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Ask Your “Mental Health Reform Champion” Member of Congress Where They Stand on LGBTQ Rights

May 20, 2016

Hey, guess what? It is Mental Health Awareness Month and Washington, DC is buzzing with advocates excited to meet with their congressional representatives to discuss meaningful mental health reform. For those advocates making the trek to DC, I am sure that on your list of questions for your congressional representative is something related to the need for improved services for LGBTQ individuals, right? I mean, we talk about the importance of addressing discrimination against the LGBTQ community all the time. The nation is abuzz with discussion about the rights of transgender individuals, who can use what bathroom, and whether or not a therapist should be obligated to see someone if they disagree with their sexual orientation. And of course, you are planning to speak to your congressional representative about LGBTQ equality… right?

Feeling a bit nervous about where to begin? Recent events in Congress are always a good conversation starter. Here is a good one for you to use, as it just took place yesterday.

During the House vote on H.R. 4974, the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-N.Y. submitted an amendment aimed at upholding an executive order that bars discrimination against LGBT employees by federal contractors. 

The vote tally at the end of expired time had the amendment passing, 217 – 206. Democrats cheered, but then slowly began to boo. Something was not right. The vote tally on the screen began to change, with the yae votes slowly decreasing and the nae votes increasing.

The rules of the House are that after the time expires, if a Representative wants to change his or her vote, they need to go to the well of the House Chamber and register their change with the Speaker. But no one was going to the well to change their vote, yet the votes were changing on the screen!

The room got louder and louder with shouts of protest as the tally on the screen showed mysterious vote changes taking place one by one, until the Speaker finally called it after the nays exceeded the yeas by one. The amendment was ultimately defeated 213-212.

Here is why this vote is important for children’s mental health advocates
If your congressional representative considers him or herself a champion of mental health reform, then at some point, you need to understand their position on the rights of the LGBTQ community – a community that is highly represented in mental health treatment, support and advocacy. If your congressional representative has voted to disallow basic equal rights protection for the LGBTQ community, you will want to ask them to help you understand the basis of their position, and how it reflects their commitment to comprehensive mental health reform.

Of the seven congressional representatives who switched their votes on the Maloney Amendment without following proper protocol, five are co-sponsors of H.R. 2646, the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act of 2015. H.R. 2646 is a bill that has generated much discussion in mental health advocacy circles over the past few years, and my guess is that many of the mental health advocates making Hill visits this month will be discussing H.R. 2646 with their elected congressional representatives.

Ask your congressional representative how he or she voted on the Maloney Amendment. If they voted no, ask them why, so you can better understand their thinking. Then ask them how they see the basic rights of the LGBTQ community being addressed in H.R. 2646. The ensuing conversation should provide opportunity for you to provide some perspective and possibly broaden the thinking of the individual entrusted to make decisions on behalf of the community in which you live.

Here are the five vote switchers on the Maloney Amendment who are also co-sponsors of H.R. 2646. 

Included below is the CSPAN footage from the floor vote on the Maloney Amendment.

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scottScott Bryant-Comstock
President & CEO
Children’s Mental Health Network

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