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.