering the bill to Congress due to the security fence prevented the bill from reaching Congress on that date and prevented the mandatory 60-day congressional review period for this bill from beginning at that time. He noted that most bills require a 30 legislative day review by Congress.

But the Evangelista-Hunter bill, named after a transgender woman and a gay man who died in violent attacks by perpetrators who attempted to use the trans and gay panic defense, includes a law enforcement related provision that under the city’s Home Rule Charter passed by Congress in the early 1970s requires a 60-day congressional review.

“There is a chance it goes into effect any day now, just given the timeline is close to being up,” Salmi said on Tuesday. “I don’t know the exact date it was delivered, but I do know the countdown is on,” said Salmi, who added, “I would expect any day now it should go into effect and there’s nothing stopping it other than an insurrection in January.”

If the delivery to Congress had not been delayed, the D.C. Council’s legislative office estimated the congressional review would have been completed by May 12.

A congressional source who spoke on condition of being identified only as a senior Democratic aide, said the holdup of D.C. bills because of the Capitol fence has been corrected.

“The House found an immediate workaround, when this issue first arose after the Jan. 6 insurrection,” the aide said.

“This is yet another reason why D.C. Council bills should not be subject to a congressional review period and why we need to grant D.C. statehood,” the aide said.

The aide added that while no disapproval resolution had been introduced in Congress to overturn the D.C. Evangelista-Hunter bill, House Democrats would have defeated such a resolution.

“House Democrats support D.C. home rule, statehood, and LGBTQ rights,” said the aide.

LGBTQ rights advocates have argued that a ban on using a gay or transgender panic defense in criminal trials is needed to prevent defense attorneys from inappropriately asking juries to find that a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity or expression is to blame for a defendant’s criminal act, including murder.

Some attorneys have argued that their clients “panicked” after discovering the person against whom they committed a violent crime was gay or transgender, prompting them to act in a way they believed to be a form of self-defense.

In addition to its provision banning the LGBTQ panic defense, the Evangelista-Hunter bill includes a separate provision that strengthens the city’s existing hate crimes law by clarifying that hatred need not be the sole motivating factor for an underlying crime such as assault, murder, or threats to be prosecuted as a hate crime.

LGBTQ supportive prosecutors have said the clarification was needed because it is often difficult to prove to a jury that hatred is the only motive behind a violent crime. The prosecutors noted that juries have found defendants not guilty of committing a hate crime on grounds that they believed other motives were involved in a particular crime after defense lawyers argued that the law required “hate” to be the only motive in order to find someone guilty of a hate crime.

Salmi noted that while the hate crime clarification and panic defense prohibition provisions of the Evangelista-Hunter bill will become law as soon as the congressional review is completed, yet another provision in the bill will not become law after the congressional review because there are insufficient funds in the D.C. budget to cover the costs of implementing the provision.

The provision gives the D.C. Office of Human Rights and the Office of the D.C. Attorney General authority to investigate hate related discrimination at places of public accommodation. Salmi said the provision expands protections against discrimination to include web-based retailers or online delivery services that are not physically located in D.C.

“That is subject to appropriations,” Salmi said. “And until it is funded in the upcoming budget it cannot be legally enforced.”

He said that at Council member Allen’s request, the Council added language to the bill that ensures that all other provisions of the legislation that do not require additional funding – including the ban on use of the LGBTQ panic defense and the provision clarifying that hatred doesn’t have to be the sole motive for a hate crime – will take effect as soon as the congressional approval process is completed.

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D.C. man charged with 2020 anti-gay death threat rearrested

Defendant implicated in three anti-LGBTQ incidents since 2011

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shooting, DC Eagle, assault, hate crime, anti-gay attack, police discrimination, sex police, Sisson, gay news, Washington Blade

A D.C. man arrested in August 2020 for allegedly threatening to kill a gay man outside the victim’s apartment in the city’s Adams Morgan neighborhood and who was released while awaiting trial was arrested again two weeks ago for allegedly threatening to kill another man in an unrelated incident.

D.C. Superior Court records show that Jalal Malki, who was 37 at the time of his 2020 arrest on a charge of bias-related attempts to do bodily harm against the gay man, was charged on May 4, 2021 with unlawful entry, simple assault, threats to kidnap and injure a person, and attempted possession of a prohibited weapon against the owner of a vacant house at 4412 Georgia Ave., N.W.

Court charging documents state that Malki was allegedly staying at the house without permission as a squatter. An arrest affidavit filed in court by D.C. police says Malki allegedly threatened to kill the man who owns the house shortly after the man arrived at the house while Malki was inside.

According to the affidavit, Malki walked up to the owner of the house while the owner was sitting in his car after having called police and told him, “If you come back here, I’m going to kill you.” While making that threat Malki displayed what appeared to be a gun in his waistband, but which was later found to be a toy gun, the affidavit says.

Malki then walked back inside the house minutes before police arrived and arrested him. Court records show that similar to the court proceedings following his 2020 arrest for threatening the gay man, a judge in the latest case ordered Malki released while awaiting trial. In both cases, the judge ordered him to stay away from the two men he allegedly threatened to kill.

An arrest affidavit filed by D.C. police in the 2020 case states that Malki allegedly made the threats inside an apartment building where the victim lived on the 2300 block of Champlain Street, N.W. It says Malki was living in a nearby building but often visited the building where the victim lived.

“Victim 1 continued to state during an interview that it was not the first time that Defendant 1 had made threats to him, but this time Defendant 1 stated that if he caught him outside, he would ‘fucking kill him.’” the affidavit says. It quotes the victim as saying during this time Malki repeatedly called the victim a “fucking faggot.”

The affidavit, prepared by the arresting officers, says that after the officers arrested Malki and were leading him to a police transport vehicle to be booked for the arrest, he expressed an “excited utterance” that he was “in disbelief that officers sided with the ‘fucking faggot.’”

Court records show that Malki is scheduled to appear in court on June 4 for a status hearing for both the 2020 arrest and the arrest two weeks ago for allegedly threatening to kill the owner of the house in which police say he was illegally squatting.

Superior Court records show that Malki had been arrested three times between 2011 and 2015 in cases unrelated to the 2021 and 2020 cases for allegedly also making threats of violence against people. Two of the cases appear to be LGBTQ related, but prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office did not list the cases as hate crimes.

In the first of the three cases, filed in July 2011, Malki allegedly shoved a man inside Dupont Circle and threatened to kill him after asking the man why he was wearing a purple shirt.

“Victim 1 believes the assault occurred because Suspect 1 believes Victim 1 is a homosexual,” the police arrest affidavit says.

Court records show prosecutors charged Malki with simple assault and threats to do bodily harm in the case. But the court records show that on Sept. 13, 2011, D.C. Superior Court Judge Stephen F. Eilperin found Malki not guilty on both charges following a non-jury trial.

The online court records do not state why the judge rendered a not guilty verdict. With the courthouse currently closed to the public and the press due to COVID-related restrictions, the Washington Blade couldn’t immediately obtain the records to determine the judge’s reason for the verdict.

In the second case, court records show Malki was arrested by D.C. police outside the Townhouse Tavern bar and restaurant at 1637 R St., N.W. on Nov. 7, 2012 for allegedly threatening one or more people with a knife after employees ordered Malki to leave the establishment for “disorderly behavior.”

At the time, the Townhouse Tavern was located next door to the gay nightclub Cobalt, which before going out of business two years ago, was located at the corner of 17th and R Streets, N.W.

The police arrest affidavit in the case says Malki allegedly pointed a knife in a threatening way at two of the tavern’s employees who blocked his path when he attempted to re-enter the tavern. The affidavit says he was initially charged by D.C. police with assault with a dangerous weapon – knife. Court records, however, show that prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office lowered the charges to two counts of simple assault. The records show that on Jan. 15, 2013, Malki pleaded guilty to the two charges as part of a plea bargain arrangement.

The records show that Judge Marissa Demeo on that same day issued a sentence of 30 days for each of the two charges but suspended all 30 days for both counts. She then sentenced Malki to one year of supervised probation for both charges and ordered that he undergo alcohol and drug testing and undergo treatment if appropriate.

In the third case prior to the 2020 and 2021 cases, court records show Malki was arrested outside the Cobalt gay nightclub on March 14, 2015 on multiple counts of simple assault, attempted assault with a dangerous weapon – knife, possession of a prohibited weapon – knife, and unlawful entry.

The arrest affidavit says an altercation started on the sidewalk outside the bar when for unknown reasons, Malki grabbed a female customer who was outside smoking and attempted to pull her toward him. When her female friend came to her aid, Malki allegedly got “aggressive” by threatening the woman and “removed what appeared to be a knife from an unknown location” and pointed it at the woman’s friend in a threatening way, the affidavit says.

It says a Cobalt employee minutes later ordered Malki to leave the area and he appeared to do so. But others noticed that he walked toward another entrance door to Cobalt and attempted to enter the establishment knowing he had been ordered not to return because of previous problems with his behavior, the affidavit says. When he attempted to push away another employee to force his way into Cobalt, Malki fell to the ground during a scuffle and other employees held him on the ground while someone else called D.C. police.

Court records show that similar to all of Malki’s arrests, a judge released him while awaiting trial and ordered him to stay away from Cobalt and all of those he was charged with threatening and assaulting.

The records show that on Sept. 18, 2015, Malki agreed to a plea bargain offer by prosecutors in which all except two of the charges – attempted possession of a prohibited weapon and simple assault – were dropped. Judge Alfred S. Irving Jr. on Oct. 2, 2015 sentenced Malki to 60 days of incarnation for each of the two charges but suspended all but five days, which he allowed Malki to serve on weekends, the court records show.

The judge ordered that the two five-day jail terms could be served concurrently, meaning just five days total would be served, according to court records. The records also show that Judge Irving sentenced Malki to one year of supervised probation for each of the two counts and ordered that he enter an alcohol treatment program and stay away from Cobalt.

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