ENDA to Be Reintroduced in Congress

by Michael K. Lavers

National News Editor

Wednesday March 30, 2011

Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank announced on Wednesday, March 30, he plans to reintroduce a bill that would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression in the workplace.

Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen [R-Fla.], gay Congressmen David Cicilline [D-R.I.] and Jared Polis [D-Colo.] and lesbian Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin [D-Wis.] are among the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act's more than two dozen co-sponsors. Frank conceded it is highly unlikely that the GOP-controlled House will pass ENDA during this Congress, but he stressed to activists who attended the Capitol Hill announcement that they need to begin to lay the groundwork for ENDA's eventual passage--which he predicted would happen sometime over the next four to six years--now.

"The essential part of it is that people do the lobbying now," said Frank.

Congressman George Miller [D-Calif.] echoed Frank's call for LGBT activists and their allies to lobby members of Congress to back the measure. "We see a pool of hard-working people who are discriminated against--almost instantaneously," he said. "Very successful people can be harmed dramatically and instantaneously in their workplace."

Frank introduced an identical measure in 2009, but it failed to move out of committee.

Some LGBT activists were angry that the repeal of the military's ban on openly gay and lesbian service members took priority over ENDA in Congress' lame-duck session late last year. President Obama signed the "don't ask, don't tell" repeal bill into law late last year, but Frank stressed it was unrealistic to expect Congress to simultaneously act on DADT and ENDA.

"There was no chance to both of those," he said, noting ENDA did not have the necessary 60 votes in the U.S. Senate-the Senate voted 65-31 in December to repeal "don't ask, don't tell". "That's what dictated what we did. You can't do everything at the same time."

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, applauded Frank.

"NCTE will continue to educate and fight, educate and fight until these desperately needed protections are law," she said. "This year, we need to make sure every member of Congress has met transgender people from their districts, has heard personal stories, and understands why passing ENDA is really a matter of life and death for so many people."

Michael Silverman, executive director of the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, agreed. "In an already difficult economy, transgender Americans face the added threat of being fired or passed over for a job just because of who they are," he said. "We urgently need ENDA in these difficult economic times to make sure that qualified, hardworking transgender Americans can get jobs to support themselves and their families."

Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, also framed ENDA in economic terms.

"ENDA reflects our shared value that what matters in the workplace is how you do your job, not who you are," said Solmonese. "While debate remains about how to best solve our country's economic woes, varied interests from large corporations to organized labor agree that ENDA is critical to our economy."

Bank of America, Clear Channel Communications, Deutsche Bank, Time Warner, Microsoft and Nike are among the corporations that have endorsed ENDA.

R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, told EDGE he remains hopeful GOP lawmakers would respond favorably to the economics behind ENDA. "We're going to talk about the economy, the economic incentives that are there," he said.

Based in Washington, D.C., Michael K. Lavers has appeared in the New York Times, BBC, WNYC, Huffington Post, Village Voice, Advocate and other mainstream and LGBT media outlets. He is an unapologetic political junkie who thoroughly enjoys living inside the Beltway.