Rep. Mark Pocan (Al Drago | Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — In a tense meeting marked by Democratic charges of hatred and bigotry, Republicans on the U.S. House Appropriations Committee voted Tuesday to strip funding for three LGBTQ community projects, just weeks after they included the money in the annual transportation and housing spending bill.
At one point, Rep. Andy Harris, a Maryland Republican on the panel, compared funding an LGBTQ center in Philadelphia to a hypothetical Ku Klux Klan project, in part because, he said, the LGBTQ center organized a protest against conservative mothers.
“I know we have First Amendment rights, but let me tell you something ladies and gentlemen, if the Ku Klux Klan applied for one, we’d hear an uproar from the other side,” Harris said. “That’s a First Amendment right, so I guess some First Amendment rights aren’t okay and some are.”
The earmarks, totaling more than $3.6 million, were slated to go to two projects in Pennsylvania and one in Massachusetts after GOP appropriators earlier approved the earmarked spending at the request of three House Democrats. The party-line vote Tuesday on the amendment to remove the funding, which included other provisions as well, was 32-26.
Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee strongly rebuked their colleagues for the decision.
Wisconsin Democratic Rep. Mark Pocan said removing funding for the three projects was below the dignity of the committee and a slap in the face to all LGBTQ Americans as well as their families and allies.
“The fact that you would take away members’ earmarks simply because they refer to the LGBTQI+ community is insane, is bigoted,” Pocan said.
Pocan recalled personal experiences in an attempt to get his GOP colleagues to leave the project funding intact. He said when he first ran for office, he would be sent news articles in the mail about his campaign with hateful language scribbled on photos of his face.
“Or the time when I wasn’t out yet, left a gay bar and two people followed me and beat me with a baseball bat until I was bloody and unconscious” and called him hateful names, he said.
Pocan argued that his Republican colleagues were in a way endorsing anti-LGBTQ behavior by revoking funding for the projects.
“This is what you guys do by introducing amendments like this,” Pocan said.
The committee debate came after House Republicans on Friday pushed through a defense policy bill that would disallow military health care professionals from performing transition-related health care for transgender service members, among other conservative social policy positions.
‘A cruel message’
Florida Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz called on the panel’s Republicans to remember times throughout America’s history when attempts to provide funding for Jewish Community Centers would have been barred due to antisemitism.
“Close your eyes and imagine if this were the 1930s or 1940s or even later in the United States of America … and think about substituting the acronym LGBTQ+ and inserting JCC,” Wasserman Schultz said. “Because there were plenty of years when Jewish Community Centers, it would not have been okay to fund them. Why? Because people didn’t like Jews.”
Republicans removing funding for the three LGBTQ projects, she said, was “clearly and directly a bigoted decision because the Republican Party doesn’t like gay people.”
“This kind of decision not only sends a cruel message to millions of LGBTQ+ American that their needs are not worth funding, but it also sends a clear but ugly signal to the entire world that America’s House is now governed by hatred and bigotry,” Wasserman Schultz said. “We should not stain this committee’s work with such a message.”
House Appropriations ranking member Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat, called the removal of the three LGBTQ projects a “disgrace.”
“Is there no limit on how low you will go to break the faith and trust (on) which this committee is supposed to operate — all to placate the whims of some, who I might add, in looking historically, do not ever vote for appropriations bills,” DeLauro said.
“You are negotiating with terrorists,” she said, referring to especially conservative Republicans.
Maryland’s Harris objected to DeLauro’s comments as well as those of other Democrats at several points during the debate.
Three LGBTQ projects
The government funding bill for the departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development included three community projects, or earmarks, that would have funded the LGBTQ proposals.
The William Way LGBT Center in Philadelphia was slated to get $1.8 million for its William Way Renovation and Expansion Project after Pennsylvania Democratic Rep. Brendan Boyle requested and secured the funding in the original GOP spending bill.
Boyle wrote in his funding request that the center “meets the health, human service, social and community needs of some of the most vulnerable populations in the City of Philadelphia, with over 25% of the surrounding area’s residents in a low-mod income census tract.”
The LGBT Center of Greater Reading was slated to get $970,000 for the Transitional Housing Program in Berks County after Pennsylvania Democratic Rep. Chrissy Houlahan was able to get funding in the bill.
“The funding would be used to support the costs needed to provide transitional housing and a myriad of services and resources to individuals in need of stable housing,” Houlahan wrote in the funding request. “The project will enable the Center to work with clients on life skills, financial literacy, resume-building, job skills and other necessary areas while helping them achieve permanent housing.”
And $850,000 would have gone toward affordable senior housing at LGBTQ Senior Housing, Inc. in Massachusetts. The funding was requested by Democratic Rep. Ayanna Pressley.
“This project will support the construction costs of converting a former Boston Public School building into 74 units of high-quality, service-enriched affordable housing for seniors in Boston,” Pressley wrote in the request for funding.
Washington Democratic Rep. Derek Kilmer read a statement from Boyle to the committee. Boyle could not address the panel himself because he is not a member.
Boyle wrote to Republican appropriators that the William Way community center has been a “beacon of hope and support” for the LGBTQ community by providing vital services.
“The William Way Center clearly qualifies for community project funding based on the merits,” Boyle wrote. “The only reason why it is now being targeted to lose these dollars is because of disgusting and ugly bigotry. I condemn those House Republicans for voting to strip away funding for the William Way Center. It is disturbing that House Republicans have chosen this dark path. Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is wrong.”
Maryland’s Harris spoke out against funding for all three projects, arguing taxpayer dollars should not go to the organizations.
“There probably is bias that exists, but the answer to discrimination is not more discrimination,” Harris said, noting that a requirement to live in the Massachusetts LGBTQ housing center is that people have to be LGBTQ or an ally.
“So if you happen to disagree, you don’t get these publicly funded dollars,” he said.
Illinois Democratic Rep. Mike Quigley, the ranking member on the Transportation-HUD spending subcommittee, later offered an amendment to add the three projects back into the underlying bill.
The committee rejected that amendment on a 27-30 vote with Republicans voting against adding the three projects back into the bill.
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