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Biden’s LGBTQ promises complicated by coronavirus, impeachment crises

Equality Act may not reach Biden by 100-day plan

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Biden’s LGBTQ agenda may be complicated by coronavirus, impeachment crises.

President-elect Joe Biden will have his hands full upon his inauguration next week with coronavirus cases surging and impeachment proceedings in Congress, which may complicate his efforts to act on campaign promises to the LGBTQ community, especially signing the Equality Act into law with 100 days.

Biden, however, seems ready to pull the trigger on one LGBTQ initiative: Just before the holidays, Biden’s team told LGBTQ leaders in a conference call that Biden on his first day in office Jan. 20 would direct the Defense Department to dismantle the transgender military ban, individuals familiar with the call told the Washington Blade.

It may take an entire year before the Pentagon is completely able to undo the ban, which President Trump initiated by tweet in July 2017.

But after that day one action, things get more complicated. The cornerstone of Biden’s commitment to LGBTQ people during his presidential campaign was the Equality Act, which Biden called his No. 1 legislative priority and pledged to sign within 100 days of his administration. The Equality Act would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to expand the prohibition on anti-LGBTQ discrimination under federal law.

Expectations are tamped down, to say the least, with coronavirus infections and deaths hitting record highs, an unsatisfactory rollout of the vaccines and the upcoming impeachment trial of President Trump, which would bar him from holding office in the future. The impeachment trial alone may hamper efforts in the U.S. Senate to confirm Biden’s Cabinet officials, which need to be addressed before significant action on any piece of Biden’s agenda can happen.

For the most part, LGBTQ advocates who spoke to the Blade on condition of anonymity for greater candor, were open to granting Biden leeway amid the coronavirus and impeachment crises.

“I think we’ve gotten the commitments that we expected and hoped for and sought from the Biden team and from legislative leadership, and what that means for us now is holding them accountable, but also understanding that the country, our democracy, and the ability of people to actually live is going to take priority,” said one LGBTQ advocate.

The LGBTQ advocate pointed out the committee of jurisdiction for the Equality Act in the Senate is the Judiciary Committee, the same panel responsible for coordinating Trump’s impeachment trial.

But the idea that leeway should be granted to Biden on LGBTQ issues amid national crises isn’t shared by everyone, and it remains to be seen how much patience LGBTQ movement leaders will have before they start calling him out for not acting on his campaign promises. If the Equality Act stalls out in Congress, the handful of advocates who had called for a LGBTQ policy staffer on the Biden campaign and transition team, may feel vindicated.

“The notion that our government can only focus on one thing at a time isn’t acceptable,” one Democratic insider told the Blade. “You can’t have the agenda and policy goals that Biden does and not have the process to move faster.”

Instead of watching the Equality Act become law in 100 days, the bill’s supporters may have to settle for having the legislation passed in one chamber of Congress within the 100-day timeframe. One LGBTQ advocate said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has privately signaled she would bring up the Equality Act in the U.S. House early on during the Biden administration, which is expected to translate to a floor vote within 100 days.

Pelosi’s office, however, hasn’t responded to repeated requests from the Blade since September on when she’d hold a vote on the Equality Act in the next administration.

In the Senate, one LGBTQ advocate predicted the U.S. Senate wouldn’t take up the legislation until summer or fall, and that would be only for the initial steps of committee action. Other LGBTQ advocates, however, strongly pushed back on that assessment and said no decisions have been made about the timing for Senate action on the Equality Act.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) has sponsored the Equality Act in the U.S. Senate. He told the Blade through a spokesperson he’d continue to push for the legislation.

“The Equality Act is one of Sen. Merkley’s most critical legislative priorities for 2021, and he will be urging leaders in both chambers to move expeditiously and seize the window of opportunity to pass this historic legislation,” Martina McLennan, a Merkley spokesperson, said.

With the Senate in a 50-50 party split, another wrinkle in the Equality Act is having to overcome the legislative filibuster, the Senate tradition requiring 60 votes to move forward with debate on a bill if one member objects. Would the Equality Act be the piece of legislation that would be the tool to end the filibuster, which has been criticized as a relic of structural racism? Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has emphatically signaled he won’t vote to junk the legislative filibuster, so that idea might be dead on arrival.

If the 60-vote threshold remains intact, the bill’s supporters would have to find 10 Republicans willing to vote for the bill, which would be a tall order especially within the 100-day timeframe Biden has envisioned. The only Senate Republican who has previously signaled support is Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine).

The offices of Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), the new chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) didn’t respond to a request Wednesday from the Blade to comment on the Equality Act.

With passage of the Equality Act in question, LGBTQ advocates are instead renewing calls on Biden to sign an executive order directing federal agencies to implement fully the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, which found anti-LGBTQ discrimination is a form of sex discrimination, thus illegal under existing civil rights law.

The Center for American Progress on Tuesday issued a new report, “Improving the Lives and Rights of LGBTQ People in America: A Road Map for the Biden Administration,” which makes the executive order to implement a centerpiece in their proposal.

Sharita Gruberg, senior director for LGBTQ research and communications at the Center for American Progress, said during a conference call with reporters Tuesday the Biden transition team has been “receptive” to the requests in the report, but any declined to specify if any timing commitments were made.

“We get the impression that the Biden administration definitely prioritizes these issues and understands the need for immediate action,” Gruberg added. “The Equality Act is competing with a lot of other very critical priorities, but again, we have received every indication from champions, as well as the administration that this remains a critical priority.”

The executive order to implement Bostock, however, wouldn’t be as sweeping as the Equality Act because no law bans sex discrimination in federal programs or public accommodations. The Equality Act would amend the Civil Rights Act to ban sex and anti-LGBTQ discrimination in those venues and expand the definition of public accommodations to include retail stores, banks, transportation services and health care services.

One Democratic insider close to the transition team said dozens of executive orders are before Biden in draft form and he’d “sign a steady series of them” beginning next week, but whether or not a directive is among them implementing the Bostock decision is unclear.

Another emerging request from the American Civil Liberties Union is an executive order directing federal agencies to update government-issued IDs and to remove medical documentation requirements for a change in gender marker and the selection of a non-binary option, which would be consistent with both Biden’s and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’s campaign pledges to allow for a third-gender option.

Arli Christian, national political campaign strategist with the ACLU, said Biden team members were supportive about the idea of an executive order to implement the president-elect’s campaign promise for self-attestation of gender and a gender-neutral option on government IDs, but said they were still figuring out details on the path moving forward.

“This executive order would go beyond cleaning up the mess of the last four years and actually move the ball forward on rights and recognition of trans and non-binary Americans,” Christian said. “It’s a way the new administration can really show that they’re a proactive champion of trans rights.”

Biden’s comprehensive LGBTQ plan, which he proposed during the Democratic primary, also puts additional timelines on Biden’s LGBTQ plans. According to the plan, Biden “on his first day in office” would direct the Department of Education to reissue Title IX guidance requiring schools to grant transgender kids access to sports, bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity, which was rescinded during the first year of the Trump administration.

The guidance could be folded into an executive order implementing the Bostock decision because they both relate to interpreting laws on sex discrimination, including Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, to apply to cases of anti-LGBTQ discrimination. In any event, Biden is expected to reverse the Department of Education’s interpretation of Bostock under the Trump administration, which just last week issued a memo excluding transgender kids from Title IX in contravention of widespread interpretation of the law.

Another campaign promise Biden made to the LGBTQ community with a timeline in his comprehensive plan was a presidential memorandum within one week after inauguration prioritizing his administration’s support for LGBTQ+ human rights and development worldwide. It’s unclear where the memorandum stands in the week before Biden takes office.

LGBTQ-specific appointments Biden pledged to name as part of his administration who would help push along his LGBTQ commitments remained undecided, including the White House LGBTQ liaison and the State Department envoy for international LGBTQ rights.

Among leaders in the LGBTQ movement, there’s widespread expectation Reggie Greer, who handled LGBTQ outreach for the Biden campaign, will become White House LGBTQ liaison. Greer would have support from LGBTQ movement leaders as an alum of the LGBTQ Victory Institute.

For the position of State Department LGBTQ envoy, one name enumerated by LGBTQ advocates in foreign affairs as a potential contender — and who has support in the LGBTQ movement — is Jessica Stern of OutRight International. Another contender is Todd Larson, senior LGBTQ coordinator at the U.S. Agency for International Development, whom sources say is gunning for the job.

Insiders also said there’s talk of naming a Foreign Service officer to the role, but LGBTQ movement leaders have said they don’t want a gay white male for the position, and the LGBTQ candidates who could be chosen from that pool are overwhelmingly gay white men.

Jamal Brown, a spokesperson for the Biden transition team, affirmed Biden remains committed to his campaign promises to the LGBTQ community and would act on his first day in office, but declined to elaborate on details.

“President-elect Biden is committed to advancing the most pro-equality agenda in history and his administration will begin implementing that vision on day one,” Brown said.

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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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Biden names civil rights veteran to U.S. Education Dept.

Catherine Lhamon’s portfolio will include LGBTQ rights, sexual misconduct, racial discrimination

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Nominee for Assistant Secretary of the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education Catherine Lhamon. (Photo public domain))

The White House announced Thursday that President Joe Biden has nominated Catherine Lhamon to serve as the Assistant Secretary of the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education.

Lhamon currently serves as a Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy Director of the Domestic Policy Council for Racial Justice and Equity at the White House, where she manages the President’s equity policy portfolio. She is a former attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, (ACLU) and served as chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights from 2017 to 2021.

She has also served as Legal Affairs Secretary to California Governor Gavin Newsom.

Her portfolio at Education, where she previously served in the same position under former President Barack Obama, will include LGBTQ rights, sexual misconduct and racial discrimination in the nation’s K-12 schools, universities and colleges. Lhamon was Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the Department of Education, to which President Obama nominated her and the Senate confirmed her in 2013.

“I am thrilled that President Biden is nominating Catherine Lhamon to serve as Assistant Secretary of the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education. Catherine has devoted her career to ensuring equity is at the core of all her work,” U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in a statement released by his office Thursday.

“She has a strong record of fighting for communities of color and underserved communities, whether as the current Deputy Director of the Domestic Policy Council, the former chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, or as a civil rights educator at Georgetown University. We are thrilled to have Catherine serving as Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights and know she will continue to fight for fairness, equity, and justice for all of America’s students.”

Lhamon has also litigated civil rights cases at National Center for Youth Law, Public Counsel Law Center, and the ACLU Foundation of Southern California.  Lhamon taught federal civil rights appeals at Georgetown University Law Center in the Appellate Litigation Program and clerked for the Honorable William A. Norris on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

“Catherine Lhamon is the right choice to lead the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights at such a critical time for the country and the agency. There is much work to do in order to roll back the harmful policies and legacies of Betsy DeVos, from her attacks on transgender students to her unconscionable revocation of discriminatory discipline guidance and rewrite of Title IX rules,” Adele Kimmel, Director of the Students’ Civil Rights Project at Public Justice told the Blade in an email.

“During her previous tenure in the same job, Catherine embraced equality, enforced Title IX and ensured students had an ally inside the federal government. She will do so again, and the Senate should move to quickly confirm her so she can begin the work of restoring the Department’s commitment to protecting the civil rights and dignity of students and implementing the Biden Administration’s pledge to undo the damage that DeVos has done,” Kimmel added.

Born in Virginia and raised in California, Lhamon graduated from Amherst College and Yale Law School. Lhamon and her husband and two daughters are transitioning between California and Maryland.

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IDAHOBiT events to promote intersectionality, resilience, allyship

HRC president to participate in virtual panel in Canada

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(Photo courtesy of the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia committee)

 

Intersectionality, resilience and allyship are among the themes that this year’s International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia events will highlight.

Dignity Network Canada and the Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention on May 17 will hold a virtual panel that will feature Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David, Canadian Center for Gender and Sexual Diversity Executive Director Debbie Owusu-Akyeeah, Kaleidoscope Trust Executive Director Phyll Opoku-Gyimah, COC Nederland Executive Director Marie Ricardo and Rainbow Railroad Executive Director Kimahli Powell. The British High Commission and the Dutch Embassy in Canada have co-sponsored the event.

“We hope that this will be a really interesting and important conversation on intersectionality and transnational solidarity — and what it means for these leaders and their organizations during these times,” reads a description of the event.

The U.N. LGBTI Core Group on May 17 will host a virtual IDAHOBiT event that will focus on ways to develop an “inclusive and diverse post-pandemic world.” The World Bank Group, the International Monetary Fund, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the Inter-American and Asian Development Banks host a similar IDAHOBiT commemoration.

“In order to heal from the economic, social, and public health dire impact the pandemic has had and still has, every plan of recovery must take into account a human-rights based, intersectional and gender responsive approach that addresses the specific needs of LGBTI persons in order not to leave them further behind,” reads a description of the U.N. LGBTI Core Group event.

Several Russian LGBTQ rights groups on May 17 will hold a “Vaccine for Acceptance” event that seeks to bolster allyship in the country.

Retired South Africa Constitutional Court Justice Edwin Cameron on May 16 will moderate a virtual panel that will focus on religion and anti-LGBTQ violence.

Workplace Pride and the Dutch Embassy in Budapest on May 17 will host a symposium on LGBTQ-inclusive workplaces in Hungary. M.V. Lee Badgett, an economics professor at the University of Massachusetts, on the same day will participate in a webinar the U.S. Embassy in Singapore is hosting with Oogachaga, a local LGBTQ advocacy group.

Haver Srbija, a Serbian NGO, on May 15-16 will hold Falafel, a film festival that seeks to build “bridges and promotes Israeli, Jewish and LGBTQI culture and communities” and highlight “various social issues in the context of the fight against prejudice, discrimination, anti-Semitism, homophobia and xenophobia and encourages the audience to develop critical thinking on the issue of these topics.” Proud Lebanon is slated to hold a series of six webinars between May 17-22 that will focus on feminism, LGBTQ rights and other topics.

The National Center for Sexual Education in Cuba will hold a series of virtual forums and other events through the month to commemorate IDAHOBiT.

CENESEX Director Mariela Castro, whose father is former Cuban President Raúl Castro, during a May 4 press conference in Havana said the IDAHOBiT events are part of the process of amending the country’s family code to make it more equitable for LGBTQ Cubans. Mariela Castro said a bill to amend it will be introduced in the Cuban Parliament in July.

“I was able to appreciate that the majority of the population … is in favor of recognizing the rights of LGBTI+ people and especially the rights in the family sphere that include the possibility, the option, of marriage,” said Mariela Castro during the press conference, according to Tremenda Nota, the Washington Blade’s media partner in Cuba.

IDAHOBiT commemorates the World Health Organization’s 1990 decision to declassify homosexuality as a mental disorder.

This year’s events will take place against the backdrop of a pandemic that continues to exacerbate existing inequalities for LGBTQ people and other vulnerable groups around the world.

Consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized in dozens of countries. Violence based on gender identity and sexual orientation remains rampant in the U.S. and throughout the world.

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