Scores of congressmen and staffers gathered on the Capitol steps Monday as the House chaplain prayed that Americans would never “fear violence because of whom they are, whom they love.”
But as the business of Congress resumed, none of the legislative proposals advanced in response to Sunday’s mass shooting in Orlando actually addressed the equality issues that gay rights advocates say are crucial for preventing discrimination against the LGBT community.
“That’s happened,” said Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., who has pushed for a balance between barring discrimination against LGBT Americans and protecting religious freedoms. “As opposed to the non-discrimination discussion, we’ve moved right into the other issues.”
Sexual orientation and gender identity still are not included in the Civil Rights Act. The Republican-controlled Congress won’t vote to protect the LGBT community from job discrimination. And many of the GOP lawmakers condemning the mass shooting did not acknowledge the sexual orientation of many of the victims.
“It’s really disheartening and sad that members of Congress who say they represent all of their constituents can’t even make this basic acknowledgement of the victims here,” said David Stacy, the government affairs director for the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBT civil rights organization. “We’re certainly discouraged, I think, at this point.”
After 49 people were killed early Sunday at a gay nightclub, Republicans and Democrats took to their respective corners. GOP lawmakers said the U.S. needs to boost counter-terrorism efforts, and Democrats stressed the need for legislation to combat gun violence.
Democrats have sharply criticized some Republicans for not calling the attack a hate crime and focusing instead of terrorism.
Some Republicans, including Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, said the attack should prompt Democrats who support the LGBT community to strengthen their resolve in fighting terrorism. GOP presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump said he would protect the LGBT community by banning Muslim immigrants.
Anti-discrimination legislation didn’t come up on either side of the aisle. “No one’s raised that issue,” Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., said.
Gregory T. Angelo, president of the Log Cabin Republicans, an organization of gay conservatives, said the GOP could do better, but so could Democrats.
“This is a moment of soul searching for Democrats right now,” said Angelo. “It’s a moment for Democrats to acknowledge the threats of radical Islamic terrorism.”
Rep. Sean Maloney, the first gay congressman from New York , pushed back, saying Democrats recognize the attack was a result of “radical Islamic terrorism.”
“Maybe the Republicans don’t think we notice that they’re throwing gay people off the top of buildings in [Islamic State] controlled territories,” Maloney said. “Believe me, we have.”
Maloney said Congress can and should address all aspects of the attack: terrorism, gun violence, and violence against the LGBT community.
“Concern for one should not diminish our concern for another,” said Maloney. “They are all at play here and we need to take each of them seriously.”
Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., said the attack cast a “dark cloud” over a meeting with LGBT leaders on Monday that was scheduled before the shooting. He said the leaders wanted to stress that violence against their community is persistent.
“It’s not limited to one community or one part of the country,” Casey said.
He announced a bill that would prevent those convicted of hate crimes from purchasing firearms. Nearly 20 percent of those affected by hate crimes in 2014 were targeted because of their sexual orientation, according to the FBI.
But the Human Rights Campaign says these crimes are underrepresented, because hate crime reporting is not mandatory.
Casey’s bill mirrors legislation that Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., introduced in January. Cicilline said Monday he would press House leadership to take up that bill as well as legislation to ban assault weapons and prevent those convicted of a hate crime from buying weapons.
Maloney said there was “no doubt” the attack in Orlando will cause more people to condemn violence against the LGBT community.
Rep. Richard Hanna was less optimistic.
“I would like to think it would give them pause for reflection,” the New York Republican said. The GOP “was supposed to be the party of personal freedoms but we end up picking and choosing what that is.”
Some lawmakers are going to implore Congress to act on LGBT legislation.
Maloney said he would push for action on the Equality Act, which would amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to bar discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation and gender identity.
“It’s an issue we should be debating right now,” Maloney said. “There’s nothing more basic than ending discrimination in federal law.”
The House Judiciary Committee has yet to hold a hearing on the bill. A spokeswoman for the committee did not respond to a request for comment.
Stacy from the Human Rights Campaign said he was phoning some Senate offices asking for increased funding for the Justice Department’s civil rights division and Community Relations Service, which handles hate crimes and address community conflicts.
The Senate is taking up a bill that funds the Justice Department this week, but Stacy said at this point no senator had said they would offer an amendment boosting the office’s funding.
Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., said in coming days he would draft a bicameral letter calling on the Food and Drug Administration to update its requirements for blood donors based on behavior and not sexual orientation.
Polis and Maloney both co-chair the LGBT Equality Caucus, which is expected to meet soon to discuss the attack, according to Polis’ spokesman.