Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney was first elected to represent New York’s 18th District in 2012. He served as White House Staff Secretary in President Bill Clinton’s administration. Maloney is New York’s first openly gay Congressmember.
PGN: From a personal standpoint, what kind of shift, if any, have you seen in attitudes toward LGBT people among your fellow lawmakers during your four years in Congress?
SM: That’s a very interesting question. The fact of the matter is it’s really the best of times and the worst of times. We’ve made tremendous progress and had historic victories but the Republican leadership has refused to come into the modern world on this. In the last few weeks, Speaker [Paul] Ryan went so far as to bring down the whole appropriations process over the Maloney amendment, which was simply an effort to preserve workplace protections put in place by President Obama. There was majority support to keep them in place but, rather than let my effort be successful, [Republican leadership] brought the whole place down. In the wake of Orlando, they passed on a number of opportunities to show sensitivity around these issues. They not only refused to move my legislation, they refused to even say the word “LGBT” on the floor at a moment of silence. There’s obviously great cause for hope but unfortunately the hope is not equal in the two parties right now. Our future is bipartisan and more Republicans than ever are willing to join me and others in pro-equality legislation. But Republican leadership is still very much standing in the way.
PGN: How frustrating was that for you when the Maloney Amendment appeared to have passed, only to have some Republicans change their vote?
SM: Well it was a real eye-opener. It’s exciting to realize 43 Republicans broke with their own leadership to support me but, of course, it’s disappointing to see the Republican leadership literally change votes on the House floor and engage in other system-rigging games to stop a civil-rights measure. There are Republicans who are moving in the right direction but the people running the show in Congress are still very antigay; there’s just no other way to say it. They’re willing to justify antigay discrimination and write it into federal law.
PGN: How important would you say this upcoming election is in setting the stage to advance pro-LGBT measures like the Equality Act?
SM: I think this election is totally unique because we’ve never been in a position like this before. We’ve gained so much and all of it is on the line. If we lose this election, all the progress we’ve made in the last eight years will go right out the window, from marriage right on down the line. The composition of the Supreme Court and the progress we’ve made through executive orders can all be undone by Donald Trump. The stakes have never been higher.
PGN: If Republicans retain control in the House and Senate after this election, what do you think is the best strategy to move LGBT-rights measures forward?
SM: I think we’re very much in the game in terms of taking back both. This is why LGBT people need to get out and vote and bring their neighbors with them. It really matters. We are going to win this because the American people are with us. We demonstrated that in last month’s majority support in the House under Republican control for a pro-equality measure, if it had gotten the fair process. We need to be demanding a democratic process, plain and simple. We need to demand a vote on things like the Equality Act. It will win if it comes to a vote, but the only way of stopping the rigging progress is to demand a vote and a fair process. [LGBT equality has] won in the court of public opinion, in corporate America, among the American people. The only people still standing in the doorway blocking progress is the Republican leadership in Washington. We need to move them out of the way.
PGN: You participated in the recent Congressional sit-in for gun control. What impact do you think that had on the effort to advance both gun-control legislation and conversation on the issue?
SM: It was an extraordinary couple days in Congress. Any time you’re fighting hand in hand with John Lewis, the legendary civil-rights leader, you feel like you must be doing the right thing. This was an effort to undertake extraordinary steps to simply say, “We’re tired of doing nothing. It’s not OK with us and we don’t want to leave town without doing anything. Don’t do it in our names; don’t pretend all members of Congress think it’s OK to sit back and do nothing as the death toll mounts.’ This has combined antigay violence the larger issue of gun violence in America. Those are issues the Equality Caucus are particularly passionate about. We’re not going to sit back as 49 members of our community are left dead in the latest episode of gun violence. We had to speak out. And by speaking out, I mean sitting in. It was successful in the attention it brought to the fact that we need to act. I think we’re getting there. I do believe the American public is tired of watching these episodes happen with increasing frequency and ever-greater lethality. They want action, at least a debate on things like No Fly, No Buy and universal background checks, which after all is all we were asking for. Unfortunately, there is a tragic cumulative dynamic at work here where, as episodes happen more and more, the public demand for action is growing. That’s why we’re going to get something done but it needs to happen sooner because more innocent people could die who could have been protected.
PGN: What role do you think LGBT issues will play at the convention this year?
SM: I think [LGBT issues] are something the Democratic Party is proud of and should be. It’s not like the Democratic Party was always great on LGBT stuff, but the party and its leaders have traveled a long way toward equality and we now have a platform that contains all the major goals of the LGBT movement. Democrats should be proud of that. It’s a big, big difference between us and the other guys. I don’t think there’s ever been a presidential election where there’s a bigger difference between the Democratic and Republican nominees on LGBT issues. For the first time ever, one party fully supports LGBT rights and equality, and the other side is still living in the Dark Ages.