Health care reform. It’s the subject on everyone’s lips. However, now that the bill has been enacted, attention is turning to the next big topic, such as the economy and immigration reform. For lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Americans, there are several pieces of legislation that have been waiting on the back-burner that need to be addressed, but perhaps chief among them is the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). Well, ENDA’s time may finally be near.
In separate interviews given over the last few weeks, Representatives Tammy Baldwin, the only openly lesbian member of Congress, and Barney Frank – who was heckled with anti-gay slurs during the health care reform rallies – have both signaled that the time is now right to move forward with the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (HR 3017), saying that, having counted the votes, they believe that there is enough support from both Republican and Democratic legislators to pass the House version of the bill.
Speaking to Lisa Keen at the Keen News Service, Barney Frank (D-MA) said that he expects ENDA to come to the floor after the spring recess:
Rep. Frank said in a phone interview Monday that he does not believe the increased rancor between Democrats and Republicans will jeopardize passage of ENDA. He noted he recently picked up another Republican co-sponsor for the bill because the representative had received a visit from a couple of gay constituents.
Frank said he told Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), who chairs the House Education and Labor Committee, “Now, it’s our turn.” But Frank said he thinks the ENDA vote “may not come this week,” as he originally predicted. Congress takes a recess March 29 through April 9, and Frank said he expects a vote as soon as they come back from that recess.
Meanwhile, Rep. Baldwin (D-WI) has also commented that, with health care reform enacted, we should expect to see “positive signs” relating to ENDA and the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) the military’s policy that bans openly gay service personnel.
Again, from KeenNewsService.com:
Asked whether the LGBT community can expect a vote on ENDA and DADT this year even though mid-term elections are coming up, Baldwin said, “We want the votes [taken] as soon as possible.”
“Certainly there are members of Congress who are nervous because of the economy, the rate of joblessness,” she said. “Across the country, people are agitated. On the other hand, my constituents want to see bolder and quicker change, and so I actually see positive signs to follow through [on DADT and ENDA].”
Baldwin later went a step further, saying that there are, in her opinion, enough votes to pass both ENDA and the Military Readiness Enhancement Act:
“As someone who has actually counted the votes, I believe that there are,” Baldwin said. “That’s one of the things the LGBT Equality Caucus does is to [focus] attention to making sure we can tell [House] leadership, with accuracy, what the vote would be if they bring the measures up to the floor.”
Why is ENDA Necessary?
In 29 states it is still legal to fire someone based on their sexual orientation. In 38 states it is still legal to terminate employment based on a person’s gender identity. ENDA could change that.
Briefly, current federal employment discrimination protections cover the classifications of race, religion, sex, national origin, age and disability. ENDA would add sexual orientation and gender identity to that list. As such, ENDA would prohibit public and private employers, employment agencies and labor unions from using a person’s perceived or actual sexuality or gender identity as a reason to fire them or to not promote them, or as the basis of making other employment related decisions.
However, the bill exempts businesses with fewer than 15 employees, as well as religious institutions. This change will not apply to uniformed officers in the military and it will not be applied retroactively.
For more information on the bill, please click here.
Bringing ENDA to the Floor
The bill, which was scheduled for a committee vote back in November, 2009, has now stalled due to that vote never materializing. However LGBT rights activists, upon seeing the end of the health care reform battle on the horizon, have been applying new pressure in the past few weeks.
Civil rights advocates staged a sit-in at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s congressional office, while others used digital and social media to call for ENDA to be advanced. Speaker Pelosi is still concerned that the votes are not there (in both the House and the Senate), but, as mentioned above, it is the opinion of several legislators that the suport is in fact present, at least in the House.
Activist Cleve Jones, with the backing of the Courage Campaign and the group GetEQUAL, has written an open letter to Pelosi in which he asks her to bring ENDA to the House floor and to use her “passion and skill” to help pass the legislation.
From the letter:
Dear Speaker Pelosi –
I would like to express my deep appreciation and gratitude for your relentless perseverance in the passage of health care reform. Along with President Obama, your steadfast leadership and personal commitment has fundamentally changed the lives of millions of Americans…
We’ve seen the passion you’ve brought to the challenge of passing health care reform. Now more than ever, we need your passion and skill to achieve the passage of ENDA.
As you know, many Americans in the LGBT community — especially young people — are increasingly frustrated and cynical about the pace of progress in Washington.
We want you to show them that cynicism is not the response at this time. They need to believe in the process, Madame Speaker, and you can restore their faith in this process by moving expeditiously to bring ENDA to a vote on the floor of the House of Representatives.
I know your values, Madame Speaker, and I know that you strongly support ENDA. Now I want these young people to know what is in your heart.
With the knowledge that health care reform has been achieved and that enough votes now exist in the House today to pass ENDA, will you work with Rep. George Miller, Chair of the House Committee on Education and Labor, to ensure that ENDA is passed out of committee and brought to the floor of the house immediately?
ENDA was further spotlighted over the last week when congressman Joe Sestak (D-PA7), an original co-sponsor of the House version of the bill, wrote to the House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller to press for ENDA to be addressed.
In the letter, which you can read here, Sestak cites his time in the Navy as a key reason why he supports ENDA, no doubt giving a hat-tip to the DADT repeal effort, of which he has also been a leading advocate.
An excerpt reads:
My position on this issue and my support for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act is borne out of my experience in the military. While commanding men and women in harm’s way during my 31 years in the Navy, we knew, because of public surveys, that a certain percentage were lesbian and gay service members. Having seen their dedication, their allegiance, and their sacrifices, how can I — or anyone — not say that these individuals deserve equal rights when they return home.
This fundamental piece of civil rights legislation is long overdue. We should not delay this markup any further. As an original co-sponsor of ENDA, I know that you too support this critically important effort. I urge you to act on that support by bring H.R. 3017, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act to an up-or-down vote in the House Committee on Education and Labor.
Chairman Miller previously indicated that, once health care reform was through, he expected ENDA to move to the floor, so now seems the time. Passing a fully inclusive ENDA that makes workplace discrimination for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans a thing of the past must be a priority.
If you support ENDA, please consider signing the petition below.
Urge House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to bring a fully inclusive ENDA to the House floor. Click here to sign the petition.
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