On the Hill: Congress Continues LGBTQ Discrimination in Wake of Orlando Murders

A little over a week ago, the deadliest mass shooting in modern US history happened at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. As we now know, a single gunman walked into the club during its Pride celebrations and killed forty-nine members of the LGBTQ community and their friends, injuring fifty-three others, supposedly as an act of devotion to the Islamic State.

In the wake of this atrocious act, some politicians searched their hearts and realized that while they may not have been responsible for the attack in Florida, they were responsible for laws and policies that discriminate against the LGBTQ community and lead many of its members to feel like second-class citizens in their own country. Utah’s Republican Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox, speaking at a vigil following the murders, recounted his own personal stories of mistreating LGBTQ Americans, explaining

I grew up in a small town and went to a small rural high school. There were some kids in my class that were different. Sometimes I wasn’t kind to them. I didn’t know it at the time, but I know now that they were gay. I will forever regret not treating them with the kindness, dignity, and respect—the love—that they deserved. For that, I sincerely and humbly apologize.

Lt. Governor Cox even went on to attack the double standard surrounding violence against LGBTQ Americans, asking straight Americans,

How did you feel when you heard that forty-nine people had been gunned down by a self-proclaimed terrorist? That’s the easy question. Here is the hard one: Did that feeling change when you found out the shooting was at a gay bar at 2 a.m. in the morning? If that feeling changed, then we are doing something wrong.

Still, not all politicians were so introspective and remorseful, especially on Capitol Hill. In the weeks prior to the Orlando attack, Congress had worked first to add an amendment to a defense bill that allows federal contractors to discriminate against LGBTQ employees, and then to defeat two amendments, one to the same defense bill and one to an energy bill that sought to prevent workplace discrimination against LGBTQ Americans.

After the attacks, rather than working to pass legislation like the Equality Act, which would add federal protections for Americans based on sexual orientation and gender identity, Republicans in Congress instead called for moments of silence to pray for and honor the fallen Americans. But many House Democrats, frustrated with the lack of action on gun control and anti-discrimination legislation, refused to participate and walked out. Representative Jim Himes (D-CT), sponsor of the Darwin Day resolution and recipient of the AHA’s 2015 Science Advocate Award, refused to even show up to the moment of silence, and issued a statement saying “I got to thinking that this isn’t a town square. It’s not a church. It’s 535 people who with a day and a half of work [could pass] some bills around policies, which by the way a vast majority of Americans support.” And Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), who also represents the state affected by the tragic school shootings in Newton, led a fifteen-hour filibuster in the Senate last week to force a vote on several gun control bills, all of which were rejected yesterday by a majority in Congress.  At least there are finally some members of Congress who aren’t content to simply sit around and wait for the next mass killing or attack on LGBTQ Americans, and will no longer accept moments of prayer or silence as substitutes for action on these issues. Whether or not they will have the political capital to actually achieve their goals remains to be seen, but at least for now supporters of LGBTQ rights will no longer sit silent when preventable tragedies occur.

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