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Activists in NM city rally around LGBT migrants

Las Cruces is less than 50 miles from US-Mexico border

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Members of AVID in the Chihuahuan Desert volunteer at the Las Cruces Womxn’s Rally in Las Cruces, N.M., on Jan. 19, 2019. AVID is among the organizations in the southern New Mexico city that have rallied to help LGBT migrants. (Photo courtesy of AVID in the Chihuahuan Desert)

LAS CRUCES, N.M. — Ivan, a 25-year-old gay man from Uganda, entered the U.S. on Christmas Day 2018 when he crossed the Rio Grande from Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, to El Paso, Texas.

Ivan told the Washington Blade during an interview at the offices of Alianza of New Mexico, a Las Cruces-based HIV/AIDS service organization, on July 15 that anti-gay discrimination and his family’s decision to reject him because of his sexual orientation prompted him to leave Uganda.

Ivan said he received a lawyer from Las Cruces when he was in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody in El Paso. Ivan had a second lawyer after ICE transferred him to a detention center in Houston.

Ivan, who asked the Blade not to publish his last name or picture, said he won his asylum case on July 9. Ivan said a volunteer with Advocate Visitors with Immigrants in Detention (AVID) in the Chihuahuan Desert, a Las Cruces-based group that visits migrants who are in detention facilities, helped him get a bus ticket from Houston to Las Cruces where he currently lives with PFLAG Las Cruces President Ryan Steinmetz.

“It’s good, though a little bit hot,” said Ivan when the Blade asked whether he likes Las Cruces. The temperature in the city was over 100 degrees on July 15. “I’ve never been to such a hot climate.”

Las Cruces, which is in New Mexico’s Mesilla Valley through which the Rio Grande flows, is less than 50 miles north of El Paso and the U.S.-Mexico border. PFLAG Las Cruces is among the local advocacy groups that have begun to assist migrants.

Steinmetz said before the Blade interviewed Ivan that PFLAG Las Cruces’ Rainbow Refugee Project began after a local advocacy group asked for housing for two gay couples who ICE was going to release on bond.

“I first said that I can do this because I had the space in my house to be able to house them,” said Steinmetz. “But I went to PFLAG Las Cruces … and said I want to know if PFLAG is behind this and could support these gentlemen during their time here and they were.”

Steinmetz said PFLAG Las Cruces soon partnered with other Las Cruces-based organizations — NM Comunidades en Acción y de Fé and Border Servant Corps — and Peace Lutheran Church, an LGBT-affirming congregation in Las Cruces, and created a sponsorship package for the couples’ lawyer and the immigration judge who granted them bond.

“That was essentially what allowed for them to be released because so many of them did not get released,” Steinmetz told the Blade. “We were able to show that they had that community support, they had a place to go and they had an entire community that was wrapping their arms around them with other support services, and donations and things like that.”

Steinmetz said PFLAG Las Cruces’ Rainbow Immigration Project has worked with eight gay men from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Uganda who entered the U.S. from Ciudad Juárez.

Three of these men are from Guatemala, and were “severely discriminated against and abused for being gay,” according to Steinmetz. He told the Blade one of the men was in a coma for a month and lost sight in an eye after his stepfather beat him because he is gay.

Steinmetz said a group of criminals who “were trying to clean the streets of ‘drogadictos e homosexuales’ (drug addicts and homosexuals)” added the same man’s name to a list “to be taken care of.” Steinmetz told the Blade the man whose stepfather beat him, his partner and a handful of other gay men traveled through Mexico on a freight train known as “La Bestía” (the Beast) before they reached the U.S.-Mexico border.

Steinmetz said the men tried to cross a bridge from Ciudad Juárez to El Paso three times in order to ask for asylum, but U.S. officials denied their request, “saying that you Guatemalans, you have diseases, you’re not allowed to come in or whatever.” Steinmetz told the Blade they used a tunnel to cross the border and enter the U.S. in Sunland Park, N.M.

“They crossed in a way that was illegal for them to cross,” said Steinmetz. “But they felt they had no other options because they couldn’t return to where they were from. And they needed to ask for asylum.”

AVID has also worked with LGBT migrants.

Margaret Brown Vega and Nathan Craig, who volunteer with the organization, on July 15 during an interview at their Las Cruces home showed the Blade a picture they received from a gay asylum seeker who drew it when he was in solitary confinement at the Otero County Processing Center, an ICE detention facility in Chaparral, N.M., that the Management and Training Corporation, a company that operates prisons across the country, runs.

Craig said he and other AVID volunteers visited the man and three other gay men who ICE detained at the facility after they and a group of more than a dozen other LGBT migrants from Mexico and Central America asked for asylum in the U.S. in Nogales, Ariz., in 2017. Craig told the Blade two of the gay men, including the one who drew the picture, won their asylum cases and now live in New York.

“We’re very fond of him,” said Brown Vega.

From left: Nathan Craig and Margaret Brown Vega in their home in Las Cruces, N.M., on July 15, 2019. Craig is holding a picture he and Vega received from a gay man who was previously in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody at the Otero County Processing Center in Chaparral, N.M. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Brown Vega and Craig spoke with the Blade less than six weeks after Johana “Joa” Medina León, a transgender woman from El Salvador, died at El Paso’s Del Sol Medical Center three days after ICE released her from their custody.

Medina had been detained at the Otero County Processing Center.

Craig said he and other AVID volunteers visited one of Medina’s podmates “who was expressing concern for several weeks about Johana’s declining health.” Brown Vega told the Blade the three other trans women with whom Medina was detained found out she had died on the news.

“We go to the facility once a week and we knew we couldn’t get there beforehand,” said Brown Vega. “There’s no way to reach people in detention. You have to wait for them to reach out and we were concerned they were going to hear about it.”

“It was strange to us the facility staff didn’t bother to tell them,” she added. “They thought she was still in the facility, but in medical isolation because that’s why she was taken out from where they were at.”

The Blade on July 24 interviewed Medina’s mother, Patricia Medina de Barrientos, in the Salvadoran capital of San Salvador. Medina de Barrientos and her family have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against ICE and the Department of Homeland Security over Medina’s death.

Johana Medina León died on June 1, 2019, three days after U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement released her from their custody. Medina was previously detained at the Otero County Processing Center in Chaparral, N.M. (Photo courtesy of Patricia Medina de Barrientos)

The Blade’s visit to Las Cruces took place against the backdrop of continued outrage over President Trump’s hardline immigration policies, his racist and anti-immigrant rhetoric and the treatment of migrants in ICE custody.

The White House on July 15 announced it will end asylum protections for most migrants who arrive at the U.S.-Mexico border. Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales’ government less than two weeks later signed a “safe third country” agreement with the Trump administration that requires migrants who pass through Guatemala on their way to the U.S. to first seek asylum in the country.

The U.S. has forced thousands of asylum seekers to return to Ciudad Juárez and other Mexican border cities under the so-called Remain in Mexico program to await processing of their claims.

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, the Santa Fe Dreamers Project and Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center in a March 25 letter to ICE and the Department of Homeland Security said a dozen gay and trans detainees suffered “rampant sexual harassment, discrimination and abuse” at the Otero County Processing Center.

ICE in 2017 opened a unit for trans detainees at the Cibola County Correctional Center, a detention center in Milan, N.M., that CoreCivic, a private company that was once known as Corrections Corporation of America, operates.

The Blade is among the handful of media outlets that ICE invited to tour the unit on June 12. Trans Queer Pueblo, a Phoenix-based group that advocates on behalf of undocumented LGBT immigrants, on June 26 received a letter from 29 trans women at the Cibola County Correctional Center in which they complain about inadequate medical care and mistreatment from staff.

Massachusetts Congressman Joseph Kennedy in a letter he sent to Acting ICE Director Mark Morgan on June 27 demanded additional information about Medina’s death.

El Paso Matters President Bob Moore tweeted U.S. Sens. Martin Henrich (D-N.M.) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.) staffers on May 31 visited the Otero County Processing Center.

The tweet notes the staffers met with the facility’s warden, Ray Terry, and officials from ICE and Management and Training Corporation.

“Representatives from Sen. Udall and Sen. Heinrich’s staffs toured the Otero County Processing Center last Friday, May 31st, and held a meeting with the warden of the facility, as well as ICE officials and the individuals representing the independent contractor operating at the facility,” reads a statement from the senators’ spokespeople. “During their tour, representatives from Udall and Heinrich’s office (sic) raised concerns about the treatment and conditions for transgender and other LGBT individuals in detention at the facility.”

“At no point during the meeting did the OCPC (Otero County Processing Center) or ICE officials inform our staffs that a transgender individual who had been in U.S. custody had fallen ill, and was admitted to the hospital for treatment for serious medical issues,” adds the statement. “The senators believe that ICE should be fully transparent and publicly disclose all relevant information regarding this tragic and disturbing situation, and they continue to push for humane treatment for asylum seekers and for real solutions to this humanitarian crisis.”

“We were doing some thing to raise the alarm, but not enough,” Craig told the Blade as he and Brown Vega discussed Medina’s death and the circumstances that surround it. “We’ve certainly resolved ourselves to be much louder about those kinds of concerns since that took place.”

Craig said other trans women who are detained at the Otero County Processing Center have said they have been harassed after Medina’s death. Craig and Brown Vega also told the Blade the detainees have complained about a lack of access to hormones and food.

“They go to bed hungry,” said Brown Vega. “So, people just get used to being hungry all the time.”

Helegner Tijera Moreno mailed this illustration to an AVID in the Chihuahuan Desert volunteer while in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody at the Otero County Processing Center in Chaparral, N.M. The U.S. held Helegner in detention for more than 27 months before his deportation back to Venezuela. (Illustration by Helegner Tijera Moreno, courtesy of AVID in the Chihuahuan Desert)

Ivan told the Blade he did not experience discrimination because of his sexual orientation when he was in ICE custody. Ivan did acknowledge trans people were separated from other detainees.

“I wasn’t discriminated against, though the discrimination I did see was the transgenders,” he said. “They are kept in the shoe.”

Ivan also told the Blade he wanted to study tourism in Uganda, but his family didn’t support his education “because I’m a homosexual.” He said he would like to return to school and travel to other parts of the U.S.

“You never know what comes around the way,” said Ivan. “I have a passion for traveling. I would like to go to other states and see how other people spend their time.”

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Top 10 Blade news stories by web traffic

COVID breakthroughs, Equality Act, and anti-trans attacks

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

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

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

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

#9: COVID breakthrough infections strike summer tourists visiting Provincetown

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

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

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

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

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

#6: Romney declares opposition to LGBTQ Equality Act

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No political willpower to force vote or reach a compromise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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