Several LGBT organizations are calling on Congress to take immediate action on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, as potential delays threaten to scuttle the bill.
Advocates made their case for the passage of ENDA, a federal measure that would bar job bias against LGBT people in most public and private workforce settings, during a press conference Tuesday at the National Press Club in D.C.
Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, said ENDA supporters are demanding Congress “pass without delay” the bill to ensure that LGBT people have “the right to join with others in contributing our talent, skills and expertise to this nation’s workforce.”
“We are at the end of our patience,” she said. “In this Congress alone, we have organized over 200 constituent Hill visits to members of the House and the Senate.”
Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, emphasized the importance of passing ENDA to provide protections for transgender people seeking employment.
“All of our organizations get calls every week — sometimes every day of the week — from people who are losing jobs from lesbians in Manhattan, Kansas, to transgender people in Louisiana,” she said.
Keisling said a recent study conducted by her organization found that 27 percent of transgender people were fired because of their gender identity and 97 percent of trans people have faced harassment at work.
“As somebody who has done survey research most of my professional life, I can tell you, you never see 97 percent,” Keisling said. “That’s everybody.”
Despite the calls for immediate action, it’s unlikely the House will take action on ENDA in the coming weeks due to scheduling issues.
A Democratic leadership aide, who spoke to the Blade on the condition of anonymity, said U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi held a conference call with LGBT leaders on Monday in which she said ENDA passage would have to be put off until later.
According to the aide, Pelosi said her preference was to move forward with a vote on ENDA, but the opportunity for an amendment on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” could naturally come up as an amendment next week when the House takes up defense budget legislation.
“Some of the groups want to vote on both things next week, and there is physically not the time to do that,” the aide said.
After completing work next week, the House is scheduled for a week-long recess for Memorial Day break, potentially putting off a vote on ENDA and perhaps endangering the bill as lawmakers move toward the thick of campaign season.
Also problematic for the passage of ENDA in the House is a legislative floor maneuver available to opponents: the motion to recommit. The maneuver forces a vote on sending the legislation back to the committee that approved it — possibly with or without instructions.
In an effort to kill the bill, opponents of ENDA could employ a motion to recommit that might strip the transgender protections from the legislation, or affect some other aspect of the bill’s language. Some conservative ENDA supporters may feel inclined to vote for this motion to recommit even if they would vote in favor of the legislation as a whole.
Should lawmakers pass the legislation in the House, passage in the Senate is doubtful. Multiple sources have told the Blade that supporters do not have the 60 votes needed in that chamber to overcome a filibuster.
But LGBT leaders remain optimistic about the support for ENDA in the House. Keisling said the legislation is “ripe” for passage because it currently has 202 co-sponsors, which she said is the greatest number of co-sponsors for any piece of pro-LGBT legislation in Congress. Having 202 co-sponsors means just 16 additional votes are needed for passage when the bill comes to the floor.
Carey said she believes the votes are there for passage of ENDA on the House floor and for defeating a motion to recommit that would strip from the bill its transgender language.
“We are calling for Congress to take up its responsibility to represent its constituents, and we are among them,” she said. “We believe we have the votes in the House — both on the bill and to make sure that the bill remains inclusive of our community.”
One reporter asked during the press conference how confident ENDA supporters are that the legislation could survive a motion to recommit that’s narrower than stripping out the gender identity protections.
Keisling said the focus of motions to recommit are often unpredictable, but ENDA supporters have as much confidence in defeating a motion based on gender identity as they are with other issues.
“I don’t think we’re more worried about a gender identity motion to recommit, at this point, than we are against just a mischievous, shameful, cynical motion to recommit that could include gay people, could include trans people,” she said. “Advancing human rights is sometimes about taking risks.”
The Human Rights Campaign didn’t join Tuesday’s news conference at the National Press Club.
Asked during the event about HRC’s absence, Carey said Joe Solmonese, HRC’s president, had been invited to attend, but was unable due to travel commitments.
“What I will say is that the Human Rights Campaign has continued to be a very strong ally in the coalition of organizations, specifically pushing for an inclusive bill for all of our community,” Carey said.
In response to a Blade query as to why HRC didn’t join the conference, Michael Cole, an HRC spokesperson, responded with a statement on the general situation with ENDA.
“The Speaker, Chairman [Barney] Frank, Chairman [George] Miller and Reps. [Tammy] Baldwin and [Jared] Polis are focused on securing the votes needed to pass ENDA and defeat a harmful motion-to-recommit,” he said. “On a call the Speaker had with a number of LGBT organizations [Monday], she said that she didn’t intend to leave this Congress without a vote on ENDA. We’re focused on getting the votes necessary to pass the bill once it does come to the floor.”