Where We Stand with ENDA

After decades of waiting for protection for LGBT people from discrimination on the job, a transgender-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) is likely to come up for a vote in the House of Representatives in the coming weeks–but still lacks enough votes to pass both houses of Congress.

This is the time for activists to turn up the heat and press Democrats in Congress and the Obama administration to keep their promise and pass ENDA this spring.

The bill has wide support–there are 199 co-sponsors for the legislation in the House of Representatives, including six Republicans. In the Senate, there are 46 co-sponsors.

But passage in the Senate is expected to be difficult. For one thing, the Republican bigots are escalating their rhetoric against what, disgustingly, they call the “bathroom bill,” as Sherry Wolf reported at SocialistWorker.org:

While polls show that 89 percent of the population support workplace equality for LGBT people, fear-mongering and transphobic stupidities are being spread and echoed by right-wingers. Now that it is less palatable to openly discriminate against lesbians and gays, transgender people have become the primary targets of the cultural cretins…

One widely circulated form letter to congresspeople on Congress.org states, “The thought of my child or grandchild in a bathroom with a transgender (sic) is repugnant to me.” Tellingly, this note doesn’t even modify the adjective transgender to refer to an actual person–as if “a transgender” is some alien species and not a human being who deserves respect and equal treatment.

But there’s a further problem–16 Democrats in the Senate have yet to sign on to ENDA. The Democrats have enough votes to not only pass the bill, but avoid a filibuster if they get all their senators to support it.

The Democrats have no excuse for not passing ENDA now. Our movement needs to call them out publicly on this and demand that they “put up or shut up.”

LGBT activists are getting organized to push the issue of ENDA into the spotlight.

In April, members of the GetEQUAL group disrupted and were escorted out of a House Committee meeting after they called for action on the legislation. At the May 1 demonstrations for immigrant rights, many LGBT grassroots groups organized contingents to march in solidarity with immigrants and their native-born allies and to raise their demand for an all-inclusive ENDA.

Other groups, including Western Mass. Equality Across America, of which I am a member, are planning protests in support of ENDA, as well as organizing for the Harvey Milk Week of Action to demand full federal equality for LGBT people.

Rep. Barney Frank, the openly gay Democratic member of Congress who said that the 200,000-strong National Equality March was a “waste of time at best,” called Get EQUAL’s ENDA action a “stupid thing to do.” He wants activists to stick to formal channels, and call and meet with their representatives, asking them nicely to support the basic civil right to not be fired on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Politicians are aware of this issue and why it matters to us. Those who don’t support ENDA or who drag their feet do so because they calculate the political costs of inaction as less than those of action. It’s up to us to change the terms of this equation, and that will take more than phone calls and polite visits. We have to act now before ENDA dies again, as it has every time since it was first proposed in the 1990s.

When you lobby a politician, they can tell you anything they want in private, and it’s nearly impossible to hold them accountable unless you’re a major donor who can use campaign contributions as leverage. Instead of lobbying in private, we need, through protest and direct action, to call out representatives and senators in public and demand they make a public stand on ENDA.

More than small acts of civil disobedience, we need to build a broad movement that includes the active participation of large numbers of people. That’s a real possibility on this issue given the hundreds of people who attended recent Equality Across America conferences in Chicago, Boston, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., not to mention the quarter of a million who marched on DC last October.

Barney Frank and other Democrats say they’re “working hard,” and Obama claims he’s a “fierce advocate” for LGBT rights. But they need to tell us what they’re doing and why ENDA isn’t a top priority for Democrats.

What does it mean that Barack Obama is a “fierce advocate”? He has said numerous times that he supports repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell”–in his State of the Union address, he said he’d repeal it this year. Yet behind the scenes, he’s been less than committed.

To get a sense of what “fierce advocacy” really looks like, consider what Obama did when it came to getting “antiwar” Democrats in the House to vote for funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in June 2009. The war funding bill passed with only 30 of 256 House Democrats voting against–20 “antiwar” Democrats switched sides and voted to fund the wars.

If they were acting as “fierce advocates” for the LGBT community, Obama and the Democratic leadership in Congress would do what it takes, and not prioritize war over equality. It’s up to us to force their hand and not let them get away with paying lip service to our cause while they drag their feet and toss us crumbs.


What you can do

Find out more about the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and how to get involved in the campaign to pressure Congress at the ENDA Now Web site.

Get involved with local events around the Harvey Milk Day week of action as well as the movement for LGBT equality at the Equality Across America Web site.

Gary Lapon is an activist and political cartoonist in Western Massachusetts. He can be reached at: glapon@gmail.com. Read other articles by Gary.