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Attendees at the White House Pride Month reception last week included prominent LGBTQ leaders from activist groups, state legislatures and the federal government. A legislator, however, was clearly absent.
Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona), the only bisexual in Congress, did not attend the event – an absence that stood out as members of the House LGBTQ Congressional Equality Caucus were there. Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Sinema’s LGBTQ companion in the Senate, also showed up and was in the front row for President Biden’s remarks.
When the Washington Blade contacted Sinema’s office to ask why the senator skipped the reception, her staff confirmed that she had been invited.
“Kyrsten was invited, but was unable to attend because the Senate suspended Thursday night for the state’s shift,” said Hannah Hurley, spokesperson for Sinema.
But the Senate recess didn’t stop Baldwin from attending the pride reception.
This isn’t the only event Sinema has skipped in recent weeks. When Vice President Kamala Harris hosted a White House dinner for all female Senate members, Sinema was the only Democrat not to attend.
Sinema’s absence is almost metaphorical as she has become the target of the anger of progressives who see her as an obstruction to their Senate agenda.
Sinema, as she put it in a recent editorial for the Washington Post, spoke in favor of filibustering in the Senate, which has been criticized as a relic of structuralist racism (although it is not the only Democrat in the Senate to oppose abandoning the filibuster).
“It is no secret that I am opposed to the elimination of the Senate’s 60-vote threshold,” Sinema writes. “I had the same point of view for three terms in the United States House and said the same thing after I was elected to the Senate in 2018. If anyone expected me to reverse my position because my party now controls the Senate, it should know that my approach to legislating in Congress is the same, whether in minority or majority.
Because of her position, Sinema has been accused of upholding key legislation like the Equality Act, which would extend LGBTQ protections under the law. (It should be noted that the bill as it stands does not have unanimous support within the Democratic caucus and would not even be passed without filibuster in a majority vote.)
In addition, the dramatic thumbs down she gave in the Senate on an amendment to raise the minimum wage to $ 15 an hour has been interpreted as an insult to progressives demanding the increase.
The transition for Sinema is remarkable. Starting her political career for the Arizona Legislature as a Green Party candidate who once dressed in a tutu to oppose the war in Iraq, Sinema’s latest incarnation as a conservative Democrat has some of his old supporters who are scratching their heads.
This will complicate matters for LGBTQ rights groups like the Human Rights Campaign and the LGBTQ Victory Fund, which supported her efforts to win the election, and for Democrats who sold her as the only bisexual in Congress.
Sinema, after winning the 2018 election for a six-year term, will be in the Senate for a while and will not be re-elected until 2024. But progressives are already demanding that LGBTQ advocacy groups take a hard line with her on any future support.
Michelangelo Signorile, a progressive activist and Sinema critic, went so far as to say in an email to Blade that LGBTQ groups should withdraw their support for Sinema entirely.
“LGBTQ groups certainly should not endorse anyone who blocks the passage of the Equality Act. Right now that includes all Republicans and Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, who refuse to eliminate the filibuster, ”Signorile said. “So of course they shouldn’t be supporting her. How could the Human Rights Campaign or the Victory Fund have any credibility in telling the community to invest hard earned dollars with this politician? “
Sinema has always taken a one foot in, one foot out approach to his sexual orientation as a political figure. Accepting the endorsement of LGBTQ groups, Sinema attended events organized by them after his election, such as an event with new LGBTQ members of Congress when he was elected to the United States House in 2012. But Sinema dodged them. questions about her bisexuality, telling the Washington Post in 2013, she does not understand “why it is serious”.
The LGBTQ Victory Fund, for its part, puts some distance between itself and Sinema in response to blade inquiries, but does not entirely repudiate its support for it.
Elliot Imse, a spokesperson for the Victory Fund, said her organization backed Sinema when the choice of Arizona voters was between her and “anti-LGBTQ Republican candidate Martha McSally.”
“It is currently not approved by Victory Fund and we will not be considering approval in 2024 until summer 2023 – and a lot will happen by then,” Imse said. “As with all of our incumbents, the Victory Campaign Council will review his efforts to advance equality during his tenure, as this is a key criterion for our endorsement.”
In response to a request whether the Victory Fund has contacted Sinema about his political positions, Imse said this would be incompatible with his organization’s mission.
“Victory Fund has a very clear mission and we believe organizations are most successful when they stay focused on that mission – so we don’t take a position on specific policy or procedural issues,” Imse said. “We support and support the LGBTQ candidates who will fight for and advance equality legislation and policies once in office and the LGBTQ members of Congress we have helped elect are the most candid and passionate voices in the Equality Act and other LGBTQ rights laws.
However, having this “laser focus” is not true for other LGBTQ political groups, which both endorse and lobby in Congress. Chief among them is the country’s largest LGBTQ group, the Human Rights Campaign.
The human rights campaign, however, has not responded to multiple requests for comment on Sinema or discussions the organization has with it. This silence, however, is unlikely to be enough for progressive activists angry with Sinema.
Signorile said Sinema’s absence from the White House should be seen as a wake-up call to LGBTQ advocacy groups over any future support.
“Sinema, by not attending the pride at the WH, doesn’t even make it visible there. It’s almost as if she wanted to distance herself from the community, ”said Signorile. “She never talks about being bisexual, doesn’t talk about her coming out story – even if you ask her – and I challenge anyone to find me on a recent occasion where she discussed her membership in this community. . “