LGBTQ activists Woo GOP vote on rights bill at cultural war turn
Kasey Suffredini is on a mission to persuade Republicans to support non-discrimination legislation for gay and transgender people, known as the Equality Act, and is leading a multi-faceted campaign to cross the finish line to the 50 year old bill.
He runs a bipartisan group called Freedom for All Americans, which holds six to seven meetings a week, mostly with GOP offices. It’s part of an effort to connect them not only with LGBTQ people, but also with business leaders and conservatives to argue that equality is good for businesses and state economies as well.
“It’s a mathematical factor,” said Suffredini, a transgender lawyer and LGBTQ campaign strategist. “As in, wanting to be sure that we are able to achieve a lasting victory that embodies the American consensus.”
His effort is part of an aggressive, bipartisan, and broad-based lobbying fight on Capitol Hill over the long-held stuck gay rights measure that his supporters say will finally reach President Joe Biden’s office this year. The political window to move it forward is narrowing.
At least 112 entities have lobbied the equality law this year, up from 68 in 2020, according to a Bloomberg government analysis of lobbying disclosures. The measure has garnered support from American companies, industry associations and groups across the ideological spectrum.
Among them: Giant of consumer products
Biden supports the legislation, which has been around in one form or another since the 1970s. The House passed the measure (
This is not enough to overcome an obstruction, so advocates need buy-in from Republicans concerned about how this would affect freedom of religion and faith-based organizations.
Suffredini said much of the group’s job is to educate lawmakers on what the bill does and doesn’t do. Freedom for All Americans has added three lobby stores to its list in recent months, including a bipartisan team at Mehlman Castagnetti Rosen and Thomas, and Ballard Partners, a bipartisan company linked to the former Trump administration.
Ana Cruz, managing partner of Ballard Partners and former assistant to the Democratic Senate whose wife is mayor of Tampa, helped draft a letter in support of the measure featuring
The Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBTQ rights organization in the United States, is leading a coalition of more than a dozen other groups to galvanize support for the bill and push back its critics. The coalition has invested $ 4 million in polls, paid media, local and direct lobbying and other advocacy activities – and plans to spend more, the Campaign for Human Rights chairman said, Alphonso David, during a telephone interview.
Lobbyists hope the momentum builds as Republicans and Senate Democrats engage in conversations to resolve their differences over the bill.
“It’s actually quite astonishing how much attention is given to the issue, given that it’s not at the forefront,” said Tyler Deaton, senior advisor at American Unity Fund, founded by the mega – GOP donor and hedge fund manager Paul Singer to help Republicans talk about LGBTQ issues. The group is working with Democrats and Republicans to negotiate a compromise.
Both sides must “be prepared to give up some of their sacred cows,” Deaton said. “No one gets everything, but everyone should get something.”
Twenty-seven states lack protections against discrimination for LGBT people, which advocates say exposes them to dismissal or denial of housing because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Defenders of federal civil rights protections say they have the public behind them. A May 2019 Gallup poll found that 53% of Americans say new anti-discrimination laws are needed to reduce stigma against LGBTQ people.
The Equality Act would amend civil rights laws to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. It would extend these protections to federally funded programs and broaden the definition of “public housing” to extend non-discrimination policies to more services and businesses. Some religious groups say the expanded definition of public housing could infringe on their ability to function.
Critics of the bill range from groups seeking to change certain terms, like the 1st Amendment Partnership, which wants to see stronger protections for religious organizations – to those who categorically reject it, like the conservative Heritage Action group, which mobilized a grassroots effort to kill the legislation.
“People understand that the political moment for this might not happen again for some time, and there is at least a political deal in sight, and people should act on it,” said Tim Schultz, chairman of the Partnership. 1st amendment.
His group would like to see changes, including how the Equality Act restricts the ability of individuals to use the Restoration of Religious Freedom Act (Public Law 103-141) to exclude protections from the measure; it is also a main sticking point for Republicans in Congress. The law, signed in 1993 by then-President Bill Clinton, creates a religious defense in discrimination trials.
American Unity Fund supports both the Equality Act and a Republican-backed bill, the Fairness for All Act (
Separately, dozens of anti-transgender bills are being introduced at the state level that would ban gender-affirming medical care or prevent trans people from participating in sports aligned with their gender identity.
Lobbyists say transgender issues are often raised in meetings with Republicans.
Transgender issues have “gained in political importance,” Schultz said. “There is still a lot of education to be done because I think a lot of the rhetoric about it is really not very specific.”
Lawmakers from both parties talk about compromise, especially Sens.
Collins wants to see “explicit exemptions to make it clear that vital programs that serve men and women separately, like domestic violence and homeless shelters, could continue to do so,” said Annie Clark, spokesperson for the senator, in a press release.
The senator also wants changes to “certain terms relating to religious organizations,” Clark said in an email. “She believes that faith-based community partners, like Catholic charities and the important services they provide, should not be unfairly excluded from federal funding.”
The equality law is not expected to budge until fall, and advocates concede that the timetable is complicated by the fact that it becomes much more difficult to pass next year, as the upcoming midterm elections accentuate political divisions.
Opponents of the equality law “are the same people who argue that the heavens will fall if same-sex couples marry, the heavens will fall if LGBTQ people can serve as teachers in public schools or if transgender people use toilets consistent with their gender identity, ”said David of the Human Rights Campaign. “None of these things happened, but yet they still use these arguments.”
He’s open to conversations about the changes, but says, “What we need to be aware of is that we’re not going to change the law in a way that takes us back in time.”