Pete Sessions and Gay Bars

There’s a piece by Sara Jerde over at Talking Points Memo that may or may not be a little unfair to Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas. Now, Sessions is not some backbencher. He’s currently entrusted by the House leadership with the chair of the Rules Committee, and he used to run the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) which is in charge of recruiting people to run for seats in the House.

Sessions is taking criticism for seeming to question whether The Pulse nightclub in Orlando where the recent massacre took place is actually a gay club at all. It’s a little difficult to sort out the exact context in which he made his remarks, but it appears to have gone something this.

National Journal reporter Daniel Newhauser asked Sessions if the massacre of over four dozen people in a gay nightclub changed his opposition to something called the Maloney Amendment. This is a bit of legislation introduced by openly gay Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney of New York’s 18th District. Maloney has been attaching this amendment to must-pass bills in an effort to force Republicans to agree to protections against discrimination for the LGBT community. For example, when he attached it to an Energy and Water appropriations bill, it had the effect of “specifically prevent[ing] contractors paid by funds allocated for energy and water projects from discriminating against employees based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

When Maloney’s amendment passed in the Republican House, the Republicans scurried away in panic, and the whole bill failed as a result. But Maloney wasn’t finished, as we can see in the news today.

After a Democratic congressman offered an LGBT measure as an amendment to the Defense Department spending bill, the House Rules Committee would not let the measure come up for a vote on Tuesday night, The Hill reported.

This is the third time that Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY) has introduced the measure that would affirm anti-discrimination protections for LGBT employees of federal contractors as an amendment to a spending bill. On Tuesday, he said he hoped a vote on the amendment would send a positive message to the LGBT community in the wake of the deadly shooting in Orlando, Florida.

In other words, the chairman of the House Rules Committee, Pete Sessions, just blocked a vote on the Defense appropriations bill because it contained another version of Rep. Maloney’s pesky amendment.

CORRECTION: Based on a conversation with Pete Sessions’ House Rules Committee staff, I understand that Sessions did not block a vote on the Defense Appropriations bill, but rather blocked a vote on Maloney’s amendment getting a vote. In other words, they crafted a rule for the vote that did not allow Maloney to introduce his amendment.

So, when Daniel Newhauser asked Sessions whether his position had softened in light of the massacre, he was really asking if Sessions was going to relent on his opposition to the amendment, and that is something that Sessions would not, and did not, do.

What Sessions actually said though was that The Pulse wasn’t really a gay bar, but more of a Latino bar where some gays hung out. As least, that’s how Newhauser interpreted his remarks. And Sessions’ office confirmed that the congressman was quoted correctly.

Sessions’ communications director, Caroline Boothe, told TPM that Newhauser’s quotes were correct but “taken out of context without the background information.”

“What my boss meant to say was that there weren’t only gay individuals at the club but people from all walks of life were present,” Boothe said.

She added that “at the end of the day we’re all Americans” and said Sessions’ heart grieved for everyone.

Perhaps this is a cultural miscommunication. I don’t know. When I lived in Philadelphia I was friends with a free-spirited woman who would get the urge to dance at a local gay nightclub named Woody’s whenever she got a couple of drinks in her. She dragged me down there on many occasions because it was a great place for a young woman to cut loose without the hassle of being hit on constantly by drunken men. This isn’t an unusual type of thing in our nation’s urban areas. Straight people drink and dance in gay nightclubs all the time because they throw a hell of a party. It’s no surprise that some of the victims in The Pulse were not gay. But I don’t doubt that this reality might be a bit hard to comprehend for folks from Pete Sessions’ 32nd District in suburban Dallas.

I think Sessions was mainly trying to deflect the stinging accusation in the question, which was that continued support for discrimination against the LGBT community in light of the massacre is grossly insensitive. The best he could do is point out that the Latino community was as heavily impacted as the gay community.

This is the kind of mess you get in when you’re not comfortable defending your political position on moral grounds.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.