Some LGBTQ+ rights groups are making clear their displeasure with U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s resistance to reforming the filibuster so that key legislation can move forward.
The Senate debated voting rights legislation — designed to override restrictions adopted in several states — into the evening Wednesday, but the bill could not pass because it fell short of the 60-vote threshold needed to break a filibuster, that is, end debate on a measure and move to a vote on the actual bill. The chamber then moved into debate and later a vote on weakening the filibuster rule to allow the voting rights bill to pass by a simple majority. But two Democrats in the evenly divided Senate joined all Republicans to vote against weakening the filibuster and therefore defeat the move — Sinema, who represents Arizona, and Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
Sinema, the first out bisexual senator and someone who was once considered progressive, has drawn ire from LGBTQ+ and other liberal groups for her support of the filibuster and her other less-than-liberal actions. More than 50 LGBTQ+ activists and allies from Arizona issued an open letter Wednesday calling on the Human Rights Campaign, the largest national LGBTQ+ rights group, to urge Sinema to end her backing of the filibuster.
They noted that the filibuster stands in the way of not only voting rights legislation but much more, including the Equality Act, which would outlaw anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination nationwide. “While the prospect of convincing 10 Republicans to support this legislation is a nice fantasy, not one single Republican has signed on,” the letter stated.
“As a supporter of Senator Sinema, you should be demanding that she champion queer and transgender rights, and that she take any action necessary, including ending the filibuster to get the job done,” it told HRC. “It is unacceptable for Human Rights Campaign to be silent on Senator Sinema’s obstruction, thereby enabling that obstruction, when it costs our community so dearly. Further, we are troubled by the possibility that HRC’s silence on this crucial matter may be connected to the fact that both HRC’s Arizona state director and HRC’s senior vice president of policy and political affairs are former Sinema staffers. Loyalty to the cause of advancing queer and transgender rights must come before loyalty to a former employer.
“We, the below queer community leaders, organizations and allies, thank you for your work supporting the Equality Act, and we urge you to immediately take the necessary next step of publicly calling on Senator Sinema to support ending the filibuster so queer and transgender civil rights can pass the Senate and be signed into law by President Biden.”
The signers include members of LGBTQ+ and labor organizations, Democratic Party officials, and others.
HRC Interim President Joni Madison responded to the Arizona activists' letter Monday with a letter of her own, saying HRC agrees on the importance of passing the Equality Act and is pursuing all strategies to make this happen. "In coordination with many of our partners, we have and will continue to not only engage and educate Members of Congress on the urgent need for the legislation, but are also building an unprecedented grassroots movement to ensure elected officials are hearing from people everywhere on why the Equality Act is critical," Madison wrote.
"We will continue to meet with Senators, including Sen. Sinema, to discuss and consider all pathways forward, and to continue making the case for the Equality Act," she added.
She further noted that HRC had "endorsed the Senate leadership in taking whatever actions were required, including changes to Senate rules, to ensure a majority to pass federal voting rights and voting protection legislation. We have also made it clear to Senator Sinema's staff that we strongly disagree with her decision to oppose changing the Senate's rules to allow passage of the John R. Lewis Freedom to Vote Act by a simple majority vote."
HRC had additionally issued a statement to the Washington Blade Wednesday on efforts to lift the filibuster in the case of voting rights legislation.
“The core of our democracy is the right to vote,” the statement said. “The United States Senate must act on legislation to protect that right now, including passage of federal voting rights and voting protection legislation. Without its essential safeguards guaranteeing that the voices of all voters — including LGBTQ+ Black, Brown and other minority voters — will be heard at the ballot box, we cannot ensure that any other right, even those currently enshrined in law, will be protected in the years to come.”
It did not mention Sinema or the filibuster by name, but it said, “We feel that it is necessary for the Senate to take whatever actions are required, including changes to Senate rules, to ensure a majority to pass this essential legislation.”
Another major national LGBTQ+ group, the LGBTQ Victory Fund, issued a statement Wednesday on the filibuster and its relationship to voting rights legislation — and Sinema.
“The right of candidates to compete in fair and democratic election processes is fundamental to our mission to increase the number of LGBTQ elected officials and ensure they reflect the diversity of those they serve,” said the statement from Victory Fund President and CEO Annise Parker. “Voter suppression efforts deny voters the equal opportunity to elect their representatives and are a direct challenge to Victory Fund’s efforts to advance equality through representation. These laws disproportionately impact LGBTQ people of color and voters in urban areas where LGBTQ people are concentrated. The increasingly strict voter ID laws create unnecessary and sometimes insurmountable obstacles for transgender and nonbinary people attempting to access the ballot box.
“Our Victory Fund Campaign Board — made up of more than 150 political leaders and advocates from across the country — votes to determine who Victory Fund endorses. Senator Kyrsten Sinema is not currently endorsed and if she runs for reelection, her record and actions on the advancement of legislation impacting the equality of LGBTQ people will be a primary consideration for whether she receives our endorsement. That board vote would take place in 2024.”
That’s when Sinema will be up for reelection. Several other organizations, such as EMILY’s List and NARAL, along with some major Democratic donors, have indicated they will not support her for reelection if she continues backing the filibuster at the expense of voting rights.
Also, a recent survey by Public Policy Polling found she has a net negative favorability rating from Arizona voters and that a majority favors changing the Senate rules to allow voting rights legislation to pass. The survey showed 45 percent of respondents had an unfavorable view of Sinema and 42 percent a favorable one. Fifty-one percent said she should vote to change the rules if needed to pass voting rights, while 36 percent wanted no change.