Pride Month concludes without Equality Act vote in Senate
Pride Month has come to a close and Democrats’ signature LGBTQ rights legislation still has not received a vote in the Senate.
In February, the House passed the Equality Act, which protects people from being discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in education, employment, housing and public accommodations, among other services.
President Biden pledged to pass the bill within his first 100 days, and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) hinted the bill could get a Senate vote in June, but both deadlines have sailed by amid Republican opposition.
Democrats’ decision not to prioritize the Equality Act reflects a lack of influence from LGBTQ rights groups, said Christopher Pepin-Neff, a senior lecturer at the University of Sydney and a former lobbyist who pushed Congress to repeal the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
“LGBTQ groups demand too little, too often,” Pepin-Neff said, stating that advocacy groups steadfastly support Democratic lawmakers but only receive symbolic support in exchange.
According to a new survey conducted by Pepin-Neff, LGBTQ lobbyists and advocates believe legal groups such as Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union are more successful in advancing LGBTQ rights than Washington-centric lobbying groups such as the Human Rights Campaign (HRC).
LGBTQ advocates have won some of their biggest battles in court rather than Congress.
Last year, the Supreme Court ruled that the 1964 Civil Rights Act protects LGBTQ people from workplace discrimination. This week, the court effectively handed a victory to a transgender student who sued his school for access to the boys’ bathroom.
The HRC is also waging legal battles, suing Florida this week to challenge the legislation that bars transgender girls from participating on girls sports teams. The organization plans to challenge a flurry of similar GOP bills in other states, including Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee.
The advocacy group is the biggest backer of the Equality Act, enlisting 450 businesses that together employ around 15 million U.S. workers in support of the bill. The HRC didn’t respond to a request for comment about the bill stalling in the Senate.
Senate Republicans represent a roadblock for the Equality Act, having indicated they would filibuster the bill over concerns about religious freedom. Influential conservative groups such as the Heritage Foundation have aggressively lobbied GOP lawmakers to reject the bill.
But LGBTQ activists have also expressed frustration that Senate Democrats aren’t doing enough to push the measure.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has expressed concerns about the Equality Act’s protections for trans students, stating he would like to see changes to the bill. Local LGBTQ activists have unsuccessfully urged Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), a strong supporter of the bill, to drop her opposition to the Senate filibuster.
Pepin-Neff said LGBTQ groups have failed to find a champion in the Senate who is willing to take drastic measures, such as derail other Democratic priorities until LGBTQ rights legislation is prioritized.
“The only option currently under consideration by LGBTQ leaders are ways to water down the Equality Act to appease transphobic senators,” he said.
While the Equality Act currently doesn’t have a clear pathway to Biden’s desk, LGBTQ rights groups have celebrated policy wins under the Biden administration.
On his first day in office, Biden ordered the federal government to expand LGBTQ protections in line with last year’s Supreme Court decision. He also issued an executive order revoking a Trump administration rule that banned trans individuals from serving in the military.
“It sends a strong signal that trans people matter, that you are just as valuable as the person sitting next to you,” HRC President Alphonso David said of Biden’s executive order in an interview with The Hill last week.