Connect with us

homepage news

Marianne Williamson: ‘I honor gay love because it’s love’

2020 hopeful and author implies Mike Pence Is gay

Published

on

Marianne Williamson says love can defeat President Trump. (Photo by Marcn via Facebook)

One underdog Democratic presidential candidate with firsthand experience of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s wants to wield love — including gay love — as her weapon of choice to take on President Trump in 2020.

Marianne Williamson, an author whose vision for a “Politics of Love” is the subject of her latest book and drew attention at the first Democratic debate, said in an interview Thursday with the Washington Blade her vision applies to LGBT people.

“I don’t think that there’s gender to love, I don’t think there’s sexuality to love,” Williamson said. “I think that sexuality and gender are the containers and the ways we express our love, but I think love is love. I honor gay love because it’s love. I honor love.”

Williamson, 67, said her work during the height of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s is “well-documented.” At the time, she founded the Los Angeles and Manhattan Centers for Living, which sought to provide free non-medical care to people with HIV, and Project Angel Food, which delivers food to homebound people with AIDS.

“I’ve worked with thousands of people during that time, during the AIDS crisis, spiritual support groups, food, etcetera.,” Williamson said. “So actually, my activism on behalf of that community has been ongoing and began during the AIDS crisis, so my connection to that community has been strong and has been going on for a very long time.”

In the aftermath of racist tweets from President Trump and presiding over a rally in which supporters chanted “send her back” in reference to Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Williamson likened the current administration to Nazi Germany before World War II.

Asked what aspect of the Trump administration’s anti-LGBT record bothers her the most, Williamson identified the transgender military ban, saying Trump “in many ways, leads the pack” in cultural attitudes against transgender people.

When the Blade asked Williamson why she thinks Vice President Mike Pence seems so uncomfortable with the idea of gay rights, she laughed and referenced rumors that Pence is himself gay without explicitly saying so.

“Well, there are all kinds of theories about that, aren’t there?” Williamson said. “Everyone can have their own — can have their own. I have no idea, but I have a sense that other people do.”

Remembering Los Angeles as being hard hit by AIDS in the 1980s because it affected many people in the entertainment industry and LGBT people, Williamson became emotional and unable to speak when she reflected on the ravages of the disease.

“Those of us who did experience it, it imprints them,” Williamson said. “You’re imprinted with something. I can’t even talk about it now and not —“

David Kessler, a gay longtime friend of Williamson, said the candidate is “brilliant and articulate and she has always been someone who thinks a little out of the box,” marveling at her work during the height of the AIDS epidemic.

The two met, Kessler said, as a result of an AIDS support group she held in his living room every Monday night when he was in another section of town doing a support group.

Recalling the days when medical practitioners would decline to treat people with AIDS, Kessler said Williamson would visit gay men as they were dying in hospitals and came up with the idea for the Los Angeles Center for Living.

“Even back then, I said, ‘Well, do you have a business plan?” Kessler said. “And she goes, ‘No. I don’t have a business plan. I’m just trying to make this happen. And I’m like, ‘Well, you’re going to need a business plan for an organization.’ And she goes, ‘I’m going to just make this happen.’ And she started calling people, and started saying we have to this place for people to come, and the next thing I know, she started this amazing LA Center for Living.”

Kessler said Williamson started Project Angel Food when she realized gay men with AIDS had stopped coming to the center because they were too sick to leave their homes.

“They were getting sicker and they couldn’t come in for lunch,” Kessler said. “And she said, ‘Well, we have to bring them lunch,’ and that turned into Project Angel Food, which still exists today, and just the other day served its 12 millionth meal.”

Williamson has taken flak for once calling vaccine mandates “Orwellian” and “draconian” — a statement for which she has since issued an apology — and bristled when asked whether she would support a hypothetical HIV vaccine.

“I think my quote unquote, concern over vaccines has been vastly misrepresented,” Williamson said. “I am pro-vaccine. I am also pro-independent scientific research. And I am aware of how often in our country today because of the influence of Big Pharma, independent research through such sources as the Centers for Disease Control, National Institutes of Health so forth, is diminished. I also am never happy with the suppression of independent consultation In the United States.”

Regarding the AIDS vaccine, Williamson said she “knows that it exists.” Just last week, the National Institutes for Health announced the start of trials in the United States and abroad for a potential HIV vaccine.

Kessler defended Williamson as a supporter of medicine, saying “there’s been things said that she’s against medicine, which is completely utterly wrong.”

“I remember Marianne giving men money and taking them to UCLA for the AZT study and giving them money for prescriptions,” Kessler said. “There’s no part of Marianne that was anti-medicine.”

Despite Williamson’s record of working for LGBT people, many LGBT voters have been drawn to other candidates, including gay South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg (whose success to date Williamson called “wonderful.”)

One gay Democratic advocate with familiarity of LGBT donors in Los Angeles, who spoke on condition of anonymity for greater candor, said eyes have been on other candidates who appear better poised to win in the general election.

“I know that there are a number of folks here who look very kindly on all of the work that she did in the community in the past — but most are now focused on more serious candidates who stand a real chance at beating our current threat: Donald Trump,” the advocate said.

The full interview follows: 

Washington Blade: Let me just get right into it. The Washington Blade is the nation’s oldest LGBT newspaper. We’re celebrating our 50th anniversary, in fact, this year. 

And so to start off with, I want to ask you, because you’re running in a field of Democratic candidates with records in support of LGBT rights, what makes you think your candidacy and vision for a “politics of love” is the best choice for the LGBT community?

Marianne Williamson: Well, I actually have a very long record of activism on behalf of the LGBTQ community. Starting in 1983, starting in the 80s, with the AIDS crisis, my activism is well documented, having founded the Los Angeles Centers for Living, and the Manhattans Center for Living, both which gave non-profit, gave free non-medical services to people living with AIDS and other life-challenging illnesses. 

And one of the programs of the Centers for Living was Project Angel Food. This was a “Meals on Wheels” program I founded in the late 80s, to feed homebound people with AIDS. 

Today, the organization still exists and has served over 11 million meals. I did numerous — I’ve worked with thousands of people during that time, during the AIDS crisis, spiritual support groups, food, etc. So actually, my activism on behalf of that community has been ongoing and began during the AIDS crisis. So, my connection to that community has been strong and has been going on for a very long time.

Blade: And I think, as you said, that your work with the Los Angeles and Manhattan Centers for Living, and Project Angel Food is well documented. But what about the future? To what extent will your signature plans — the institution of a Department of Children & Youth, the Department of Peace and reparations — address issues facing LGBT people?

Williamson: I don’t think the Department of Children & Youth or even necessarily the Department of Peace specifically speak to that.

The issue of LGBT rights to me is a basic justice and civil rights issue in the United States. Discrimination against gay people, particularly against trans people today, is unfortunately, it could be argued at an all-time high. It seems in some ways, and in some ways, it is true, great strides have been made.

Also, I’d like to point out that I was — among public figures — I was very, very early in support of marriage equality, long before most democratic politicians were, I was out there publicly talking about how gay people should be able to marry while a lot of other people, even on the left in public positions, we’re saying, oh marriage is — what did they say? — you know, between a man and a woman or whatever. So I have always been very, very vocal about my support. 

In terms of what’s happening today. Well, obviously great strides have been made, marriage equality, etc. When you look at some of the discrimination, and also some of the cultural attitudes, particularly against trans people, it’s very disturbing what is happening today. And of course, unfortunately, this president in many ways, leads the pack. 

So I have, as I have always had, a very acute awareness and sensitivity to the propensity of certain forces, to scapegoat the LGBTQ community, and to — through legislation, as well as the propagation of very unjust cultural attitudes — make life harder for them. I’m very aware of always to the best of my ability, within the purview of the power that’s been given me, stood up not just in word, but in action, and will definitely continue to do that as president of the United States.

Blade: I did want to ask you some questions about President Trump. He’s had quite a controversial week to put it politely. On Sunday, he told four congresswomen to go back to their home countries in racist tweets and held the rally last night, and which supporters chanted “send her back” in reference to Rep. Ilhan Omar. What’s your reaction to all that?

Williamson: I’d be glad to send you the link to the CNN interview with Anderson Cooper that I gave right after the rally.

I thought it was one of the most disturbing speeches a president of the United States has ever given. It was beyond disturbing, it was dangerous. These are elected — these are American women. They are elected representatives in Congress, and our political opponents are not our enemies. We do not do that in America.

And all people of goodwill and conscience — in fact, all patriotic Americans, whether on the left or on the right, need to be very alert and aware of the danger that is posed by this kind of dictatorial behavior. This kind of saying this demonization of one’s political opponents is straight out of a fascist playbook.

Blade: In terms of LGBT rights, though, what upsets you the most about how President Trump has handled them?

Williamson: Well, the military ban is particularly egregious, because these are people who have volunteered to give their lives if necessary. The idea that you would actually reject someone who has offered to sacrifice their life on your behalf is such an emotional and psychological assault, in addition to being an assault on their rights as American citizens.

I take the Declaration of Independence very seriously. To me, it is America’s mission statement. And what is wrong in our country is that we have lost our psychological and emotional commitment to that statement. All are created equal. All were given by God the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Governments are instituted to secure those rights. And I note, not thwart those rights, secure those rights. And it is the right of the people to alter that government, if it fails to do so.

It is time for all patriotic Americans to not only understand that, but to also realize that, as my father used to say, if they’re coming from anyone, they could come for you someday. As Martin Luther King said, injustice anywhere, is a threat to justice everywhere. So as president, it would not even matter to me whether someone is gay, straight, LGBTQ, black, white, brown, what their ethnicity [is]. They’re American. For that matter, they’re human. 

Because I believe that when the Declaration of Independence says all are created equal it doesn’t even just say Americans. The issue of equality for all is core to everything America stands for, and we should have a president deeply committed to that principle, not willing to compromise it in any way, shape or form.

Blade: One more question about the Trump administration. Why do you think Vice President Mike Pence seems so uncomfortable with the idea of gay rights?

Williamson: [laughs] Well, there are all kinds of theories about that, aren’t there? Everyone can have their own — can have their own. I have no idea, but I have a sense that other people do.

Blade: What is your theory? Why do you think that is?

Williamson: I don’t know. I don’t know. It’s not, it’s not my job to weigh in on the vice president’s motivation. It’s my job to weigh in on his behavior, as vice president of the United States, his words and his behavior, or whatnot. And they are not in my mind in keeping with the dedication to equality that is called for in someone who holds a high office or any political office in the United States.

Blade: I want to go back to your history and how during the AIDS epidemic, you founded the Los Angeles and Manhattan Center for Living and Project Angel Food. Would would be the No. 1 thing you learned from that experience?

Williamson: That people are so good. When that happened, I was living in Los Angeles at the time, and Los Angeles was particularly hard hit by the epidemic. And also the entertainment industry, it was very hard hit by the epidemic because so many people in the arts, so many gay people, so many people who were affected by the illness, were, you know, living in Los Angeles, living in New York, in theater, design, fashion. It was — it was — it was — it was like a war zone in ways that many people today cannot even imagine.

Because for a long time there was nothing. I’m not saying that Western medicine wasn’t doing its best, because it absolutely was. But it took a while before the diagnosis of the virus was anything other than a death sentence.

And so all we had was our love for each other, but love for each other was so prevalent. People were so willing to do anything, and the bravery and people and the love in people — because remember, it wasn’t just people who had the virus. It was also people whose brothers or sisters whose parents, whose children, whose friends — it seemed like almost everybody was affected.

And yet we were there for each other. And I saw what people will do for each other. And I think everybody who lived through that time is marked by that experience. No one who lived through it will ever forget it.

But you remember…I’ll be glad to send you my book, my new book, “Politics of Love.” In the introduction, I talk about it. And I talk about it in terms of my experience having been through a collective trauma. That’s what it was. It was a collective trauma. It wasn’t just what you were going through, or what I was going through, it’s what everybody we knew was going through.

And it’s — it’s an experience like no other. And I’m glad for people who have never experienced it. Don’t get me wrong. But those of us who did experience it, it imprints them. You’re imprinted with something. I can’t even talk about it now and not — 

[At this point, Williamson says she has to check in to the airport for a flight and will call back.]

Blade: That disease still exists today. And what I want to ask you about is one thing that the Trump administration has done is start an initiative that the Department of Health & Human Services that has the goal of ending the HIV epidemic by the year 2030. Are you aware of this initiative? And what do you make of it?

Williamson: I’m not aware of the initiative. But is it — the first thing I would do is to ask gay leaders, actually, do they feel that that is a year that is reasonable, or should we try to speed it up.

And I support any initiative and from any administration, whether it’s the Trump administration or any other if, in fact, is gets support. I’m certainly aware that AIDS still exists. It doesn’t exist in the United States like it once did. … And I support anything, any initiative, that would be of support in ending that epidemic.

Blade: You’ve expressed concern in the past about vaccine mandates. Do you think the creation of an HIV vaccine and a mandate to have that vaccine would be a good thing?

Williamson: First of all, I think my quote unquote, concern over vaccines has been vastly misrepresented. I am pro-vaccine. I am also pro-independent scientific research. And I am aware of how often in our country today because of the influence of Big Pharma, independent research through such sources as the Centers for Disease Control, National Institutes of Health so forth, is diminished.

I also am never happy with the suppression of independent consultation in the United States. Regarding the the AIDS vaccine, I know that it exists.

I don’t know enough about it medically to weigh in on that. But I’m certainly happy that such a vaccine exists.

Blade: Okay, let’s go back on the record. And get back to the Democratic primary and the election. One candidate that’s doing very well is South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Are you surprised that a candidate like him, an openly gay candidate like him, can be so successful?

Williamson: I think it’s wonderful. I think it’s wonderful for America that he is successful. I think that the election of President Obama demonstrated an openness on the part of Americans. And so, given the fact that we elected a black president, I’m not shocked at the willingness of the American people to elect a gay president.

I also hope the American people will be willing to elect a woman president, I hope the American people will be willing to elect a Jewish president. I hope that we are living at a time when we are ready to receive each other at a deep level and honor each other at such a deep level as to recognize the genius that lies within us all.

Blade: What is the most significant relationship you have with someone in the LGBT community?

Williamson: Well, my daughter has five gay godfathers. My best friend was — for many years — he died a couple of years ago, three years ago, four years ago, was a gay man. So my relationships with gay individuals have been actually very deep.

Blade: Is there anyone in particular who stands out to you?

Williamson: Well, Richard Cooper was my best friend. He died, unfortunately. There was a gentleman named Bruce Biermann, who I’m sure would be glad to talk to you because he was very much a part of the whole Project Angel Food for years. Also David Kessler, both of them are godfathers to my daughter. They were both very involved. And David is also involved in my campaign, the relationship goes back many years and very — we’ve all been through a lot together.

Blade: What would you say if your child came out to you as gay or transgender?

Williamson: Good for you that you know who you are, and it’s good for you that you know what is right for you. Are there any challenges that you’re facing? I’m your mom. I’m here for you. How can I help?

I’d also say to my daughter: Just be clear, I still want grandchildren.

Blade: That’s understandable, right? So, I mean, You talk a lot about the politics of love. And you said during the last debate, you said you want to beat President Trump in a field of love. Do you think gay love can beat President Trump?

Williamson: I think love is love. I don’t think that the way — gay love, straight love, the important part to me there is love. I think the point is that there is no — I don’t think that there’s gender to love, I don’t think there’s sexuality to love. I think that sexuality and gender are the containers and the ways we express our love, but I think love is love.

I honor gay love because it’s love. I honor love.

Blade: I guess is my final question for you: Love regardless of gender, I mean, how confident are you when the dust clears in November 2020, how confident are you know that it will ultimately defeat President Trump?

Williamson: Let’s look at what is happening in this country. And let’s look at the reaction of people to what is happening in this country. Let’s look at how many Americans are deeply aware that democratic values, humanitarian values, everything that makes a democracy meaningful, and life beautiful, is under assault from the policies of this administration.

I trust the American people to wake up to this moment, to rise to the occasion to resist what needs to be resisted, and pave the way for a better future for us all. I have faith that the American people are going to rise to the occasion here. I believe that it will happen.


Continue Reading
Advertisement

homepage news

Top 10 Blade news stories by web traffic

COVID breakthroughs, Equality Act, and anti-trans attacks

Published

on

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

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

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

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

#9: COVID breakthrough infections strike summer tourists visiting Provincetown

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

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

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

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

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

#6: Romney declares opposition to LGBTQ Equality Act

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue Reading

homepage news

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

Published

on

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue Reading

homepage news

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

No political willpower to force vote or reach a compromise

Published

on

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.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Follow Us @washblade

Sign Up for Blade eBlasts

Popular