Gun-control measures have stolen the spotlight in the days after a deadly mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Florida, and other legislation important to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community has suffered defeats in recent weeks, with little public attention.
An amendment that would have protected the LGBT community from discrimination in the workplace was defeated by the House Rules Committee last Tuesday, while legislation that would require federal surveys to obtain data on sexual identity has garnered only one Republican among its 84 sponsors in the House of Representatives.
The politics of providing equal opportunity to gays, lesbians and others are complicated, made more confusing by the Orlando attack by Omar Mateen, which left 49 people dead and 53 wounded in the largest mass shooting by a single gunman in U.S. history.
While the tussle over gun-control measures has been public, the smacking down of LGBT legislation has gone largely unheralded.
It’s always good to work with the most accurate information that’s honest and true.
Rep. Tony Cárdenas, D-Los Angeles
Rep. Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania, the chairman of the House Ethics Committee, has had a front-row seat to some of those failed endeavors. Dent is a rare Republican advocate for LGBT equality.
“I feel very strongly that we should not discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation,” he said. “You know, the country has evolved demographically and socially on this issue. I believe the Republican Party should, too. So the bottom line is that nondiscrimination is a reasonable proposal.”
This month, Dent watched his colleague Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, a Democrat from New York, try to gather enough support to strike legislative language that left a loophole for military contractors to fire employees based on their sexual orientation. Maloney tried to amend the defense spending bill to remove the language, but the House Rules Committee would not allow that amendment to be debated.
Just a few weeks earlier, in May, House Republicans had voted in favor of similar legislation and then changed their votes when the measure was poised to move forward. Among them were California’s Reps. Darrell Issa of Vista, Jeff Denham of Atwater, Mimi Walters of Laguna Niguel and David Valadao of Hanford. All switched votes from yea to nay on stripping the discriminatory language after the clock ran out on their time to vote.
Another bill with the power to change the way the federal government treats the LGBT community might face a similar fate. The measure, known as the LGBT Data Inclusion Act, or H.R. 5373, has the backing of 83 House Democrats and one Republican. It would seek information on gender identity and sexual orientation in federal population surveys.
That data collection would help lawmakers better understand how to address health, housing and employment disparities, said Rep. Barbara Lee, a Democrat from Oakland, California.
Additionally, that information could change the way officials approach the task of redistricting, said another California Democrat, Rep. Alan Lowenthal of Long Beach. Lee and Lowenthal are among the 18 California lawmakers who’ve signed on as co-sponsors.
“The more we talk about gender identity and sexual orientation, it makes those people we’re accountable to – all of our community – it makes them real and it humanizes them, knowing what the numbers are and whether services are really needed in those communities,” Lowenthal said. “We don’t have any of it. We just estimate now. So I just think it’s an issue whose time has come.”
Little is known about the LGBT community at a national level, according to Ian Thompson, a legislative representative for the American Civil Liberties Union. Most of the data available is collected by “outside organizations,” such as the National Center for Transgender Equality. Equality California has also been an advocate for expanding and implementing data collection so that officials can, among many things, steer social services toward homeless LGBT youth.
The group was the driving force behind state legislation that now requires California social service agencies to collect data on sexual orientation and gender identity. California Gov. Jerry Brown signed the legislation last year.
“It was the first bill of its kind to require that data to be collected along with other demographic data, so we were very, very excited about that and we think it’s going to make a tremendous difference for people here in California,” said Jo Michael, Equality California’s legislative manager, who cited health care services as an area likely to be affected. “Obviously, it will take a while to put all that together, but once it gets to that point it could have a tremendous impact in that area.”
The federal LGBT Data Inclusion Act would expand the amount of information available, but only if it survives another battle on Capitol Hill, said bill co-sponsor Rep. Tony Cárdenas, a Democrat from Los Angeles. That’s an uphill fight.
“It’s always good to work with the most accurate information that’s honest and true,” he said. “For us to be able to have H.R. 5373 go through with this Republican Congress, my hopes are not too high, but we’re going to keep pushing it.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story gave an incorrect day for when the House Rules Committee rejected a LGBT discrimination measure. It was last Tuesday. It also mischaracterized the measure, which was an amendment to a bill.
Maggie Ybarra, 202-383-6048 @MolotovFlicker