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LGBTQ asylum seekers closer to a new life but challenges remain

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A volunteer and and an asylum seeker hug at a bus station in Brownsville, Texas, on Feb. 26, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

MATAMOROS, Mexico — Natasha is a transgender woman from Honduras’ Olancho department.

She arrived in Matamoros, a Mexican border city that is across the Rio Grande from Brownsville, Texas, on Oct. 12, 2019. Natasha, who fled persecution because of her gender identity, asked for asylum in the U.S., but the Trump administration forced her to pursue her case in Mexico under the Migrant Protection Protocols program it implemented in June 2019.

Natasha lived in a migrant camp near the Gateway International Bridge over the Rio Grande that connects Matamoros and Brownsville for 11 months until last November when she moved into a shelter run by Rainbow Bridge Asylum Seekers, a program for LGBTQ asylum seekers and migrants that Resource Center Matamoros, a group that provides assistance to asylum seekers and migrants in the Mexican border city, helped create.

“We can’t live in our countries,” Natasha told the Washington Blade on Feb. 27 during an interview at the Rainbow Bridge shelter, which is less than a mile from the Gateway International Bridge. “That’s why we entered the United States, to ask for refuge, and they sent us here to Mexico.”

Natasha entered the U.S. on March 10. She is now in North Carolina.

Natasha is a transgender woman from Honduras who has asked for asylum in the U.S., in Matamoros, Mexico, on Feb. 27, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The Biden administration in January suspended enrollment in MPP.

The first asylum seekers with active MPP cases arrived at ports of entry in Brownsville and El Paso, Texas, and San Ysidro, Calif. on Feb. 25.

Estuardo Cifuentes, a gay asylum seeker from Guatemala who ran the Rainbow Bridge shelter, lived in Matamoros for 19 months under MPP until he entered the U.S. on March 3. Two other asylum seekers who lived at the shelter — including Janeth, a trans woman from Cuba who arrived in Matamoros on May 27, 2019 — are now in the country. Janeth is now living with relatives in Miami.

“Discrimination, transphobia, homophobia, police abuse, police persecution and all these aggressions that are directed toward my community are the reasons that force us to leave,” Janeth told the Blade at the Rainbow Bridge shelter, referring to what prompted her to leave Cuba. “They almost expel us.”

The Biden administration allowed asylum seekers with MPP cases who lived in the Matamoros camp to enter the U.S. at the Brownsville port of entry first.

The process to enter the U.S. begins when an asylum seeker signs up online via a U.N. Refugee Agency website. A UNHCR representative then calls them to verify their personal information and provides them with a time to present themselves at the Gateway International Bridge.

The International Organization for Migration tests asylum seekers for the coronavirus, and they must test negative before they enter the U.S. They then board a bus that brings them to the Brownsville port of entry on the other side of the bridge. U.S. Customs and Border Protection personnel process them before they are brought to Brownsville’s main bus station, which is a couple of blocks away from the CBP station.

Gaby Zavala, a bisexual woman who founded Resource Center Matamoros, and other local activists who include Cindy Candia of Angry Tias and Abuelas, a group that assists migrants and asylum seekers in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, offer the asylum seekers legal advice and help them buy bus tickets once they arrive at the bus station. Michael Benavides, a gay man who co-founded Team Brownsville, and Felicia RangelSamporano, founder of the Sidewalk School for Children Asylum Seekers, which taught children who lived in the Matamoros camp, have also helped the asylum seekers once they entered the U.S.

“It’s surreal to think that it’s actually happening,” Zavala told the Blade on Feb. 26 during an interview at a Mexican restaurant near the Brownsville bus station. “[It is] something that we hoped for.”

Resource Center Matamoros founder Gaby Zavala, right, assists asylum seekers at a bus station in Brownsville, Texas, on Feb. 26, 2021, moments after they arrived in the U.S. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Zavala noted the border “is still closed to new immigration,” even though MPP has been suspended and the Biden administration has begun to allow asylum seekers with active cases under the Trump-era program into the U.S. Zavala on Wednesday acknowledged asylum seekers and migrants will continue to travel to the border, regardless of the policies the U.S. puts in place.

“The border between Brownsville, Texas, and Matamoros, Tamaulipas, has always been a major route for immigrants in search of asylum in the United States of America,” she said. “The service of NGOs, those that sponsor projects like Resource Center Matamoros, is detrimental for asylum seekers as they arrive to the border because we are constantly conforming to ever-changing US immigration policies.”

The Associated Press on Tuesday reported more than 4,000 migrant children are currently in U.S. Border Control custody, as the number of migrants at the Southern border continues to grow.

The Department of Health and Human Services has announced it plans to open shelters in Texas and California in the coming days to allow migrant children to leave ill-equipped Border Patrol stations. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who was born in Cuba, on Tuesday in a statement acknowledged the Biden administration continues to “expel” most single adults and families “apprehended at the southwest border” under Title 42, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rule that closed the border to most asylum seekers and migrants because of the pandemic.

“We are expelling most single adults and families,” said Mayorkas. “We are not expelling unaccompanied children.”

“We are securing our border, executing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) public health authority to safeguard the American public and the migrants themselves, and protecting the children,” he added. “We have more work to do.”

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and 12 other House Republicans on Monday traveled to El Paso, which is across the Rio Grande from Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. The delegation did not include U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas), who represents El Paso.

McCarthy and other Republicans have sharply criticized President Biden for beginning the process to reverse the Trump administration’s hardline immigration policies. Activists who work with LGBTQ asylum seekers and migrants told the Blade on Tuesday the situation on the Southern border remains complex.

“Republicans want this to be scary Brown people about to invade, which it’s not,” said Emem Maurus, a supervising attorney for the Transgender Law Center, told the Blade during a telephone interview from the Mexican border city of Tijuana where he works with LGBTQ asylum seekers. “But you got to figure that Trump effectively blocked migration for upwards of three years and Title 42 has been incredibly successfully in really stopping people, so you have a huge number of people.”

“If there’s a crisis, it was very meticulously created by Stephen Miller,” he added. “It was very intentionally created.”

Maurus told the Blade that two of his gay clients in Tijuana with active MPP cases have been “able to get out, but we’ve got a couple others who really need to and haven’t been called yet.”

“The two that I’m waiting on have just gone through hell,” said Maurus. “They should have been first.”

Maurus highlighted the case of 17 LGBTQ Jamaican asylum seekers in Tijuana whose request to enter the U.S. on humanitarian parole has been denied. Maurus told the Blade that each of them has a sponsor, lawyer and a place to live once they arrive in the country.

“I can bring all of them in with a COVID test,” he said. “All of them are represented. There is no reason they couldn’t be let in tomorrow.”

A portion of the fence that marks the Mexico-U.S. border in Tijuana, Mexico, on Feb. 25, 2020. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Abdiel Echevarría-Cabán, a South Texas-based immigration attorney who is also a human rights law and policy expert, on Tuesday said he welcomes “the end of MPP by the Biden administration.” Echevarría-Cabán nevertheless added “the process has been hectic and there is a lot of confusion among refugees that lost their cases while in MPP who didn’t have access to an attorney or couldn’t gather the evidence they needed to prove their cases living under severe danger and inhumane conditions.”

Echevarría-Cabán said one of his clients, a gay Cuban man, entered the U.S. on the same day the Biden administration announced it had suspended MPP.

Drug cartels, according to Echevarría-Cabán, threatened to kill his client if he didn’t pay them extortion money. Echevarría-Cabán told the Blade that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detained his client for three weeks until they released him under supervision.

“The process of letting them cross after two years has been disorganized and there has been poor communication and coordination between UNHCR, immigrants and attorneys,” he said. “Many refugees that crossed the border out of fear ended in detention and ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) is releasing them under an order of supervision.”

Steve Roth, executive director of the Organization of Refuge, Asylum and Migration, a Minnesota-based organization that works with LGBTQ refugees and migrants around the world, told the Blade the situation on the Southern border is “complicated” and “a bit of a mess.”

“Some of these policies were designed to prevent legitimate asylum seekers from making their claims,” he said, referring to the Trump administration.

“We recognize that it’s going to take some time to undo that,” added Roth. “But at the same time, it’s really important that the process reopens for asylum seekers to be able to present their case at the border.”

Valery, a trans woman from the Honduran city of Comayagua who arrived in Matamoros last March, and other asylum seekers continue to wait for their chance to enter the U.S.

“I am very happy that people are leaving, but what about us,” she told the Blade at the Rainbow Bridge shelter in Matamoros. “Where do we go? Where?”

Joaquin Castro: MPP dangerous for LGBTQ people

Texas Congressman Joaquin Castro last week said the situation for asylum seekers on the U.S.-Mexico border remains perilous, even though President Biden has begun to reverse some of the previous administration’s hardline immigration policies.

“There is a real humanitarian need among the people who are seeking asylum at the southern border,” Castro told the Blade during a telephone interview. “And unfortunately, over the past few years Donald Trump created a bubble of very desperate people who were unable to have their asylum claims processed and now are anxious to have their day in court, to have their asylum cases heard.”

Biden in January suspended enrollments in the Trump administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols program.

“MPP is dangerous for many folks … and that includes LGBTQ and trans folks,” said Castro. “These folks have sometimes become targets on the other side of the border.”

The U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 that Democrats introduced in Congress last month would, among other things, create a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants who are in the country.

The Biden administration shortly after it took office directed ICE, CBP and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to stop the deportation of “certain” undocumented immigrants for 100 days, but a federal judge in Texas last month blocked the moratorium. The White House earlier this week announced it would request $4 billion in aid to mitigate the causes of migration from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.

“MPP of course was lifted by the Biden administration, but you still have a lot of people who are in and around the border cities in Mexico,” said Castro. “And for all folks what we are seeking to do is put people on a path to citizenship.”

Castro acknowledged Congress has debated immigration reform for years, but he said, “we finally have an opportunity with this president and this Congress to get it done.” “It’s still going to be tough because of the numbers in the Senate, but I think there is a greater window here now than there has been in a very long time,” he said.

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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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