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HRC president: Trump responsible for anti-trans violence

David plans to announce trans initiatives at HRC dinner

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Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Alphonso David, the new president of the Human Rights Campaign, doesn’t hold back when talking about the harm he says President Trump is inflicting on the LGBT community.

In fact, David said Trump is responsible for the ongoing problem of violence against transgender people. Just this year, as David noted, 18 transgender people have been reported killed, 17 of whom were people of color.

“President Trump is not only responsible, but he is the gasoline that is responsible for many fires around this country,” David said.

David said Trump is “spewing hate and division and bigotry” and is responsible for discrimination and violence against many minority communities, including transgender people.

“There is a connection between what we’re seeing with transgender violence, with racial injustice, with immigrant bias throughout this country because of Donald Trump,” David said.

David made the remarks in an interview with the Washington Blade in his office on Tuesday days before the first-ever National Transgender March on Washington and the 23rd annual Human Rights Campaign National Dinner in Washington, D.C.

Asked about his message to participants in the transgender march, David issued a call for solidarity with transgender people.

“We have to be supportive of the transgender community, and we have to not only be there for this march, we have to be there after the march, we have to be there in two weeks, we have to be there in six months, we have to create systems that will support the transgender community,” David said.

David kept his cards close to the vest about the upcoming National Dinner, but said big news is in store for the night.

“And, you know, certainly I’ll be focused on transgender rights,” David said. “I think it’s something that we need to focus on, but the details of that, you’ll have to wait until Saturday.”

Read the full interview here:

Washington Blade: I guess my first question for you is you’ve been on the job now for about a month Has anything about being in this job in that time period surprised you?

Alphonso David: Yes.

There have been a number of things that surprised me. The dedication, the commitment, the passion that HRC staff members and supporters bring to this work. We often talk about the Human Rights Campaign being the largest LGBTQ civil rights organization in the world. But we never really talked about the dedication and the sheer grit that people exhibit in doing this work. And so, that has been a surprise. What has also been surprising to me as I travel the country, talking to advocates, and activists, supporters about the election, and they are incredibly energized. They’re ready to get involved. They’re ready to make sure that their voices are heard. And they appreciate the true impact that this election could have on this country.

Blade: As you were coming on board, did you have any conversations with Chad Griffin at all during the transition?

David: [Laughs] Yes.

I’ve known Chad for a long time. I met Chad when he first thought about bringing a lawsuit challenging Proposition 8, which was a ballot initiative in California that ended up going all the way up to the Supreme Court. And we had been colleagues and friends for a long time. So before taking this job, I had a conversation with him — actually several conversations with him — about the organization about the challenges that we face in the movement, and about the opportunities that I see that we can take advantage of.

Blade: In your introduction, one thing that’s really notable about your biography is your background and growing up in Liberia, with all the challenges that country faced when you were growing up, and you had to flee violence there. How does that experience inform your approach to the LGBT movement?

David: There are so many takeaways from my experience in Liberia that are applicable to my adult life, and they’re also applicable to my advocacy. I think most important for me is making sure people understand how fragile democracy can be. I grew up in a country that was — had a democratically elected president and a democratically elected, you know, state — our equivalent would be state elected officials. And in the span of a few hours, that all shifted, and my uncle was assassinated, and my father was put in prison, and we were living under a dictatorship.

So that experience for me is very real. It continues to be very real, and I take that and learn from it to make sure that other people fully appreciate how important it is for us to engage in our democracy. And it’s not only as it relates to LGBTQ issues, right? It’s anything that you care about, it could be the climate, or it could be on race issues, or it could be on economic issues. We have to make sure that people are informed and actively engaged in our democracy, and I bring that to this work.

I also bring to this work the fact that we are living under a significant amount of daily — I would say a barrage of daily attacks — from the Trump administration, and it’s gotten to the point that people have become numb to it. When the Trump administration says we’re filing an amicus brief, and in that amicus brief, we’re saying LGBT people can be fired from their jobs because they’re gay. We’re saying that transgender people can lose their housing because they’re transgender. We’re saying that under the Affordable Care Act, transgender people shouldn’t be protected. We’re saying transgender people can be thrown out of the military. When you see that drumbeat of attack after attack after attack, my fear is that people become numb to it, or they think that it doesn’t have the impact that it actually does. And part of my role is making sure that we remind people, remind people that we’re living under a climate where LGBT people live under attack, and we have to make sure that we engage, we have to make sure we get him out of office, Donald Trump specifically. And we elect pro-equality candidates that represent all of us, not just simply some of us.

Blade: We’ve talked a lot about some initiatives you want to pursue, including getting Trump out of office, but what is your No. 1 priority for the Human Rights Campaign? That might be it.

David: [Laughs] I have many priorities, I would say one of the most important priorities is making sure that we have a president that represents our interests, and we have elected officials across the board from congressional members to state elected officials that represent the interests of all Americans and all residents as opposed to just some, so that is a huge priority.

But I’m also going to be outlining a variety of other priorities this week. We have our national dinner that’s scheduled for Saturday. I hope you’re coming. [To Blade photographer Michael Key:] And I hope you’re coming. And I will be unveiling all of those priorities, the things that I think we need to focus on as we go into the election season and as we go into next year.

Blade: Well, can you talk a little bit about what your strategy is going to be for 2020, both for the White House and for Congress?

David: Sure. So we are with respect to the White House, making sure that people are registered to vote, making sure that they’re engaged in the electoral process. And what that means is not only going to make sure that you’re registered, but also connecting with everyone else that you know, to make sure they’re also registered. That’s step one. 

Step two is, of course, making sure that people understand the issues and are engaged on the issues. Unfortunately, in some cases, people don’t vote because they’re not informed. Or if they do vote, they’re not really that informed about what they’re voting on. So we want to make sure that we provide as much information as possible. So they’re fully educated about the options that they have. And so when they exercise their right to vote, we hope that they’re exercising their right to vote in support of pro-equality candidates. So that’ll be my focus as it relates to Donald Trump.

And again, highlighting everything that he’s done, because many people, I think we’ve gotten to the point where some people have tuned it out. They’re not really listening anymore. So they don’t know in some cases, what this administration is doing to attack gay people, or LGBTQ people, you know, in terms of all of us. 

With respect to the Senate races, and races in the House of Representatives, we’re going to be applying the same strategy, we’re going into certain key districts where we think we have an ability to actually win. And we’ll have people on the ground in some cases, we do now, to make sure that we can transform those communities — so they support pro-equality candidates. 

And finally, with respect to state elected races, we have offices now in Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas. We identified those three states, as states where we think we have an ability to actually transform the electoral landscape, and elect more pro-equality candidates. So we’re working at all three levels, presidency, congressional races, and state  races to make sure we support pro-equality candidates.

Blade: Let’s talk a little bit more about President Trump. Does the Human Rights Campaign support his impeachment?

David: Good question. 

I think at this point, we are looking at that issue. We are having conversations with various elected officials and our coalition partners to make sure that if we do pull that lever, and we seek impeachment of the president, we know what that actually means. There are variety of arguments that certainly support impeachment. And I think some would say there are some legal arguments that certainly support impeachment, but some are also concerned about the collateral consequences of doing that. And so we’re weighing all of those options, and we’ll make a final determination in the next few days to the extent it’s something that’s germane.

[Editor’s Note: The Blade conducted this interview with David shortly before House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced she’d open up a formal impeachment inquiry against Trump.]

Blade: One other piece of news with President Trump is his U.N. speech not too long ago, just today. He brought up a global initiative to decriminalize homosexuality and says that he stands in support of LGBTQ people who are facing persecution overseas. Did you happen to see those remarks?

David: I did not see those remarks. But I read about those remarks. Are you asking me my opinion?

Blade: Yes. 

David: It’s all noise. It’s all noise, and we should reject it outright. It doesn’t mean anything. Donald Trump standing up on a stage saying that he supports decriminalization internationally means nothing, and the only place you have to look is right at home. If Donald Trump wants to support LGBTQ people, allow transgender people to serve in the military. If Donald Trump supports LGBTQ people, allow us to get health care. If he supports LGBTQ people, actually put money behind ending AIDS. He doesn’t do that. 

So to suggest he’s interested in decriminalizing homosexuality, as he calls it, in other parts of the world is noise. It is a distraction from what he should actually be doing, which is making sure that LGBTQ people actually have protections in our own country. 

He claims to be a nationalist, right? Right? He’s not interested in making sure that immigrants are actually provided an opportunity to seek asylum in this country. He thinks that we should close the border. If you’re such a nationalist, why do you focus on international policy when you’re not focused on your own domestic policy as it as it relates to LGBTQ people. That would be my question to him.

Blade: One thing you brought up is the HIV initiative. And you said that he’s not put enough funding to back up that initiative by the Department of Health & Human Services to get new infections down by 90% by 2030. Can you talk a little bit about why he’s not putting his money where his mouth is on that?

Again, all we have to do is look at the record. Donald Trump essentially debunked or deconstructed an HIV council that was in place with the express mission of trying to end HIV and develop policies and procedures to do that. He ended up decommissioning that council. Now, — 

Blade: But he restocked it though, right?

David: I’m not sure if he actually restocked it. I know that he’s claiming he’s going to do that. But that commission was actually in place. Now, even if you were to accept on face value, that he’s interested in ending HIV by 2030, the amount of money that he’s actually put up to invest in that is insufficient. So I have no faith that Donald Trump is actually interested in ending HIV by 2030, because he’s shown us time and time again, that he’s not to be trusted, and this is simply placating to our community. Now to the extent money is provided, great. But at this point, it has not been provided. To this point, we cannot trust him. In fact, we should be afraid of what he will do to the LGBTQ community. That’s why I have no investment in what he claims to be a mission of ending HIV by 2030.

Blade: I think LGBT — or gay Republicans — would point to the decriminalization initiative, the HIV initiative as well as appointments like Ric Grenell and a recent appointment to the court, Patrick Bumatay, as evidence that Trump is not as anti-LGBTQ as you say. What would be your response to them?

David: Tick-tock is my response to them. The election is in November of 2020. Is it a coincidence that he’s doing all of those things now? That would be my response to them. It’s noise. Donald Trump is not supportive of the LGBT community. If he is, allow transgender people to serve in the military. If he is, roll back the regulations that remove transgender people from protections under the ACA. If he is, he should tell the solicitor general to retract the amicus brief that he filed, or the briefs, plural. The amicis that he filed in the Supreme Court that say LGBT people shouldn’t have protections in employment. They should be — an employee should be able to fire them. Or better yet, he should retract the regulations that essentially allow federal contractors to discriminate against LGBTQ people. We can’t have it both ways. So Donald Trump is essentially placating to certain members of the community to say, “See me over here. I support you. Ignore everything else that I’ve done.” Not only is it noise, but it’s offensive for anyone to suggest that he actually supports the community.

Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Blade: Let’s go to the Title VII cases, your background, you have a legal background. And so I’m eager to get your take on those. Do you think the LGBT side will win in those Title VII cases?

David: Look, I am hopeful that we will win. I understand the current composition of the court. I understand the arguments against us. I am concerned that there is a possibility that the court will rule against us. I am — I’m hopeful that they will appreciate that there are decades of cases that clearly say that LGBTQ people are protected under Title VII. They may ignore that. I’m hoping that they don’t. I’m hoping that we can appeal to their better angels, and that they will be intellectually honest about the case law and about what it will do to effectively say LGBT people are no longer protected. 

I mean, you think about that, we will essentially throw out of the window, excuse me, decades of case law that people have been relying on, that employers have been relying on. I’m hopeful that the court can look at the amicus brief that was signed by 160 — we have to get you the right number — businesses that signed on, that said we support Title VII being inclusive to protect LGBTQ people.

Having said all of that, I’m a realist, and I also appreciate that there’s a chance that we may lose. So I don’t know the answer to that question. We’re pushing to make sure that they respect the rule of law, that they respect stare decisis, that they see lower courts have issued rulings for years, appellate courts as well as district court rulings, and I hope they respect that, you know, that trajectory that we’ve been relying on for so long. I just — it’s difficult to predict at this point. I’m just hopeful that we get the right ruling.

Blade: In what ways is the Human Rights Campaign working with the legal team in those cases?

David: We are — we’ve signed on to an amicus brief with other organizations. And we’ve also been instrumental in helping to identify businesses to sign on to the business brief as well. Those are just two examples, but there are many others where we’re coordinating very closely with the ACLU, we’re coordinating very closely with other organizations such as the [National LGBTQ] Task Force to make sure that we identify partners in the movement that will support a positive ruling, but also partners that are not a part of the movement that appreciate, you know, what this would mean, this meaning what a negative ruling will mean, to LGBTQ people across this country. 

If I know today that I can go into my office, and my employer cannot fire me simply because I’m transgender, or my prospective employer cannot deny me a job simply because I’m gay, and then the next day, that employer or those employers could do that, it’s a sea change, it would change everything. And it would make it even more important for us to pass the Equality Act, but in the interim, I think it would be a sea change for people throughout this country.

Blade: This weekend is going to be a big weekend for LGBT rights. First of all, we have the transgender march. What’s your message to the people who are taking part in that demonstration? 

David: Well, I think the transgender community has been underserved for decades, and we are now living in a state of crisis, I see it as a state of emergency where primarily black transgender women are being killed on our streets, and we have to do something, we have to stand up. We have to be supportive of the transgender community, and we have to not only be there for this march, we have to be there after the march, we have to be there in two weeks, we have to be there in six months, we have to create systems that will support the transgender community.

So my message this weekend is that the Human Rights Campaign is going to be there. The Human Rights Campaign will stand up with members of the transgender community on Saturday, and moving forward to make sure that we can do everything possible to provide support to the transgender community.

Blade: You mentioned the continuing problem of anti-trans violence. Is President Trump responsible?

David: President Trump is not only responsible, but he is the gasoline that is responsible for many fires around this country. So President Trump is spewing hate and division and bigotry, and we shouldn’t kid ourselves. When someone does that — if I poured gasoline on, you know, newspapers, and lit a match, a few feet away, at some point, it will find his way to that — to those newspapers. And that’s what he’s done.

There is a connection between what we’re seeing with transgender violence, with racial injustice, with immigrant bias throughout this country because of Donald Trump. It’s what he’s spewing. He’s basically telling people it’s OK to show your face if you’re a bigot, and there are significant collateral consequences when you do that. 

But also, I think, within the LGBTQ community, we have a lot of work to do to make sure that the transgender community is respected and honored and celebrated. So we don’t know all of the facts in these cases. At this point, we have 18 cases where transgender people have been murdered, 17 involving black transgender women. We don’t have all the facts. But they’re not divorced, certainly not divorced from Donald Trump’s bigotry. It’s not divorced from his rhetoric. But we don’t know all of the facts yet. So I don’t want to suggest in each and every case, we know what happened, but it’s all been fueled by bias — by transphobia.

Blade: Also, this weekend is the dinner. What can you preview about what you’re doing on stage?

David: I will tell you on Saturday. You will hear — This is my first major address. As the HRC president, I have spoken twice before in Cleveland, and in St. Louis. But this is the first major address, and is an opportunity to really outline the vision, my vision for the organization moving forward. And you will hear, what I think we should be doing and how we should be approaching the work. And, you know, certainly I’ll be focused on transgender rights. I think it’s something that we need to focus on, but the details of that, you’ll have to wait until Saturday. And there’ll be other things that I’ll be I’ll be announcing as well.

Washington Blade reporter Chris Johnson interviews Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Blade: Very exciting. I want to talk a little bit about the Democratic candidates. We had the LGBT forum in Iowa last week who do you think won the forum?

David: Ooh, I’m not doing that. [Laughs] No, no, no. I have — I have my personal views, which are personal, and as the president of HRC, I have a responsibility to make sure that before I opine on any presidential candidate, we’ve done our due diligence, so we’re going through the process right now of reviewing each candidate reviewing their records, and we will make a determination at some point in the near future. 

As you may know, on Oct. 10, we have a town hall that’s going to be televised live on CNN, where we will hear from all of the candidates that qualify about LGBT issues and their visions for addressing some of the significant issues we face within our community. So we have a little bit more work to do before we get to the point that we can take an official position on any of the candidates.

Blade: But do you expect the Human Rights Campaign will endorse in the Democratic presidential primary before the nominee is known?

David: The Human Rights Campaign has done it both ways. There have been opportunities where we’ve endorsed before the primary and where we endorsed after, I think it’s too soon to tell. And I want to make sure that we think about all of the options, and we make the best decision for the community and for ourselves at the appropriate time. So it’s too soon to tell.

Blade: The candidate right now, who is generally seen as the front runner is Joseph Biden. And he enjoys considerable support, in particular from black Americans, according to the polls. But there’s one thing about his record: His vote for the crime bill in 1994. Do you think that he’s getting a pass on that issue?

David: I don’t know if it’s appropriate for me to comment on that specifically. And I don’t know that you could say that he’s getting a pass. I don’t think we know enough. You know, we now live in a cycle, a news cycle, that’s 24 hours a day, where certain news outlets and periodicals have access to pools of people, and they do polls, and they do their assessments as to what what people think. At this point, I don’t think we know enough as to whether or not people are that concerned about the crime bill. I certainly know based on some feedback that some voters don’t think is that significant. They’re looking at the larger, you know, his larger philosophy. But I don’t think we know enough yet to really draw a concrete conclusion.

Blade: In contrast, Pete Buttigieg the openly gay candidate, is not doing as well in the polls relative to the front runners. Given his position right now, do you think America is ready for a gay president?

David: It’s also very good question. I hope so. I hope that we are at the point in our culture that we can see beyond sexual orientation and focus on merit. But I also know, based on the increase in hate crimes across this country, based on homophobia and transphobia, that we have a lot of work to do. So I think Pete Buttigieg’s candidacy is historic. I think it’s incredible. I think it’s it’s fantastic that he’s running, and that he has generated so much support across this country. Whether the support is sufficient at this point to land him the Democratic nomination is too soon to tell. And I think to answer your question directly, I’m hopeful that we’re at the point that we can see merit and not focus on identity to the exclusion of merit. But I don’t know that we’re there yet. I’m hopeful that we are and and if he can get there, I think it will be fantastic.

Blade: I don’t know if you saw this, there’s a recent article in Politico that quoted some lesbian activists saying that Buttigeig isn’t their candidate because they want to have a woman candidate because they prefer to have a woman elected as president first before a gay man is elected. Do you agree with that?

David: People are free to have their opinions. I understand why someone would say that. I think it’s a complicated issue.

Women have been fighting to have a woman serve as the commander in chief for a very long time, most recently in the last election, and I understand that people would like to see a woman serve in that role. But I also think, from my vantage point as the head of the Human Rights Campaign, that we have to support the candidate who will potentially get the nomination and who supports a slew of issues that we care about, including women’s rights. So I can’t say I criticize them for having that opinion. I think it’s their opinion to have. In my role, I have a different responsibility to make sure that our endorsement is reflective of a larger community. And that’s what I’m planning on doing.

Blade: Well, that seems to suggest the endorsement is leaning toward Buttigieg at this point. Is that correct?

David: Oh, no, no. Identity politics is a fascinating construct, but I don’t think we can live in that world. For a variety of different reasons, I think we have to be focused on facts, we have to be focused on merits. And we don’t know who the ultimate presidential Democratic nominee will be. And as I said before, we have a lot of work to do internally, to do our due diligence. We have a forum in two weeks, where we will hear from all of the candidates as to what they think about LGBTQ issues, but more importantly, what they will do. What will you do to address the issues that our young people are facing? Are you supportive of banning conversion therapy, or how will you address some of the significant concerns facing the transgender community? Do you support the modification of 1556*, which is the Affordable Care Act, which would strip out transgender members from health care, and do you agree that we should make certain modifications to state law? We don’t know the answers to most of those questions. We do know that almost all of the candidates support, quote, support LGBTQ issues. That’s great. Now the question is how are you going to do that? And once we have that information, once we do our due diligence, we’ll then end up as being a position to endorse a candidate but we’re not there yet.

[Editor’s Note: David makes a reference to 1556, but the portion of the Affordable Care Act that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex is Section 1557. The Obama administration interpreted it to prohibit discrimination against transgender people in health care settings, but the Trump administration has proposed rescinding that regulation.]

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

No political willpower to force vote or reach a compromise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Defendant implicated in three anti-LGBTQ incidents since 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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