April 6, 2011 at 9:37 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
ENDA makes debut in 112th Congress

Rep. Barney Frank (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) on Wednesday formally introduced the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in the U.S. House with 111 co-sponsors, according to his office.

The 111 number, which includes three Republican co-sponsors, is nearly half the level of support that ENDA enjoyed at the close of the 111th Congress — when the legislation had 203 co-sponsors, the most ever for any pro-LGBT legislation — but Harry Gural, a Frank spokesperson, said the current number of supporters is “a terrific number considering huge loss of Democratic seats last November.” In the 111th Congress, ENDA had 117 original co-sponsors.

As it was introduced in the last Congress, ENDA would bar job discrimination against LGBT people in most situations in the public and private workforce. According to Frank’s office, job discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is legal in 29 states and legal in 38 states on the basis of gender identity.

Media reports had earlier indicated that ENDA introduction was set for March 30. Although Frank, the longest-serving openly gay member of Congress, made an announcement on the legislation on that day, Gural at the time indicated his boss wanted to hold off on moving forward with the bill until it had more support.

Even though he’s the sponsor of the legislation, Frank has previously said he sees no chance of passing ENDA during the 112th Congress with Republicans in control of the House and that legislation would have to serve as an education tool until the “next time the Democrats take back the House of Representatives.”

Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, said the introduction of ENDA is “a start and really nothing more than that.”

“The goal during the course of the next several months will be to work back up to a number [of co-sponsors] that is respectable with an even greater number of Republicans than we had last session,” Sainz said. “This number is obviously reflective of the huge losses that the Democratic caucus had as a result of the loss of the House.”

Sainz said the number of co-sponsors for ENDA “is merely one measure” to gauge progress for the legislation.

“A measure that is just as equally important is the amount of education and outreach that we do to members on both sides of the aisle because we have always known and acknowledged that this was a building year for ENDA,” he said.

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, also said the introduction of ENDA paves the way to educate lawmakers on the issue of job discrimination against LGBT people.

“We’re going to spend this Congress just educating, educating, educating,” she said. “When we finally get to a place where we can have a vote, we’re going to be done, we’re going to be ready.”

In the 111th Congress, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) was the sponsor of a companion version of ENDA. His office didn’t respond on short notice to the Washington Blade’s request to comment on the timing for Senate introduction of ENDA.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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