A White House meeting with senior Biden administration officials has left leaders of LGBTQ advocacy groups with renewed hope in their efforts to pass the Equality Act, even though the legislation continues to languish in the U.S. Senate with no plans for an imminent vote.
The meeting with LGBTQ advocates, which took place Monday in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, marked the first time in the Biden administration an in-person meeting took place with LGBTQ advocates, who have previously held virtual meetings in the time of coronavirus.
News of the meeting was made public after the White House issued a formal readout of the discussion late Monday. The readout highlighted the Equality Act, legislation that would expand the prohibition on anti-LGBTQ discrimination under federal civil rights law, as a key component of the discussion.
“Advocates shared their perspectives on the urgency and importance of Congress extending long overdue civil rights protections to LGBTQ+ Americans by passing the Equality Act and shared the efforts their organizations are undertaking to get the bill to the president’s desk,” the readout says.
LGBTQ participants in the meeting who spoke with the Washington Blade kept their cards close to their vests on the details on the discussion. One participant, for example, said there were different assessments and intelligence on the path forward for the Equality Act, but declined to offer details.
Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign and one of the participants in the meeting, said in a statement to the Blade it demonstrates “passing the Equality Act is a priority for this administration, and our discussion included ensuring we can work together to identify the votes to move the bill through the Senate and onto President Biden’s desk.”
“The administration has continued to be a proactive partner in advancing LGBTQ protections across the board and an outspoken champion for equality,” David said. “We look forward to more dialogue and progress in partnership with the White House.”
It doesn’t seem the meeting produced anything dramatic in terms of new direction for the Equality Act. One observer close to the meeting said it wasn’t geared toward making major decisions and was more a showing of White House support for the LGBTQ community.
One direct consequence of the meeting, however, is clarification on which senior administration officials are heading up efforts on the Equality Act. The White House identifies three members of the Biden team who participated in the meeting: Susan Rice, director of the Domestic Policy Council; Cedric Richmond, director of the Office of Public Engagement; and Jen Klein, executive director of the Gender Policy Council.
The White House didn’t respond to additional inquiries from the Washington Blade following its readout on the meeting, such as who initiated it and the path forward on the Equality Act in the aftermath of the discussion.
Kasey Suffredini, CEO of the LGBTQ group Freedom for All Americans and another meeting participant, conveyed in a statement to the Blade the continued importance of the Equality Act.
“America is ready for the Equality Act, and after the onslaught of anti-LGBTQ attacks in the states this year, it’s clear our LGBTQ friends, family members and neighbors need protections from discrimination now as much as ever,” Suffredini said. “With public reports of bipartisan discussions happening in the Senate, we are grateful to have had the opportunity to discuss with the White House, as we are doing with all critical stakeholders, the ongoing and paramount importance of passing this legislation.”
Sufffedini is “encouraged” by Biden’s support for the Equality Act as well as declarations from senators they’re working with Republicans to get the legislation across the finish line.
Despite the optimism expressed by meeting participants, the Equality Act has been all but dead in the Senate for some time and nowhere near attracting the support of 60 senators, including 10 Republicans, that would be needed to end a filibuster on the legislation. At this time, the Senate Democratic caucus isn’t even united in support of the Equality Act, as Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) remains a holdout on the bill.
In the middle of Pride month — an opportune time to express support for the LGBTQ community — no plans are set for a Senate vote. The office of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who once promised a floor vote on the Equality Act, didn’t respond to the Blade’s request this week for a new update.
LGBTQ advocacy leaders working on the Equality Act, nonetheless, say there’s a way forward on the legislation, pointing out the support from the public and the business community.
Mara Keising, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality and another White House meeting participant, said the Equality Act is gaining momentum.
“With the Equality Act starting to gain traction in the Senate, it’s extremely important right now that all parties continue talking to ensure further progress, and President Biden is a total supporter of the Equality Act and clearly an important player in the process,” Keisling said.
The White House meeting took place days after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, which was a limited win for the religious-affiliated foster care agency seeking to reject same-sex couples that stopped short of the sweeping First Amendment right to discriminate it was seeking. One participant said the decision came up in passing during the meeting, but wasn’t a major topic of discussion.
The White House readout of the meeting enumerates other LGBTQ topics that came up, stating advocacy leaders briefed officials on anti-transgender legislation in state legislatures and the “detrimental impacts these bills are having on the health, safety, and well-being of children and families across the United States.”
“Senior White House officials expressed their gratitude for the participants’ leadership and impactful advocacy,” the readout says. “They reiterated the President’s strong commitment to achieving full equality for every LGBTQ+ American and his calls for the Senate to quickly pass the Equality Act. Finally, they underscored that the President has the backs of LGBTQ+ Americans, especially transgender youth.”
The meeting on Monday is but one for LGBTQ advocacy leaders at the White House in Pride month. Vice President Kamala Harris was set on Wednesday to hold her own follow-up roundtable with LGBTQ leaders in the White House Ceremonial Office.
Fran Hutchins, another White House meeting participant and executive director of the Equality Federation, said in a statement to the Blade the Equality Act enjoys widespread support.
“Currently, 29 states do not have laws that explicitly protect LGBTQ people from discrimination,” Hutchins said. “Without the Equality Act, LGBTQ Americans remain vulnerable to being evicted from their homes, kicked out of a business that’s open to the public, denied health care, or denied government services in a majority of states simply because of who they are. We need Congress to act now to pass the Equality Act.”
Another organization backing the Equality Act named in the White House readout is the National Women’s Law Center, which didn’t respond to repeated requests for comment for this article.
Other leaders of LGBTQ advocacy groups who are pushing for the Equality Act aren’t enumerated on the readout of the White House meeting as being present, such as the American Civil Liberties Union.
Ian Thompson, legislative director for the American Civil Liberties Union, downplayed not being able to be present for the meeting when asked about the ACLU’s omission from the readout.
“Since there are many groups of organizations working on passing the Equality Act, which is good news, we aren’t involved with every meeting,” Thompson said. “We’re continuing to call for passage of the Equality Act and talk to the executive branch — including the White House — about advancing policies that support LGBTQ people and ensure there is no license to discriminate against LGBTQ people.”
Senate confirms lesbian, trans nominees to high-profile defense roles
Skelly is second out transgender appointee to obtain confirmation
The U.S. Senate confirmed on Tuesday two Biden nominees — one lesbian, another transgender — for high-profile positions at the Defense Department by unanimous consent.
Gina Ortiz Jones, a lesbian former Air Force pilot and Texas congressional candidate, was confirmed as under secretary of the Air Force, and Shawn Skelly, a transgender 20-year U.S. Navy veteran and a defense appointee in the Obama administration, was confirmed as assistant secretary of defense for readiness.
For the second time in U.S. history, the Senate has confirmed an openly transgender person as a presidential appointee — and did so without controversy by unanimous consent.
Just months ago, Rachel Levine was confirmed as assistant secretary of health on a party-line basis after enduring rude, invasive questioning from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) during her confirmation hearing on transgender health care.
Jones has also made an achievement through Senate approval: She’s the first out lesbian to win confirmation to serve in a high-level defense position.
The Senate confirmation of the nominees by unanimous consent is consistent with their confirmation hearing, which both Jones and Skelly breezed through without hostility.
Annise Parker, president of the LGBTQ Victory Institute, pointed out in a statement the two newly confirmed presidential appointees both served in the U.S. military under bans against LGBTQ people in the armed forces.
“Gina and Shawn served their country when living openly could result in discharge and a lost career, so their ascension to key leadership positions is a powerful moment for those servicemembers who served or continue to serve in silence,” Parker said. “Their confirmation will transform perceptions of LGBTQ people within the ranks of the U.S. military, but also among the leaders of militaries we work with around the world.”
Another out LGBTQ person nominated by Biden for a high-profile defense role is Brenda Sue Fulton, whom Biden nominated to become assistant secretary of defense for manpower and reserve affairs. Her nomination, however, has not even had a hearing in the Senate Armed Services Committee. It’s unclear why her nomination hasn’t moved forward.
House resolution apologizes for treatment of LGBTQ troops, federal workers
U.S. gov’t workers once faced explusion for being gay
A new resolution introduced in the U.S. House apologizes for the federal government’s treatment of LGBTQ federal civilian workers and U.S. service members, who were once subject to expulsion from their positions because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
The measure, introduced on Wednesday by Rep. David Ciciline (D-R.I.), is a companion to an identical resolution introduced last month in the U.S. Senate by Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.).
“Our government spent years persecuting or wrongfully terminating LGBT individuals for no reason other than they loved the wrong person,” Cicilline said in a statement. “The call to service is one of the greatest acts of patriotism, but to be denied that opportunity because of who they were is one of our country’s greatest injustices. It’s long past time the government acknowledged this horrific practice, apologize to those who were harmed and commit to full equality for all Americans.”
LGBTQ federal civilian workers, Foreign Service officers and U.S. service members are addressed in the apology in the resolution. Although they can now serve in their positions freely, that is a change after decades of policy and law requiring them to be discharged for being LGBTQ.
The 1993 law known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” required the discharge of U.S. service members for being openly gay, although that law was repealed in 2010 under former President Obama. Previously, the U.S. military had an administrative policy that allowed investigations into service members and their discharge if they were found to be gay.
Civilian federal workers also have a history of facing discharge for being gay. Most famous is Frank Kameny, who was fired from his job in the U.S. government as an astronomer in 1958, prompting his work as a gay rights pioneer.
Most recent among the categories enumerated in the resolution are transgender service members, who until the Biden administration were essentially barred from military service as a result of policy under President Trump. Biden reversed that prohibition in his first week in office via executive order.
Joining Cicilline in introducing the resolution as an original co-sponsor is Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), who along with Cicilline is an openly gay member of Congress and a co-chair of the Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus.
“LGBT civil servants and service members have served with honor, distinction, and often, in the face of intense discrimination and fear of termination,” Takano said in a statement. “They heroically committed their lives to the betterment of our nation, only to be met with longstanding policies barring them from service or forcing them to conceal who they are. In our ongoing effort to create a more equal, inclusive, and accepting country, we must acknowledge our past shortcomings and reaffirm our commitment to treating all people with fairness and respect.
Defending Chick-Fil-A, Lindsey Graham Vows To “Go To War”
The latest skirmish in a decade plus long running cultural war battle over the company’s founding family’s support of anti-LGBTQ groups
WASHINGTON – In a series of tweets Wednesday, South Carolina’s Republican senior U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham wrote; “I hope we don’t have to, but I will go to war for the principles Chick-Fil-A stands for.”
The controversy that provoked Graham’s ire was the news that University of Notre Dame students and faculty signed an open letter calling on the university’s Campus Dining division to nix a proposed Chick fil-A on the campus of the 178 year old private Catholic research university.
This fight over the chicken sandwich fast food company’s proposed outlet at University of Notre Dame du Lac is just the latest skirmish in a decade plus long running cultural war battle over the company’s founding family’s support of anti-LGBTQ groups, some designated as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center, for lies and malicious propaganda attacking LGBTQ+ Americans.
In an Instagram post on May 12, the university’s Campus Dining division disputed a purported claim by the Chick fil-A that the company would be opening an on campus outlet.
“Our first concern relates to Chick-fil-A’s long history of antagonism toward the LGBTQ+ community. Over the past two decades, Chick-fil-A has donated significant sums to groups that oppose LGBTQ+ rights. From 2003 to 2012, the restaurant’s charitable arm gave over $5 million to queerphobic groups, including groups supporting conversion therapy. Despite public outcry and promises to halt anti-LGBTQ+ donations, in 2017, the donations to anti-LGBTQ+ organizations resumed, including the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, the Paul Anderson Youth Home, and the Salvation Army,” the op-ed states.
The brewing fight over Chick-fil-A caught the attention of a right-wing news letter and blogsite, ‘Campus Reform,’ which defines itself; “As a conservative watchdog to the nation’s higher education system, Campus Reform exposes liberal bias and abuse on the nation’s college campuses. Our team of professional journalists works alongside student activists and student journalists to report on the conduct and misconduct of campus administrators, faculty, and students.”
This past April, independent journalists at The Intercept wrote an in-depth piece on Campus Reform and its financial backers noting that Campus Reform is emblematic of the raging battle in American public discourse over so-called cancel culture, which the site’s writers have regularly lamented even as they set out to cancel the reputations and jobs of the people they attack.
Enter Senator Graham in a series of tweets defending the chicken sandwich outlets empire.
I want everyone in South Carolina and across America to know I have Chick fil-A’s back.— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) July 14, 2021
I hope we don’t have to, but I will go to war for the principles Chick fil-A stands for.
God bless Chick fil-A!
On May 21 of 2019, YouTube Food Channel Mashed covered the decade long battle over the chicken sandwich chain.
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