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6 gay candidates competing in crowded field for Council, school board

At least 47 LGBTQ hopefuls competing for ANC seats

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gay candidates, gay news, Washington Blade
(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Three openly gay candidates are running for seats on the D.C. Council and another three are running for seats on the city’s nine-member State Board of Education in an election on Nov. 3 with a record number of candidates competing for Council and school board seats.

At least 47 out LGBTQ candidates are also running for seats on the city’s Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, according to a list compiled by the ANC Rainbow Caucus and separate information obtained by the Washington Blade. That number is about double the number of known LGBTQ ANC candidates who ran in the 2018 election.

Two of the gay D.C. Council candidates – Shaw Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Alexander “Alex” Padro, who’s running as an independent, and Libertarian Party leader Joe Bishop-Henchman – are among 23 candidates running for two at-large D.C. Council seats up for grabs on Nov. 3.

And gay Dupont Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Randy Downs, who’s also running as an independent, is one of three candidates challenging incumbent Ward 2 Council member Brooke Pinto, the Democratic nominee, in a hotly contested race.

Downs and Padro have been endorsed by the LGBTQ Victory Fund, a national group that raises money for LGBTQ candidates nationwide.

In one of the State Board of Education races, gay former teacher and longtime education advocate Mysiki Valentine and gay Howard University Political Science Department Chairman Ravi K. Perry are among six candidates competing for an at-large seat on the nonpartisan education board.

Gay education advocate Allister Chang, who recently served as a visiting researcher at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, is one of four candidates running for the Ward 2 seat on the Board of Education. He is running to replace gay Ward 2 Board of Education member Jack Jacobson, who chose not to run for re-election and who has endorsed Chang. Chang also received the LGBTQ Victory Fund’s endorsement.

Valentine, Perry, and Chang have said the D.C. Public School System’s ability to address the needs and concerns of LGBTQ students would be among their highest priority in carrying out their role as a school board member.

Other races on the ballot this year include the D.C. Congressional Delegate seat currently held by Democrat Eleanor Holmes Norton, a longtime LGBTQ rights supporter who’s considered the strong favorite to win re-election; and the so-called “shadow” U.S. House and U.S. Senate seats, which have no powers but serve as advocacy positions for D.C. statehood and D.C.’s interests in Congress.

Democratic incumbent Paul Strauss is considered the front runner against Statehood Green Party Challenger Eleanor Ory and Republican challenger Cornelia Weiss for the shadow Senate seat. Democrat Oye Owolewa is considered the frontrunner against Statehood Green Party candidate Joyce Robinson-Paul and independent candidate Sohaer Rizvi Syed for the shadow House seat.

Also on the ballot are races for D.C. Council seats in Ward 4, in which Democratic nominee Janeese Lewis George is being challenged by Statehood Green Party candidate Perry Redd; the Ward 7 Council seat in which incumbent Democrat Vincent Gray is running unopposed; and the Ward 8 Council seat in which incumbent Democrat Trayon White is being challenged by Republican Nate Derenge and independent candidates Fred Hill and Christopher Cole. George, Trayon White, and Gray are considered the strong favorites to win their respective races.

Similar to past recent D.C. local elections, nearly all candidates running and all those considered to have any chance of winning have expressed support for LGBTQ rights, with most expressing strong support. Local LGBTQ activists have said that means, unlike other cities and states, D.C.’s LGBTQ voters have the luxury of being able to choose who to vote for based on non-LGBTQ issues with the expectation that no serious candidate opposes LGBTQ equality.

However, local LGBTQ activists sometimes disagree over whether an out LGBTQ candidate should be supported on the basis of their sexual orientation or whether other issues should take precedent. Many activists, including members of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, D.C.’s largest local LGBTQ political organization, say it’s important to have LGBTQ people in elective office, especially on the D.C. Council.

There has not been an LGBTQ member of the D.C. Council since gay Council members Jim Graham, a Democrat, and David Catania, an independent, left the Council in January 2015.

The Stein Club has endorsed incumbent D.C. Council member Robert White for one of the two at-large seats up for election. But the club could not endorse any of the three gay Council candidates under its longstanding rules that prohibit the endorsement of a non-Democrat when a Democrat is running in the same race.

The club endorsed all Democratic Council candidates running in the general election except Pinto in Ward 2 after Democrat Pinto was unable to obtain the 60 percent vote needed under club rules for an endorsement. The no-endorsement vote in the Ward 2 race is considered a clear sign of support among Stein Club members for Downs, whose supporters in the club voted against an endorsement for Pinto.

Observers say Downs, while in an uphill campaign, may have a better shot at winning than Padro and Bishop-Henchman, who are competing with several better known candidates, including former at-large Council member Vincent Orange.

Randy Downs and Brooke Pinto are facing off in the Ward 2 Council race that has divided LGBTQ residents. (Photos courtesy of subjects’ respective campaigns)

In the Ward 2 race, Pinto, a 28-year-old attorney and political newcomer to D.C., won the Democratic primary with just 28 percent of the vote in an eight-candidate race. Two weeks later she won a special election to fill the Ward 2 seat until January after longtime Ward 2 Council member Jack Evans (D) resigned earlier this year following allegations of violations of ethics rules.

The Democratic nominee for the Ward 2 D.C. Council seat has won the general election in every election since D.C. began its local home rule government in 1974, a development that would normally make Pinto the strong front runner. But some political observers say Downs, who has received numerous endorsements from prominent Ward 2 activists and small businesses as well as from the Washington Teachers Union, say he has a shot at breaking the longstanding trend of the Democrat winning the Ward 2 seat.

Pinto has expressed strong support for LGBTQ rights and has advocated for LGBTQ supportive legislation during her four months in office. She has also received prominent endorsements, including from the Washington Post and some LGBTQ activists, including gay bar owner and ANC commissioner John Guggenmos. Also backing Pinto is gay Logan Circle ANC commissioner John Fanning, who was one of the unsuccessful candidates running against Pinto in the Democratic primary, and gay Democratic activist Austin Naughton, who serves as chair of the Ward 2 Democrats organization.

Other political observers, while agreeing that Downs has waged a strong campaign, point out that two other candidates are running for the seat that are competing for votes that Downs needs to win an upset victory. The two are independent candidate Martin Miguel Fernandez, who is vying to become the Council’s first Latino member, and Statehood Green Party candidate Peter Bolton. Both have also expressed strong support for LGBTQ issues and are positioning themselves as left-leaning progressives.

Downs has described himself as a “pragmatic progressive” compared to Pinto, who has positioned herself as a moderate to progressive on some issues, according to D.C. Council observers.

Pinto is ahead in money raised for her campaign, with a cumulative total of $189,243 as of the time of the filing of her Oct. 10 campaign finance report. She has selected to enroll in the city’s traditional campaign donor program that allows corporate donations.

Downs’s Oct. 10 report shows he is running a respectable second with $140,730 raised. He points out that he has enrolled in the city’s public financing program where he receives matching funds from the city with donations limited to a maximum of $50 per donor for a ward candidate and corporate donors are not allowed. Downs says he has far more donors from Ward 2 and from within D.C. than Pinto, who has received a large number of out-of-town campaign contributions.

Bolton’s Oct. 10 finance report shows he has raised a total of $2,841 as of Oct. 10. The most recent report that Fernandez has filed, according to Office of Campaign Finance records, is for Aug. 10, which shows he raised $9,446 as of that time. He told the Blade on Tuesday that he applied for an extension for filing his Oct. 10 report but he estimates his total funds raised are about $12,000.

Downs received a +10 rating on LGBTQ issues from the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, the group’s highest rating. GLAA gave ratings of +7.5 for Pinto, +7 for Fernandez, and +4 for Bolton. In a statement accompanying its ratings GLAA says each of the four candidates expressed support for all the LGBTQ related issues the group considers important in its candidate questionnaire. The statement says those with the higher ratings gave a greater degree of substance to their questionnaire responses or, like Downs, had a more extensive record of involvement in LGBTQ endeavors.

Downs created a stir in September when he released a statement criticizing Pinto for accepting maximum campaign donations of $500 each from Michigan’s Republican former Attorney General Bill Schuette and Schuette’s wife. Schuette has been an outspoken opponent of same-sex marriage and civil rights protections for LGBTQ people. Schuette also received the endorsement of President Trump when he ran unsuccessfully for governor of Michigan in 2018.

“These are not our values and we do not accept large donations from politicians who advocate for those values,” Downs said in his statement.

The Blade confirmed from Pinto’s campaign finance report filed with the Office of Campaign Finance that Schuette and his wife made the contributions to her campaign.

“My support for equal rights and the LGBTQ community is longstanding and unwavering,” Pinto told the Blade in a statement. “Views contrary to the rights of our LGBTQ community are abhorrent, and no contributor, politician, or anyone else is going to alter my beliefs, including my steadfast support for same-sex marriage and civil rights protections,” she said.

“I do not vet the views and actions of the thousands of supporters and contributors to our campaign, but I do take my responsibility seriously to educate and encourage all in our community to be inclusive and supportive,” Pinto said. “Mr. Downs might consider discontinuing spurious attacks on me and start discussing policies he would promote.”

Downs told the Blade his campaign website includes information on his numerous policy proposals and his long record of advocacy for Ward 2 residents. He criticized Pinto for not returning the contributions from the Schuettes.

In the at-large Council race, incumbent Democrat Robert White, a longtime advocate for LGBTQ rights, is considered the favorite to win the so-called “Democratic” seat. He received a +10 rating from GLAA. Most political observers say the other seat, which under the city’s election law cannot go to a Democrat, is up for grabs among the better known independent candidates.

Under the city’s election rules voters are asked to select two candidates in the at-large race. The two candidates with the highest vote counts are declared the winners.

Padro is well known and has support from his home base in the Shaw neighborhood in his role as an ANC commissioner and as co-founder and executive director of Shaw Main Streets, a neighborhood advocacy and development group. But he doesn’t have widespread name recognition in other parts of the city, although his campaign signs are appearing in each of the city’s eight wards.

Bishop-Henchman, an attorney who lives in the city’s Eckington neighborhood, serves as vice president of policy and litigation for the National Taxpayers Union Foundation and as chair of D.C.’s Libertarian Party. He ran as the Libertarian Party candidate two years ago in 2018 for the D.C. Attorney General’s position against incumbent Attorney General Karl Racine, a Democrat.

D.C. Board of Election returns show Bishop-Henchman received 14,941 votes, or 6.68 percent, compared to Racine, who won easily with 207,451 votes or 92.77 percent.

Records from the Office of Campaign Finance show that Bishop-Henchman this year applied for and received a waiver from having to file campaign finance reports by committing himself not to raise or spend more than $500 for his campaign. That suggests he may be running as the symbolic standard bearer of the Libertarian Party and not running an active campaign. He has not responded to a call from the Blade for comment as of early this week.

Padro’s Oct. 10 finance report shows he has raised $39,010 for his campaign as of Oct. 10. In the school board race, Valentine has raised $14,488 according to his Oct. 10 finance report. Perry’s report shows he raised $5,255 for his at-large campaign as of Oct. 10. Chang’s report for Oct. 10 shows he raised $2,775 for his campaign as of that date.

GLAA gave Padro a rating of +7, saying he has a strong record on LGBTQ issues and provided “good substance” on his questionnaire responses but lost points for disagreeing with GLAA’s position for decriminalizing sex work in the District. Padro instead has called for legalizing sex work with strict regulations to prevent ill effects, a position that GLAA says “creates more barriers and marginalization” for people involved in sex work.

Bishop-Henchman received a +2.5 GLAA rating. GLAA says in its accompanying statement that he agrees with GLAA on all issues but offered “very little substance” and did not provide any record of working on LGBTQ issues.

Among the other LGBTQ supportive candidates against whom Padro and Bishop-Henchman are competing is Christina Henderson, a former staffer to D.C. Council member David Grosso (I-At-Large). Henderson received a +10 GLAA rating. Grosso isn’t running for re-election, and his seat is the one the 23 candidates, including Padro, Bishop-Henchman, and Henderson are running for. Grosso, also a longtime LGBTQ community supporter, has endorsed Henderson as his replacement on the Council.

Also running for the at-large Council seat is longtime LGBTQ community ally Monica Palacio who until earlier this year served as director of the D.C. Office of Human Rights. She received a +9.5 rating from GLAA. Former Council member Orange, who some consider one of the frontrunners for the at-large seat, received a +2.5 rating from GLAA on grounds that he did not return the GLAA questionnaire and his positions on various issues couldn’t be determined.

Record number of LGBTQ ANC candidates

Among the 47 known LGBTQ Advisory Neighborhood Commission candidates on the Nov. 3 ballot, 19 are incumbent commissioners and 22 are running unopposed. At least one LGBTQ candidate is running in each of the city’s eight wards, with most running in Wards 1 and 2.

There are a total of 40 ANCs located throughout the city with each having between two and nine single member districts, with a total of 296 individual commissioners. The commissioners hold unpaid elected positions under the city’s Home Rule Charter that are charged with making recommendations to city officials on a wide range of neighborhood issues for which city officials are required to give “great weight.”

Among those running unopposed is incumbent Monika Nemeth in Single Member District 3F06 in Ward 3. Nemeth’s election to the ANC two years ago marked the first known time a transgender person was elected to public office in D.C. She is a former president of the Stein Club and currently serves as one of the club’s two vice presidents.

Another candidate identified by the ANC Rainbow Caucus as LGBTQ is Raymond Chandler who, along with gay candidate Justin Riordan, is challenging ANC 5C05 incumbent Darlene Oliver in the city’s Brentwood neighborhood. Chandler, who goes by the name Rayceen Pendarvis, is well known in the LGBTQ community as an entertainer, emcee, and community activist.

Riordan told the Blade that both his and Chandler’s campaign signs have been torn down repeatedly while Oliver’s signs have been left alone. LGBTQ candidates in the Logan Circle ANC 2F, Rehana Mohammed and Alexandra Bailey, and Dupont Circle ANC 2B09 candidate Kyle Mulhall have also reported having their campaign signs pulled down or damaged.

Following is the list of known LGBTQ ANC candidates and the ANC districts in which they are running as released by the ANC Rainbow Caucus or obtained separately by the Blade:

Judson Wood, 1A06 (Columbia Heights/unopposed)

Kent Boese, 1A08 (Park View/incumbent/unopposed)

Michael Wray, 1A09 (Park View/incumbent/unopposed)

Larry Handerhan, 1B01 (Ledroit Park/unopposed)

Alan Kensek Jr., 1B05 (Meridian Hill Park)

Eric Behna, 1B08 (Columbia Heights)

James Turner, 1B09 (Columbia Heights/incumbent/unopposed)

Rob Hudson, 1B11 (Pleasant Plains/incumbent/unopposed)

Ted Guthrie, 1C03 (Adams Morgan/incumbent)

Japer Bowles, 1C07 (Adams Morgan/incumbent/unopposed)

Chris Jackson, 1D01 (Adams Morgan/incumbent)

Matthew Sampson, 2B01 (Dupont Circle/incumbent)

William Herbig, 2B05 (Dupont Circle/unopposed)

Mike Silverstein, 2B06 (West Dupont/incumbent/unopposed)

Matthew Holden, 2B08 (Dupont Circle/unopposed)

Kyle Mulhall, 2B09 (Dupont East-U Street Corridor)

Michael Shankle, 2C01 (Penn Quarter-Chinatown/incumbent/unopposed)

Will Mascaro, 2C02 (Gallery Place)

Brian Romanowski, 2F01 (Logan Circle/unopposed)

John Guggenmos, 2F02 (Logan Circle/incumbent/unopposed)

John Fanning, 2F04 (Logan Circle/incumbent/unopposed)

Kevin Sylvester, 2F07 (Logan Circle/incumbent)

Rehana Mohammed, 2F07 (Logan Circle)

Alexandra Bailey, 2F08 (Logan Circle)

Lee Brian Reba, 3C01 (Woodley Park/incumbent/unopposed)

Toni Ghazi, 3D02 (Spring Valley)

Christian Damiana, 3D07 (American University Park/unopposed)

Ryan Keefe, 3F05 (North Cleveland Park)

Monika Nemeth, 3F06 (North Cleveland Park/incumbent/unopposed)

Matt Buechner, 3F07 (Forest Hills/unopposed)

Evan Yeats, 4B01 (Takoma/incumbent/unopposed)

Mike Whelan, 4C06 (Petworth)

Ra Amin, 5B04 (Brookland/incumbent/unopposed)

Raymond Chandler, 5C05 (Brentwood)

Justin Riordan, 5C05 (Brentwood)

Salvador Sauceda-Guzman, 5D02 (Trinidad/unopposed)

Michael Lussier, 5D06 (Trinidad)

Rob Dooling, 6A06 (Capitol Hill East)

Drew Courtney, 6C06 (Near Northeast/incumbent/unopposed)

Ronald Collins, 6D03 (Near Southwest/incumbent/unopposed)

Andy Litsky, 6D04 (Southwest Waterfront/incumbent/unopposed)

Edward Daniels, 6D07 (Navy Yard/incumbent)

Michael Eichler, 6E01 (Shaw/unopposed)

Anthony Lorenzo Green, 7C04 (Deanwood/incumbent)

Keith Hasan-Towery, 7E04 (Marshall Heights)

Aiyi’nah Ford, 8A06 (Anacostia)

Isaac Smith, 8A06 (Anacostia)

Following is a list of 24 candidates on the ballot for the at-large D.C. Council seat in the order that they appear on the ballot along with the rating they received on LGBTQ issues from the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance.

An asterisk indicates GLAA did not receive a returned questionnaire it says it sent to all candidates asking for their positions on LGBTQ issues from which it bases its rating score. Candidates from whom it doesn’t receive a returned questionnaire receive a “0” rating unless GLAA has information about their record on LGBTQ issues.

Christina D. Henderson

Independent

GLAA rating: +10

Vincent Orange*

Independent

GLAA rating: +2.5

Franklin Garcia

GLAA rating: +8

Rick Murphree

Independent

[Withdrew his candidacy too late to be removed from the ballot.]

Marya Pickering

Republican

GLAA rating: -3

Marcus Goodwin*

Independent

GLAA rating: 0

Markus Batchelor*

Independent

GLAA rating: +6

Michangelo ‘DoctorMic’ Scruggs*

Independent

GLAA rating: 0

Mario Cristaldo

Independent

GLAA rating: +6,5

Calvin H. Gurley*

Independent

GLAA rating: 0

Claudia Barragan*

Independent

GLAA rating: +1

Keith Silver*

Independent

GLAA rating: 0

Alexander M. ‘Alex’ Padro

Independent

GLAA rating: +7

Robert White

Democrat

GLAA rating: +10

Jeanne Lewis*

Independent

GLAA rating: 0

Monica Palacio

Independent

GLAA rating: +9.5

Ann C. Wilcox*

Statehood Green

GLAA rating: +0.5

Joe Bishop-Henchman

Libertarian

GLAA rating: +2.5

Kathy Henderson*

Independent

GLAA rating: -1

Eric M. Rogers*

Independent

GLAA rating: 0

Chander Jayaraman

Independent

GLAA rating: +5

A’Shia Howard*

Independent

GLAA rating: 0

Ed Lazere

Independent

GLAA rating: +8

Will Merrifield

Independent

GLAA rating: +4.5

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Top 10 Blade news stories by web traffic

COVID breakthroughs, Equality Act, and anti-trans attacks

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

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

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

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

#9: COVID breakthrough infections strike summer tourists visiting Provincetown

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

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

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

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

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

#6: Romney declares opposition to LGBTQ Equality Act

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No political willpower to force vote or reach a compromise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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