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Military reports no discharges under trans ban — but advocates have doubts

Only Coast Guard admits to blocking enlistments

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The U.S. military reports no discharges under trans ban so far.

More than two years after President Trump tweeted he’d ban transgender people from the U.S. military “in any capacity,” the military services say the policy hasn’t resulted in denials of service for otherwise qualified individuals — a claim transgender advocates say is dubious at best.

The Washington Blade reached out to each of the military services — the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard — to obtain numbers of discharges and denials of enlistment of transgender people since the Defense Department implemented the policy, DTM-19-004, on April 12.

Each of the services — with one exception — had the same reply when asked how many otherwise qualified transgender individuals were denied accession, or enlistment, into their ranks: zero. (The exception was the U.S. Coast Guard, which reported denying enlistment to two applicants under the policy.)

Moreover, each of the services uniformly had the same answer in response to a question about the number of separations under the anti-trans policy: zero.

Stephen Peters, spokesperson for the LGBT group Modern Military Association of America, said the assertion that no transgender applicants were denied enlistment is “incredibly misleading.”

“While I’m sure whoever is responding to your inquiry is justifying their response based on semantics, there is no denying that numerous qualified trans patriots want to enlist or commission into the military,” Peters said.

As evidence of transgender applicants being denied accession into the military, Peters pointed to his organization’s lawsuit against the ban, Karnoski v. Trump, which is pending before a trial court after remand from the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit include Ryan Karnoski, Staff Sergeant Cathrine Schmid and Drew Layne — transgender people blocked under the ban from accession into the military. (Each of these individuals joined the lawsuit before the current policy went into effect on April 12.)

On July 26, 2017, Trump surprised the world, including leadership in the U.S. military, when he announced he’d ban transgender people from the military “in any capacity.”

“After consultation with my generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. military,” Trump tweeted. “Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.”

Essentially, the tweet announced a reversal of policy allowing transgender people to serve openly and obtain transition-related care without fear of discharge — a policy that was implemented by former Defense Secretary Ashton Carter in the last six months of the Obama administration.

It took nearly two years for the Pentagon to implement Trump’s pledge to ban transgender troops. The policy became know as DTM-19-004, “Military Service by Transgender Persons and Persons with Gender Dysphoria.” 

Why the delay in implementation? Trump tweeted the policy at the same time as former Defense Secretary James Mattis was conducting a six-month study reevaluating transgender service. Following Trump’s tweets, the study concluded transgender people should not serve.

Moreover, courts had until the time blocked Trump’s policy from going into effect. Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the orders from the lower courts, essentially allowing the policy to go forward.

Under DTM-19-004, service members are discharged who are diagnosed with gender dysphoria or are prescribed transition-related care. In terms of enlistments, the policy bars applicants with a history of gender dysphoria — unless the individuals are willing to serve in their biological sex (an extremely small number of transgender people). Applicants who obtained transition-related care are outright banned.

The transgender ban contains an exemption that allows transgender people who came out during the Obama-era policy to continue to serve and receive transition-related care. But those troops could face complications under the ban, such as if they seek promotions, want to change services or drop out to pursue educational opportunities and seek to re-enlist.

The Defense Department has insisted the new policy is a medical-based policy applied to every service member, even though the policy applies to conditions faced solely by transgender people, and is not a ban, even though it bars many transgender people from service.

In response to the Blade inquiry, each of the four services under the Defense Department — the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps — each claimed zero applicants were denied enlistment under DTM-19-004, while the Coast Guard, which is under the jurisdiction of the Department of Homeland Security, claimed two denials.

(Initially, an Army spokesperson responded, “No applicant meeting the medical accession standards contained in DTM 19-004 has been denied entry into the Army under DTM 19-004.” When the Blade followed up by asking for the numbers on how many were denied as not meeting the standard, the response was “None.”)

Similarly, a Navy spokesperson initially replied, “By policy (DTM 19-004) there can be no denial of accessions based on gender identity alone. Therefore the answer is zero related to gender identity.” When the Blade pointed out no mention was made of gender identity, the new response was “zero.”)

Aaron Belkin, director of the San Francisco-based Palm Center, said the difference between numbers of the Coast Guard and other services suggests the former views the transgender ban differently.

“The fact that the Coast Guard is reporting the data honestly shows that it is not afraid to acknowledge evidence that indicates what we have long known, which is that the transgender ban harms readiness,” Belkin said.

It’s possible the number of applicants denied enlistment under the ban don’t reflect individuals not just blocked from enlisting under the transgender ban, but due to reasons unrelated to the policy.

Moreover, those numbers don’t capture the impact of the policy as a deterrent. At a time when the military is falling short of its recruitment goals, many transgender people may not attempt to enlist even if they would otherwise be interested in military service.

A gay Democratic statistician in New York City, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he’s not authorized to talk to the press, said the likelihood the Army denied enlistment to no applicants when the Coast Guard denied enlistment to two is infinitesimally small.

“While it’s difficult to say anything with much certainty because we have been given so little data to work with, the odds that a service like the Army that gets nearly 10 times as many applicants as the USCG had zero rejections, while the USCG had two are incredibly low,” he said. “Far less than one percent odds.”

Belkin said the services reporting no separations is “not surprising” because the process for those separations may not be yet finalized.

“The process for administrative separation set out in DTM-19-004 is efficient but not instantaneous, and it’s only been three months since the ban took effect,” Belkin said. “Candidates for separation, by definition, would be service members who had not been diagnosed with gender dysphoria by April 12 (otherwise they would be grandfathered). The process for administrative separation could not even begin until diagnosis, followed by another determination that gender-transition treatment was medically necessary.”

Belkin added transgender service members may be serving in the shadows like under like “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the ban on openly gay service repealed during the Obama administration, and avoid seeking transition-related care, which would initiate a discharge.

“Transgender members will avoid medical and health care encounters that could expose them to separation,” Belkin said. “Separations are the tiny tip of the iceberg.”

The Blade also sought to obtain information on waivers under the trans ban. Under Section 3 of DTM-19-004, the military departments and Coast Guard may grant a waiver to allow a transgender person who would otherwise be blocked from service.

Each of the services uniformly replied they had granted no waivers under the transgender ban, nor had they denied any requests for waivers. The Air Force and the Navy added they have obtained no requests for a waiver to begin with since the implementation of the policy.

Belkin said admission from the services they had not granted any waivers speaks volumes about these waivers being a false promise.

“This rebuts claims from military leadership that availability of waivers will soften the effect of the ban,” Belkin said. “In particular, some waivers should have been expected soon after the ban took effect because a number of service members got caught short by the sudden April 12 effective date and the inability to obtain qualifying diagnoses on short notice.”

Transgender people who sought diagnoses prior to April 12, Belkin said, would have been obvious candidates for waivers as well as military students in ROTC.

The Blade also asked whether the military services granted any exemptions under Section 1 of the policy, which contains a grandfather clause allowing transgender service members who came out during the Obama administration to continue military service without fear of discharge.

In responses that belie the estimated 14,700 transgender people in the military, including the five who months ago testified before Congress, three of the services reported zero exemptions and one service reported one exemption.

The Coast Guard reported zero, the Air Force said no exemptions were granted or requested and the Army said no in-service exemptions have been granted.

The Navy spokesperson, however, said one exemption “was granted due to when they started the enlistment process.”

The Marine Corps declined to answer that inquiry altogether, asserting “we do not track those numbers” because the question is a medical issue and “protected (to an extent) by HIPAA,” the federal law providing data privacy for medical information.

Belkin, however, said claims of being unable to provide numbers on exemptions due to concerns about HIPAA are flat-out “wrong.”

“For example, the Accession Medical Standards Analysis & Research Activity (AMSARA) writes a report every year tracking the medical status of service members to determine how effectively medical accession standards are screening for fitness,” Belkin said.

Belkin added the “we do not track” excuse recalls Mattis’ attempt in an exchange with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) to undercut the testimony by military service chiefs that the inclusive policy has not harmed readiness.

“In short, the ‘we do not track’ assertion is false and is used to avoid conceding that inclusive policy worked and that there is no evidence to suggest otherwise,” Belkin said.

Meanwhile, the transgender military ban continues to face acts of resistance, including the litigation filed by LGBT legal groups that remains pending in federal court.

Two major universities — the University of Wisconsin Law School and American University — have threatened to ban military recruiters on campus as long they refuse to admit transgender candidates. (If the schools make good on that threat, they would likely face a loss of federal funding under the Solomon Amendment.)

Moreover, transgender advocates praised recent Senate testimony from Vice Adm. Michael Gilday, Trump’s pick to become the next chief of naval operations, in which said he transgender service members have had no negative impact on unit cohesion.

“I am unaware of negative impacts on unit or overall Navy readiness as a result of transgender individuals serving in their preferred gender,” Gilday said in written responses for his confirmation hearing.

Peters also said transgender people making an attempt to enlist despite the ban is helpful in efforts to dismantle the policy.

“There are also numerous trans patriots who want to enlist, but they are not going through the process because they are well aware the ban is in place,” Peters added. “It’s no secret the administration has implemented this ban, so they know they would be rejected based on who they are.”

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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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