Why are gay-rights organizations demanding U.S. House members vote against a bill that would protect gays, lesbians and bisexuals from workplace discrimination?
Include all of us, or none of us.
In unison with more than 350 other gay-rights groups, that’s what the Colorado Stonewall Democrats are saying about the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). LGBT organizations are fighting against a version of ENDA that would not include protection for transgender people and are lobbying for the passage of another version that does.
“If you can’t include the transgender community, then don’t include any of us,” says Jeffrey Shaw, chair of the Colorado Stonewall Democrats. “We do not want a part of our community cut off, and especially the most vulnerable part.”
The transgender-inclusive bill, H.R. 2015, was introduced in April by openly gay Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.). The bill drew 171 co-sponsors, including all four of Colorado’s Democratic representatives. But, after surveying his colleagues, Frank concluded that the bill as it stood did not have enough support.
“It became clear that an amendment offered by Republicans either to omit the transgender provision altogether or severely restrict it in very obnoxious ways would pass,” Frank wrote in an explanation of his decision on The Huffington Post, a liberal news and blog roundup.
So last month, Frank introduced H.R. 3685, a version of ENDA that would not include transgender protection. The Congressman says that while it’s an unfortunate choice to have to make, it’s better to pass what they can now and add protection for transgender people later. But LGBT groups say both bills are unlikely to pass the Senate anyway and President Bush will almost certainly veto any version of ENDA.
“Since we know it’s not going to get any farther than the House, why would we not want the strongest bill so that in 2009 when it comes up again we have a better starting point?” asks Shaw.
The non-inclusive bill passed the House Committee on Education and Labor last week by a vote of 27-21, with four Democrats voting against it because of its lack of protection for transgender people. Members of the LGBT community flooded their representatives with calls, letters and e-mails of protest.
“They’ve never seen such an outcry from the gay community,” says Shaw.
As the bill was set to be debated by the full House Wednesday, Rep. Baldwin planned to introduce an amendment that would reinstate transgender protection. But because the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) was also on the agenda, the vote was delayed until next week.
Shaw says he expects Colorado’s Democratic delegation to vote for Baldwin’s amendment. But if it doesn’t pass, many Democrats will be in a bind. If they vote against the bill on the basis that it doesn’t include transgender protection, they will be on record as having voted against a gay-rights bill, something that could come back to haunt them.
This is only the latest battle over ENDA. The first legislation under the name was introduced in 1996, when it failed in the Senate by a vote of 50-49.
Seventeen states have passed laws similar to ENDA, with 12 of those (including Colorado) protecting transgender people. But, more than a decade after it was first introduced, Congress still has not passed such a law at the federal level.
“It’s gotten to the point where it’s ridiculous that the federal government keeps putting these procedural arguments in the way,” says Prof. Paul Secunda, who teaches workplace discrimination law at the University of Mississippi. “This is one area where they’re going to be on the wrong side of history.”
Secunda compares ENDA to controversial civil-rights legislation in the 1950s and 1960s. Eventually, he says, a transgender-inclusive version will pass in Washington.
“It’s just a matter of time,” he says.