State ENDA Law Passed Because ‘You’re Not Mississippi’

Including protection for transgender people in federal gay-rights workplace discrimination legislation is a hot issue in Washington. But when Colorado passed its own transgender-inclusive law last session, opponents didn’t object to the “T” in “LGBT.”

Many Coloradans haven’t been paying much attention to the battle brewing in the U.S. House over whether to include transgender people in addition to lesbians, gays and bisexuals in the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). That’s partly because the state passed a similar law last spring, when it became one of 12 states with laws protecting people from workplace discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, which includes transgender status.

The passage of the bill was a long time coming. It was the seventh time Sen. Jennifer Veiga (D-Denver) had introduced such a bill. Twice before it had passed both chambers before being vetoed by former Republican Gov. Bill Owens. Over the years, opponents said the bill would lead to a rash of lawsuits or that it would be bad for business, but rarely did anyone object to the inclusion of transgender people.

“This is a very interesting state in many ways,” says Jeffrey Shaw, chair of the Colorado Stonewall Democrats. “It’s somewhat a conservative state, but it’s also a libertarian state, and it’s definitely a Western state. This is a fairly good state for things like this to pass.”

University of Mississippi Prof. Paul Secunda agrees. Secunda, who teaches workplace discrimination law, says Colorado has come a long way since voters passed the anti-gay rights Amendment 2 in 1992.

“To some sense, you have conservatives in Colorado, but you’re not Mississippi,” he says.

But, he says, there was a good campaign by people who wanted to ensure the state’s law was transgender-inclusive.

“It was presented in a way that made it as non-controversial as possible,” he says.

But the federal ENDA bill can afford to be controversial. The legislation is primarily symbolic since it’s unlikely to pass the Senate or be approved by President Bush. Opponents might not be objecting as much to the transgender issue if ENDA had more of a chance of becoming law this year, Shaw says.

“If they thought that it could pass nationally, I’m sure the debate would become more business-oriented,” he says.

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