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Democrats victorious as new federal budget excludes GOP’s anti-LGBTQ+ wish list

Democrats victorious as new federal budget excludes GOP’s anti-LGBTQ+ wish list
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The newly released federal spending bill, unveiled on Thursday, contains almost none of the over 40 anti-LGBTQ+ “policy riders” that far-right Republicans wanted, transgender journalist Erin Reed reports. The bill must now pass the House and Senate and be signed into law before 12:01 a.m. Saturday in order to avert a government shutdown.

The single anti-LGBTQ+ provision remaining in the bill prevents Pride flags from being flown over U.S. embassies in foreign countries, something that embassies can creatively work around. The budget also provides an additional year of funding for PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, an international HIV-prevention plan that has been credited with saving over 25 million lives since being launched by then-President George W. Bush in 2003.

Conservatives within the House Freedom Caucus had tried to use budget negotiations to end government funding of any entity that “promotes transgenderism” or provides gender-affirming care; any federal agencies pursuing policies to expand diversity, equality, and inclusivity (DEI); any legal consequences for federal contractors who discriminate against LGBTQ+ people but claim their religion made them do it; and any implementation of the Department of Education’s rules requiring schools to accommodate trans students.

In a February letter to Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA), the House Freedom Caucus threatened to vote against the spending bill and shut down the government unless these riders were included.

“Rather than working to address the problems facing Americans and supporting working families, anti-equality members of Congress [had] attempt[ed] to hijack the appropriations process to restrict the rights and fundamental freedoms of LGBTQI+ people,” the Congressional Equality Caucus and 163 representatives wrote in a November 2023 letter to President Joe Biden. “The majority of Americans —Democrats, Republicans, and Independents — support nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQI+ people and we should not enshrine discrimination into law via the appropriations process or restrict the ability of the federal government to enforce existing nondiscrimination laws.”

In a statement released on Thursday, the House Appropriations Democrats noted that the recently unveiled budget also eliminated Republican riders preventing the collection of data on bank lending to minority-owned businesses, the pursuit of climate change reduction efforts, data collection on firearm-related violence, and grants to recruit teachers in low-income schools. The spending bill also denies any new funding to help build former President Donald Trump’s wall at the southern border.

The new spending bill will fund PEPFAR for at least one more year. Republicans had sought to cut funding to PEPFAR, falsely claiming that the international HIV-prevention program funded abortions and objecting to language in PEPFAR’s international guidebook around sex workers, trans people, abortion, and human rights.

The spending bill will also provide $60 million for the Minority HIV/AIDS Initiative, a fund that supports HIV prevention and health projects in racial and ethnic minority communities, an important fund considering the disproportionate HIV infection rates in Black and Latinx communities.

While the bill bans rainbow Pride flags from being flown above foreign U.S. embassies, Reed noted that “In the past, some embassies have gotten around such bans by not ‘flying a flag over the embassy’ but rather painting portions of the embassy in rainbow colors or draping flags on the side of buildings.”

Republicans could still try to include their anti-LGBTQ+ provisions in the spending bill, but the tight deadline for its passage to avoid a government shutdown makes it less likely that they will. Nevertheless, the spending proposal will likely be criticized by both the left and the right for its financial cuts to initiatives that each side prefers.

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