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President Biden falls short of 100-day goal to sign Equality Act into law

The Equality Act faces significant hurdles in the path toward passage in a Senate equally divided 50-50 along party lines

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President Joe Biden signing legislation with Vice-President Kamala Harris looking on
(Official White House Photo)

WASHINGTON – With President Biden’s first 100 days in office coming to a close, the Equality Act doesn’t appear even close to passage after his campaign promise to sign the legislation into law within that timeframe, although defenders say talks are ongoing and point to his executive actions in favor of LGBTQ rights.

Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), the first out lesbian elected to the U.S. Senate and a co-sponsor of the Equality Act, told the Washington Blade on Monday the Equality Act wasn’t completely dead in the water, alluding to imminent talks with fellow senators on the comprehensive LGBTQ legislation.

“Conversations continue to try to get to 60 votes,” Baldwin said. “I am hoping to personally be involved in several of those before the recess next week, but they’re still tentative.”

Asked what the reception has been to lawmakers amid talks on the Equality Act, Baldwin referenced items of traction, but wouldn’t get into details.

“I think there’s a commitment among a bipartisan group of getting to ‘yes,’” Baldwin said. “It’s just the, you know, law-making is like sausage-making.”

When the Blade pointed out Biden had said he’d sign the legislation into law within his first 100 days and asked whether the White House was being helpful, Baldwin said she had no reason to think otherwise.

“I’ve been dealing directly with my Senate colleagues, but I have no reason to believe they’re not being helpful,” Baldwin said.

Senators considered on the fence about the Equality Act wanted nothing to do with inquiries about where things stand with them on the legislation when the Blade approached them.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who remains the lone Democrat in the Senate uncommitted on the Equality Act amid efforts of trying to pry him out by winning over the junior Republican senator from his state, professed to be unaware of the legislation when asked by the Blade if anyone has reached out to him.

Manchin, who previously signaled he couldn’t support the Equality Act because of concerns over public schools having to implement the transgender protection, told the Blade he “hasn’t seen” the bill.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who declined to co-sponsor the legislation this Congress after having previously supported it, pushed back when the Blade made similar inquiries about whether she’s involved in talks on the bill.

“I’ve talked to several people about it; I’m not going to give you a list of names,” said Collins just before a nearby aide closed down further inquiries, citing concerns about the Maine senator missing an imminent floor vote.

Although the U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year in Bostock v. Clayton County determined anti-LGBTQ discrimination is illegal under existing law in the workplace, which has application to any law banning discrimination, the Equality Act would take things further to prohibit anti-LGBTQ discrimination in public accommodations and federally funded programs.

Additionally, it would expand the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit using the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act as a defense in cases of discrimination, including protections on the basis of sex in public accommodations and federal programs and expand the definition of public accommodations to include retail stores, banks, transportation services and health care services for all protected categories, including race and national origin.

Biden, whose 100th day in office as president was set for Thursday, promised the LGBTQ community in multiple forums on the campaign trail in 2020 he’d sign the Equality Act within his first 100 days in office and included his commitment to that timeframe on the LGBTQ page of his campaign website.

Even in October 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic continued to rage in the United States and it was clear that would be a priority for him upon taking office, Biden said in an interview with the Philadelphia Gay News the Equality Act would be a top priority for him within his first 100 days.

“I will make enactment of the Equality Act a top legislative priority during my first 100 days — a priority that Donald Trump opposes,” Biden said.

But the Equality Act faces significant hurdles in the path toward passage in a Senate equally divided 50-50 along party lines where 60 votes would be needed to end a filibuster. Anti-transgender groups have pounced on the issue of transgender kids in sports, which has been the focus of legislation advancing through state legislatures and may be a sticking point in talks on the bill. Although the U.S. House passed the Equality Act largely along party lines in March, the Senate Judiciary Committee hasn’t yet voted to advance the legislation, let alone hold a floor vote on the bill.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) signaled through a spokesperson work continues behind the scenes on the Equality Act and important achievements have been made, including record business support announced this week.

“The Equality Act has made historic progress within the first 100 days of the Biden administration,” said Martina McLennan, a Merkley spokesperson. “In addition to passing the House with a bipartisan vote, this legislation has more Senate cosponsors than ever before, more than 400 major businesses have called for its passage, and, after the Judiciary Committee’s first-ever Senate hearing in March, the Equality Act is poised for further action soon. Sen. Merkley is continuing to have productive conversations with Senate Republicans and remains committed to achieving a bipartisan vote in the Senate and seeing this landmark legislation signed into law.”

The White House continues to insist nothing has changed in terms of Biden making the Equality Act a priority. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki in February twice told the Washington Blade Biden “stands by” his 100-day commitment, once in February and again on the 83rd day of the administration, blaming the Senate for inaction.

“And as you know, in order to sign legislation, it needs to come to his desk,” Psaki said. “And while he has certainly been a vocal advocate in his support for the Equality Act, obviously, as you know and noted, it passed the House; it needs to work its way through the Senate. It requires the Senate passing it in order for him to sign it.”

Asked what Biden is doing to advance the Equality Act, Psaki cited a Statement of Administration Policy in favor of the legislation and vaguely mentioned talks Biden is having.

“He has talked about his view that this is legislation that should pass,” Psaki said. “And he has a range of conversations about a range of topics, but also so does our legislative team who work to move forward his agenda every single day.”

However, exactly what the White House and Biden are doing, if anything, behind the scenes to advance the Equality Act remains unclear. One Democratic insider, who spoke on condition of anonymity for greater candor, said he’s “disappointed that they haven’t allocated much energy to it compared to other items on the agenda,” later adding “hopefully they’ll plug along.”

A White House official, asked by the Blade for this article if Biden is disappointed he won’t be able to sign the Equality Act within the 100-day timeframe he envisioned, reiterated the president’s support for the legislation.

“President Biden believes the Senate needs to act now to pass the Equality Act, and will continue to prioritize this legislation so that no one can be discriminated against on the basis of sex, including gender identity and sexual orientation,” the official said.

To be sure, Biden has acted to advance LGBTQ rights through executive action during his first 100 days in office, signing an executive order on his first day in office ordering federal agencies to fully implement the Bostock ruling across the board with regard to all laws against sex discrimination.

Biden wasn’t done: Days later he signed an executive order reversing former President Trump’s transgender military ban and a memorandum directing the State Department to make LGBTQ human rights an international foreign policy priority.

Based on Biden’s Bostock order, federal agencies have signaled that they would take up cases of anti-LGBTQ discrimination as sex discrimination, including the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Department of Housing & Urban Development. The Department of Education also issued a memo signaling anti-LGBTQ discrimination in school programs, including sports, is illegal under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.

But the cornerstone of Biden’s campaign promise to the LGBTQ community was signing the Equality Act to enact a change in law for LGBTQ protections. Although Biden signaled he’d enforce the law consistent with the Bostock decision, signing the Equality Act into law within 100 days was what he repeatedly promised in campaign forums.

Moreover, executive actions have limits. For starters, a subsequent administration hostile to LGBTQ rights could reverse them (even though those changes would likely be challenged in court). Most notably, because no law bars sex discrimination in public accommodations, a change in law is necessary to prohibit to anti-LGBTQ discrimination in that area. Under current federal law, businesses can refuse service to customers for being LGBTQ or throw them out for holding hands with a same-sex partner without fear of legal reprisal.

Harkening back to the 2020 presidential campaign, the inability of Biden to meet his campaign promise to sign the Equality Act into law within 100 days makes prophetic concerns some Biden campaign supporters quietly expressed about the campaign or transition team not having a dedicated policy staffer on LGBTQ issues, which could have gotten the ball rolling to anticipate controversial issues with the legislation and coordinate among principals.

LGBTQ advocacy groups working to advance the Equality Act have largely kept quiet on the strategy talks behind the scenes, although they expressed solidarity with Biden despite him not being able to meet his 100-day timeframe for the legislation. The Human Rights Campaign, however, didn’t respond to a request for comment by Blade deadline Wednesday.

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said via email she remains confident Biden will sign the Equality Act into law based on his actions in his first 100 days.

“NCTE had prioritized passing the Equality Act in this Congress,” Keisling said. “We are confident that President Biden will sign the bill when we can get it through the Senate whether that’s on Day 100 or Day 1,000. President Biden has been off to a quick start on trans policy with his early Bostock Executive Order, ending the trans military ban, and so far appointing the first two trans people in history to Senate confirmable positions. We are confident of more great work during these four years.”

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NBC Universal cancels Golden Globe awards broadcast for 2022

NBC Universal announced the network would not broadcast the 2022 Golden Globes awards ceremony

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Screenshot NBC coverage of the Golden Globes from previous years on YouTube

BURBANK – In the wake of an in-depth investigation into the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), the organization responsible for the Golden Globes by the Los Angeles Times, which revealed a lack of racial diversity among its voting members and various other ethical concerns, NBC Universal announced Monday the network would not broadcast the 2022 Golden Globes ceremony.

This past February ahead of the HFPA’s 78th Annual Golden Globes ceremony, HFPA board chair Meher Tatna told Variety magazine that the organization that the organization of international journalists which covers the film, television, and entertainment industry has not had any Black members in at least 20 years.

Actor Sterling K. Brown,  a Golden Globe winner and two-time nominee, posted to Instagram; 

Criticism of the HFPA, which puts on the Globes and has been denounced for a lack of diversity and for ethical impropriates, reached such a pitch this week that actor and superstar celebrity Tom Cruise returned his three Globes to the press association’s headquarters, according to a person who was granted anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly about the decision, the Associated Press reported.

“We continue to believe that the HFPA is committed to meaningful reform. However, change of this magnitude takes time and work, and we feel strongly that the HFPA needs time to do it right,” a spokesperson for NBC said in a statement.

“As such, NBC will not air the 2022 Golden Globes,” the spokesperson added. “Assuming the organization executes on its plan, we are hopeful we will be in a position to air the show in January 2023.”

NBC’s decision comes as Vogue reported that the backlash to the HFPA came swiftly and decisively. Some of Hollywood’s biggest studios, including Netflix, Amazon, and WarnerMedia, announced they were severing ties with the organization until efforts were made to increase diversity and stamp out corruption, while a group of more than 100 of the industry’s biggest PR firms released a statement in March in which they pledged to boycott the ceremony for the foreseeable future. 

The HFPA did not immediately respond to inquiries by media outlets requesting comment about NBC’s decision.

In February, the organization said it was “fully committed to ensuring our membership is reflective of the communities around the world who love film, TV, and the artists inspiring and educating them.”

“We understand that we need to bring in Black members as well as members from other underrepresented backgrounds, and we will immediately work to implement an action plan to achieve these goals as soon as possible,” it said.

HFPA also announced a full timetable through this summer for implementing promised reform initiatives in response to NBC’s decision.

“Regardless of the next air date of the Golden Globes, implementing transformational changes as quickly — and as thoughtfully — as possible remains the top priority,” the HFPA board said in a statement. “We invite our partners in the industry to the table to work with us on the systemic reform that is long overdue, both in our organization as well as within the industry at large.”

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Coronavirus

LA County expected to hit herd immunity by mid summer

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Photo Credit: County of Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES – Los Angeles County could reach COVID-19 herd immunity among adults and the older teenagers by mid- to late July, public health officials announced Monday. Over the weekend LA Mayor Eric Garcetti announced that appointments are no longer needed for Angelenos to get COVID-19 vaccinations at any site run by the city.

Garcetti’s move is intended to give people who don’t have the time or technological resources to navigate online booking platforms a chance to get the shot.

The percentage of the population the County needs to vaccinate to achieve community immunity is unknown, however Public Health officials estimate it’s probably around 80%. Currently, 400,000 shots each week are getting into the arms of L.A. County residents, and there are over 2 million more first doses to go before 80% of all L.A. County residents 16 and older have received at least one shot.

At this rate, Public Health expects the County will reach this level of community immunity in mid- to late July and that assumes the County continues to at least have 400,000 people vaccinated each week. That would include both first doses that people need as well as their second doses.

This news came as Los Angeles Unified School District officials announced that attendance numbers at all grade levels in the District have been considerably lower than expected as extensive safety measures have failed to lure back the vast majority of families in the final weeks of school.

Only 7% of high school students, about 30% of elementary school children and 12% of middle school students have returned to campuses.

As of May 7, more than 8,492,810 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered to people across Los Angeles County. Of these, 5,146,142 were first doses and 3,346,668 were second doses.

On Monday the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) expanded the emergency use authorization for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for adolescents 12 to 15 years of age. The Pfizer vaccine is already authorized for people 16 years old and older.

Pfizer’s testing in adolescents “met our rigorous standards,” FDA vaccine chief Dr. Peter Marks said. “Having a vaccine authorized for a younger population is a critical step in continuing to lessen the immense public health burden caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

In a statement released Monday by the White House, President Joe Biden the FDA’s decision marked another important step in the nation’s march back to regular life.

“The light at the end of the tunnel is growing, and today it got a little brighter,” Biden said.

Los Angeles County will offer the Pfizer vaccine for 12 to 15-year-olds once the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) affirms the FDA recommendation, which can happen as early as Wednesday. All adolescents 12-17 will need to be accompanied by a parent or guardian to get vaccinated.

To find a vaccination site near you, to make an appointment at vaccination sites, and much more, visit: www.VaccinateLACounty.com (English) and www.VacunateLosAngeles.com (Spanish). If you don’t have internet access, can’t use a computer, or you’re over 65, you can call 1-833-540-0473 for help finding an appointment or scheduling a home-visit if you are homebound. Vaccinations are always free and open to eligible residents and workers regardless of immigration status.

In the meantime, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that unvaccinated people — including children — should continue taking precautions such as wearing masks indoors and keeping their distance from other unvaccinated people outside of their households.

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Health

HHS takes steps to reverse Anti-LGBTQ+ healthcare policy

The announcement came minutes before a scheduled hearing before the U.S. District Court for Equality California’s lawsuit challenging the Trump-Pence Administration’s “Rollback Rule”

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HHS the Hubert H. Humphrey Building (Photo: GSA)

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced Monday morning that the Biden-Harris Administration will interpret and enforce Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and Title IX’s prohibitions on discrimination based on sex to include discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

The announcement came minutes before a scheduled hearing before the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts in BAGLY v. HHS, Equality California’s lawsuit challenging the Trump-Pence Administration’s “Rollback Rule.”

The Trump-era policy undermines the ACA’s nondiscrimination protections on the basis of sex — including pregnancy, gender identity and sex stereotyping — as well as protections for patients with limited-English proficiency and those living with chronic illnesses, including HIV. Because the issues in BAGLY v. HHS are broader than what the Administration announced today, the Court scheduled a hearing on the government’s motion to dismiss for June 3rd at 2:30 PM EST.

In reaction to the HHS announcement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued a statement Monday:

“Today, the Biden Administration has taken essential and potentially life-saving action to affirm that all people in America have the right to quality, affordable health care – no matter who they are or whom they love.  During this time of pandemic and always, it is vital that the most vulnerable have access to care, including LGBTQ Americans, who have long suffered injustice and discrimination that has left them dangerously exposed to health risks.
 
“The Trump Administration’s decision to greenlight anti-LGBTQ discrimination in health care in the middle of a pandemic was an act of senseless and staggering cruelty, made in blatant defiance of our values and a Supreme Court ruling made just a month prior.  
 
“Congressional Democrats together with the Biden Administration are proud to uphold the equal right of every American to access the care that they need to pursue a life of dignity and health.  We must now build on this progress and enact the House-passed Equality Act to fully ban anti-LGBTQ discrimination in our nation.”

In addition to Equality California, co-plaintiffs in BAGLY v. HHS include Darren Lazor, The Boston Alliance of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Youth (BAGLY), Callen-Lorde Community Health Center, Campaign for Southern Equality, Equality California, Fenway Health, and Transgender Emergency Fund.

Lazor is a transgender man near Cleveland, Ohio, who experienced numerous counts of discrimination from healthcare providers on the basis of his gender identity from 2012 to 2017. He is a member of Equality California. Plaintiffs are represented by National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), the Transgender Law Center (TLC), the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund (TLDEF), the Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation (CHLPI) of Harvard Law School and law firm Hogan Lovells.

The lawsuit asserts that the new rule violates the Administrative Procedures Act by being contrary to law, arbitrary and capricious and a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. Notably, it was published on June 19,  just days after the June 15, 2020 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County, which found that it is unlawful sex discrimination to fire employees based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

The lawsuit also asserts that the new rule will embolden discrimination and harm LGBTQ+ patients and people seeking reproductive health care, further stigmatize abortion and other pregnancy-related care, harm patients with limited-English proficiency, especially immigrants, and harm people with chronic illnesses, including those living with HIV. The rule will also create confusion about the scope of protections against discrimination under federal law. 

Trans people, like plaintiff Darren Lazor, already face disproportionate discrimination in health care settings, including mistreatment by insurers and humiliation and harassment by doctors – problems that are exacerbated for trans people of color and trans people living in rural regions and the U.S. South. In seeking to deny trans people access to the healthcare they need, the Trump Administration had placed trans people, and especially Black trans women, in danger through deliberately harmful governmental action.

“We are thrilled by the news that the Biden-Harris Administration will take initial steps to reverse President Trump’s dangerous, discriminatory Rollback Rule, which undermined healthcare nondiscrimination protections critical to the LGBTQ+ community, and trans people in particular,” said Equality California Executive Director Rick Chavez Zbur.

“As the world recovers from a global pandemic, it’s more important than ever that every American have access to quality, affordable healthcare without fear of harassment and discrimination. We remain hopeful that under Secretary Becerra and Assistant Secretary Levine’s leadership, HHS will continue to take further steps to rescind the Trump-era regulation and address the harms that it has caused,” he added.

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