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Rep. Brown explains why he thinks Buttigieg is the real deal

Maryland Dem says zero support among blacks due to unfamiliarity

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U.S. Rep. Anthony Brown (D-Md.) endorsed Pete Buttigieg, citing his military experience. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Coming off the weekend campaigning for Pete Buttigieg in Iowa and acting as a surrogate at events in Detroit, Rep. Anthony Brown is telling voters the former South Bend mayor is the real deal.

In an interview Tuesday with the Washington Blade, Brown said he’s been paying attention for months to the presidential candidate — the first competitive openly gay presidential candidate — and was impressed with his performance in debates as well as his vision for foreign policy.

After meeting with him in November, Brown said he was impressed with what he saw, then went to Iowa as an observer to “kick the tires, look under the hood.”

“I liked what I saw,” Brown said. “I saw an audience that he was connecting to. There seemed to be good energy, good reception in his message.”

All that led to Brown’s endorsement of Buttigieg earlier this month. The Maryland Democrat is the first black member of Congress to support Buttigieg, which stands out because Buttigieg has been polling at zero percent among black voters in some polls.

Much of that lack of support has been attributed to Buttigieg’s actions as mayor, such as his response to a white South Bend police officer shooting a black man on his watch.

Brown said that issue is valid, but that the black community in South Bend has been fully behind Buttigieg and remains so in the presidential race.

“If you look at South Bend itself, and there you can look at the African-American civic leaders, elected leaders, business leaders who know him best, he’s got a tremendous amount of support among those African-American leaders,” Brown said.

Read the full interview below:

Washington Blade: Tell me a little bit about how you first met Pete Buttigieg and what your initial takeaways were from him.

Rep. Anthony Brown: The first time I met him was in September, and it was a brief five-minute encounter at the Congressional Black Caucus weekend conference gala. It was a big event and literally five minutes.

An immediate connection there. It’s been my common experience with someone who served in uniform. Although I always say “Beat Navy” because I’m an Army guy. I think the fact that he’s in the Navy and I’m in the Army, there’s just that sort of fraternal connection that we seem to have, so we connected well. It felt good, but again it was mostly just sort of small talk, and stuff like that.

Prior to that — that was in September — I actually started paying attention to him as early as July. In July, he gave a foreign policy, national security speech at Indiana University.

I didn’t see the speech. I wasn’t there. I read it with my military background and my work on the House Armed Services Committee. I knew that where the candidates are on foreign policy, national security would mean a lot to me. And I was very impressed by his precision, his vision, his priorities and stuff like that. So, he caught my attention.

And I saw watching him during the debates, his breadth of understanding, along all of the issues. He seemed very thoughtful and not rehearsed very comfortable, yet not overly confident. So I was impressed by his grasp of the issues, and the way that he was able to communicate thoughts and issues and ideas.

And then in November, I guess it was, we sat down for 30 minutes, and we had a real good conversation. Basically, his campaign had reached out to my office and we finally made it work.

And I had the opportunity to talk to him about more on national security. I asked about how the campaign was doing, his relationship with the African-American community, his record in South Bend and he was almost as impressive, well actually I would say he was just as impressive, in my thoughts on various issues as I was on his.

And then in December, I decided to spend a weekend on the campaign trail, sort of like kick the tires, look under the hood, see whether this guy was the real deal and I thought the best way to do it was to spend time with him in Iowa, and I did that the weekend after Christmas. And I basically went there to hear him, but my eyes were on the audience and I watched him in probably six or seven different large audiences, venues, town halls and the like.

And I liked what I saw. I saw an audience that he was connecting to. There seemed to be good energy, good reception in his message. And I came out of that weekend knowing that I was going to endorse him. So that’s kind of the chronology, if you will.

Blade: I can see that a lot went into your endorsement. Did you receive any blowback when you made that announcement?

Brown: No. I mean, no blowback. I mean, you know, a lot of people just started asking why, which is not uncommon, and I’ve endorsed candidates at every level on the ballot, first of all, because I’ve been in this business for 25 years, and you always get sort of like, ‘Hey, what’s that all about? What went into it? Did you have a relationship? What was the particular connection? And so, there was certainly that.

I think the fact that I was the first member of the Congressional Black Caucus to endorse him, that caught a lot of other people’s attention, but I wouldn’t say blowback. I would just say a lot of inquiries, right? “Hey, tell me more. How do you get there?” And it was more of that…Little negative reaction if you will to it. So, yeah, I think that’s been my experience in the last three weeks.

Blade: It’s no secret though that polls are showing Mayor Pete has virtually no support among black voters. Why is that?

Brown: Well, first of all, you got to set the table, which I’m sure you’re familiar with. The two candidates in this race who’ve run nationwide, the Vice President [Joseph Biden], and Sen. Sanders. Together, you have probably 70 percent in most polls of African-American support and then the other however many candidates are left — I don’t know, maybe 10 — split that, most of whom are in single digits.

And I really attribute the lack of support if you will, to lack of familiarity, right? The more that communities get to know Pete, and this is true whether it’s African-American, the Latino community, working-class community, rural community, Iowa, South Carolina, etc., the more that people get to know Pete Buttigieg — and once they get beyond how to properly pronounce his name — and are squarely considering not just who he is, as a person, but what are the differences he’s going to make in my life? In other words, where is he on issues? What are his priorities? What are his values?…People that know Pete Buttigieg are the people who support Pete Buttigieg.

And I think Iowa is a great example, right? A year ago today, he was probably registering near zero percentages as well in the polls, along with all the other campaigns. He spent a lot of time in Iowa, to strengthen his organization, enthusiasm that I saw when I was there, and his standing among the voters is measured in many polls. He’s done very well.

If you look at South Bend itself, and there you can look at the African-American civic leaders, elected leaders, business leaders who know him best, he’s got a tremendous amount of support among those African-American leaders.

Blade: But should voters be concerned about a South Bend white police officer shooting a black man and housing projects at the expense of low-income homes under Mayor Pete’s watch?

Brown: I think America is concerned. Many of us are when you see police community relations that results in a police-involved death.

We had one not only renowned across the country, but it caught the attention of the world, in Baltimore, right? With the Freddie Gray police death and the riots that ensued, and you and I can sort go through a long litany of cases that captured the attention of this country and the world, where injustices have occurred at the hands of police that have resulted in the loss of life or injury. That’s unacceptable. That’s true whether it’s in South Bend, Baltimore or anywhere else in the country.

And I think one of the things that I respect and appreciate about Pete Buttigieg is that he understands those issues and he has worked during his eight years as a mayor in South Bend to bring together a very diverse community, to make sure that he in a very collaborative way…that they’re making the kinds of adjustments and improvements that they need.

For example, he took the public safety board and reconstituted it. It’s now a majority-minority board. If you look at the complaints for excessive force by police in the last four years — I don’t have the exact number at my fingertips, but you can get it, or we can help you get it — those complaints have gone down significantly.

So it’s something that happens tragically and unfortunately in far too many of our cities around the country. And the question is what are we doing as a people, as a community? What do leaders do in response to that to take the appropriate measures?

I know that now, all 170 of the sworn officers of the South Bend Police Department have body cameras. That was not the case before Pete was mayor of South Bend. So through this experience and working with the community, [Buttigieg] has instituted quite a number of reforms or corrective action to improve community-police relations in South Bend.

Blade: But would you address the issue of his housing plan that many have said was at the expense of black-owned homes in South Bend?

Brown: And I think that’s another example of where you got to start broad and come into it. I served with a mayor when I was lieutenant governor of Maryland. Gov. Martin O’Malley, he was the mayor of Baltimore City before he was governor, and so, I got to see firsthand how you know someone can take that experience and translate that into higher office.

What I mean by that is the mayors are where the rubber hits the road, and you’ve got a lot of issues that have such urgency in the day-to-day lives of the people you serve, whether it’s public safety, which we’re talking about, public education, housing, jobs. You’re on the ground there and you feel it in your working there every day. … You develop a plan, and we’re going to revitalize housing and improve housing options in our city.

Some cities in America have done a good job at it. Some have done a really poor job at it. And so, the plan they executed, and the plan they had to figure out, “Hey, how much of this do we demolish, how much should we keep in place and we have revitalized etc.?” And the goal is to improve the quality of life in our communities.

And he had a number of challenges that he would deal with, right? Absentee landlords who were not investing money in the property. He also had people who wanted to stay. Some had the resources to, revitalize, some needed more assistance from the city, so he set down on the plan, and during the course of the program, making adjustments. The community said, “Hey, wait a second. It looks like you’re going to be taking down too many houses.” OK, let’s take a look. Let’s work together, let’s sit down together, make the adjustments we need.

That’s just a long way of saying that today while he didn’t get it perfect, and I don’t think there are many municipal programs that from planning and execution to completion, anyone will ever say are perfect, Pete made a positive contribution to improving housing options and housing affordability in South Bend. And did that by working with the community. That had some obstacles, they had some challenges, they had some things they didn’t foresee at the front end, but continually staying in conversation with the community, making the necessary adjustments.

As part of that, if you look at homelessness in South Bend, homelessness has declined in South Bend at rates faster than the drop in homelessness nationwide. So not perfect, but certainly something where, you can look at and say, “Hey, they made some real progress in the areas of housing in South Bend.”

Blade: In terms of Mayor Pete being the first major openly gay presidential candidate, what do you think his success means for where LGBTQ people are in the United States?

Brown: We’re in a time where over the last several years, we’ve seen a number of barriers being broken. And, you know, whether by gender, by race, ethnicity, and in this campaign a real opportunity when it comes to the LGBT community.

And we’re also living in a country where generations certainly younger than me — I’m 58, I feel young — but are living in a much more diverse community, country and culture.

I’ve got a 20-year-old, I got a 24-year-old, I got two 19-20 year olds. They’re growing up in an environment and culture of diversity and inclusion, unlike what I grew up in and certainly unlike what my parents grew up with. And it’s because there are people…whether it’s gender, race, ethnicity, orientation or identification, who have the courage to step out and to not let what has traditionally been a barrier, and a divide in this country.

But if you had the courage and the tenacity to pursue what every American should be able to pursue. So you’ve got a young Pete Buttigieg who wants to give this country the very best that he has to offer, his skills and talents, his ability and not let any sort of fabricated opticals prevent him from getting in the way.

And I believe that certainly his candidacy alone, but also when he’s elected president and sworn in in January of next year, that’s going to be a very positive evolution in our country for how we can and we continue to overcome those barriers and those glass ceilings.

Blade: You’ve been campaigning for Pete in Iowa and acting as a surrogate for him in Detroit, how would you gauge the reception for him in those places?

Brown: So, I spent, let’s see, probably three-and-a-half, almost four days in Iowa, two days, as I mentioned as an observer, two days as a participant. He’s got a tremendous amount of enthusiasm, and the organization is phenomenal. That’s what counts because in Iowa when you got the caucuses, it’s an organizational effort, right? And to champion that has the ability to organize and harness enthusiasm and convert that to large crowd size, that’s a good indication that you’re going to be able to do that on caucus night. Harness the energy, organize it and get that turned out on caucus night.

And when I was out there as an observer and I didn’t really identify myself to people, but I was engaging caucus-goers…I also had the opportunity to engage members of your colleagues in the media. One or two recognized me, but a lot of local media didn’t…And the feedback I got from that he’s drawing the largest crowd in Iowa. And off in counties where it’s been said, man, the last Democrat we saw was when John Edwards was out here campaigning, however many years ago that was? So, there’s a tremendous amount of enthusiasm.

I was in one meeting. It wasn’t called a town hall. It was the Urban Dreamers, a block party…that all candidates have been invited to, so it would have to be in late December, that’s what Pete came through. And about 75 people showed up at that one. Maybe a few more. And it was organized by a number of community groups including the NAACP. And that energy, and that sort of like positive affirmation in response to his message, very much resembles that energy and enthusiasm that I saw in places like Council Bluffs, which is on the far western end of Iowa where in a room where…I probably could have counted on both hands the number of African Americans in that room.

My point being that in both diverse audiences in Iowa to less diverse audiences in Iowa, I felt a lot of energy in both settings, and a lot of that vertical nod of the head like, “I like what I’m hearing. I like what this guy stands for. I like how he [speaks] with his faith, he frames up his values, and he’s got a vision for how together — because belonging is one of the themes of this campaign — together, we all belong, we all have responsibility, and we’re going to make this country a better place for everyone.” And just a lot of energy and enthusiasm.

Blade: You just mentioned faith, was that a factor in your decision to endorse Mayor Pete?

Brown: Look, I’m someone of an abiding faith. Pete and I were both born Catholic and I think he now attends the Episcopal Church…and I visit a lot of churches myself. It’s a way that I try to connect with my community and so, when I hear Pete talking about “when I was hungry, you fed me, when I was a foreigner in a strange land, you welcomed me in,” and how he ties those themes that are certainly rooted in the New Testament, and he weaves that into our responsibility, our obligations in the work that we do as public servants. That’s very appealing to me.

It’s not that Pete is quoting scripture although I understand he has…He weaves in the principles of faith and the tenets of Scripture that I’m very familiar with. So that certainly, it’s hard for me to say attribute one thing to why I decided to endorse, but certainly he incorporates faith. He doesn’t have fear and runs away from it. You often hear Pete say now no party can hijack religion, and that this country belongs to all Americans of any faith, every faith or no faith at all, right? He’s speaks to the importance of faith, and that’s attractive to me.

Blade: One other issue that’s important for our readers I wanted to ask you about is the transgender military ban, which I know you’ve been outspoken against. Do you expect Congress to overturn that this year?

Brown: As you know, in the Democratic-led House we got that provision in the National Defense Authorization Act and that’s one of the vehicles to do this because obviously the defense authorization act is a must-pass bill, and we were able to get a number of provisions in there that were contentious like the 12 days of paid parental leave, the “ban the box” for federal employment applications and things like that. We were not successful to repeal the transgender ban, much to my disappointment, because as you rightly point out, that’s a hot topic for me and I’ve been focused on that with laser-like precision.

Do I believe that a standalone bill, that we can pass that through both houses of the Congress and make it through the Senate to the president’s desk for signature? I’m not optimistic that we can do that. The question that I have not been asked, nor have I really considered, will the House leadership put up a standalone repeal bill, which I’m confident would pass the House, but I’m not confident that it would pass in the Senate.

And given that we’re in an election year, and the nature of the work in Congress — we like to focus primarily on policy and what makes good, we also know that the politics in an election year is electoral politics, play a role. So my sense is that I know I will work with my colleagues to get it back into the Defense Authorization Act this year. And I think we can be successful on that, but it may suffer the same fate that it did last year. And I do think that working through the NDAA is the best way to do it, but doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m any more optimistic.

We need a president — you don’t need to have a president of the LGBTQ community, right? You need you need a good Democratic president … And I love Pete. He’s my guy. But I’m proud to say that every one of our Democratic candidates as president would work with like-minded people in Congress, so that we can finally, once and for all, repeal the ban on transgender Americans serving in our military, codify it as law and let’s be done with it…But I’m excited about Pete’s candidacy and I’m very confident a Pete Buttigieg presidency would repeal the ban on transgender service members.

Blade: I guess I should also ask you a question about impeachment because it’s really a hot topic in the news right now. How confident are you about a fair trial in the Senate?

Brown: Not at all. At the very outset, Mitch McConnell said, “There’s no daylight between me and the White House.” And that’s the way he conducted himself from day one. And so this is a trial that’s going to be shaped — It’s going to be influenced more by Donald Trump’s desires than any pursuit of fairness, on behalf of the American people so I’m not confident whatsoever.

I’m not in front of the TV today. My understanding is that there is there is an effort to amend the rules so that at least the record from the House can be incorporated into the record of the Senate. That’s a modest step forward.

If the American public can’t hear from more witnesses and more evidence, particularly in light of what we have seen, and discovered since the House acted, I think that certainly would be a grave injustice to the American people, the American people deserve to hear from Bolton, Mulvaney and others, and certainly should have access to the document that has come to light that was not available to the House.

I’m not particularly confident that there will be a fair trial because I don’t think that Mitch McConnell, or the White House are particularly interested in a fair, open, transparent process.

Blade: And do you think President Trump will be removed from office?

Brown: I think the prerequisite for that is a fair trial because I think if senators are unwilling — this is a Republican-controlled Senate. If they’re unwilling to have a fair trial, then for me, it’s not a leap to conclude that the prejudged and pre-determined outcome will be in favor of the president.

Blade: My final question for you is the Iowa caucuses are going to be Feb. 3. Where will you be that night and what are your expectations?

Brown: I know I’ll be in Iowa leading up to the caucuses…so there’s a good chance that I’ll be there. But I know, certainly the weekend leading up to the contest, I’m in Iowa, because we want to have all hands on deck.

I am forecasting a very strong night for Pete Buttigieg, Team Pete. I’m predicting a very, very strong night.

Blade: Is he gonna win?

Brown: Absolutely.

Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited for length.

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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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