Yesterday the U.S. House of Representatives made history when it approved the Equality Act, a bill that would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit discrimination nationwide on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in some of the most important areas of life: employment, housing, and public accommodations.
The bill was introduced last session as well, when Representative Van Drew voted in favor of the bill’s passage. But yesterday, something changed. It wasn’t the bill — which has been introduced every session since 2015 — it was the congressman.
When the votes were counted, Rep. Van Drew changed his position. He abandoned the LGBTQ community, and he voted against an identical bill.
This stunning flip-flop comes in stark contrast to the congressman’s remarks just two years ago on the bill: “All Americans, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, must be treated equally under the law.” He added, “Fairness and equality are core American values, and it is time we finally fully end discrimination against LGBTQ Americans.”
Those were strong words, which makes it all the more shameful that the congressman has flippantly switched sides and instead positioned himself in support of discrimination against LGBTQ people.
LGBTQ New Jerseyans have enjoyed legal protections from discrimination for some time. Our state’s Law Against Discrimination — among the toughest in the nation — added protections in 1991 for sexual orientation and was later amended in 2006 to include gender identity (Van Drew voted to approve this law, which is functionally identical to the Equality Act, while he was in the New Jersey State Assembly).
But roughly half of Americans still live in states where anti-LGBTQ discrimination is the letter of the law, and more importantly, many of Rep. Van Drew’s constituents who cross the Delaware River to work in Pennsylvania can legally be fired from their job simply for who they are or who they love.
It should come as no surprise that Rep. Van Drew abandoned LGBTQ New Jerseyans in his district. He was one of many lawmakers in the New Jersey Senate that killed a marriage equality bill in early 2010. When the bill came up a second time in 2012, he voted no again. His record on LGBTQ equality since has been anything but consistent.
Similarly, Rep. Van Drew abandoned the Democratic Party in late 2019 when he realized his political future — under the threat of a primary challenge — was at risk. So, the Congressman shook hands with President Trump, changed political parties, and as we witnessed yesterday, repudiated his own beliefs as well.
It’s worth noting that son of South Jersey William Cunningham — an openly gay Black man — threw his hat in the ring for the Democratic nomination in the second district last year. While he came up short behind Amy Kennedy in the primary, he could have become the first openly gay person elected to Congress from New Jersey. New Jersey’s statewide LGBTQ advocacy organization Garden State Equality typically does not endorse in primaries, but they would be wise to dig in their feet moving forward, work to replace Rep. Van Drew, and help advance a principled pro-LGBTQ candidate like Cunningham in 2022.
Left-leaning and LGBTQ voters in the second district already know not to trust Rep. Van Drew, but Republicans who granted him the nomination last year should take caution as well. For someone who so easily chases the political winds and changes positions on a dime — especially on basic issues of civil rights where the vast majority of New Jerseyans agree — he’s probably not the best ally to keep on your team.
South Jerseyans deserve a representative in Congress they can trust. As yesterday proved, that person is not Rep. Van Drew.
Christian Oliveira is a former director of communications and membership at Garden State Equality.