May 19, 2010 at 2:03 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
ENDA supporters demand action now

National Gay & Lesbian Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey, center, and others are calling on Congress to immediately pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. (Photo courtesy of Task Force)

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.”

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

  • No surprise here, the Dems are leaving us hanging again, despite several promises that action on ENDA and other LGBT legislation would be coming soon. What a coincidence that they always tell us action will come soon before fundraising events and then throw us under the bus after they collect all those contributions from the LGBT Community. It really is time to cut them off and tell them we are going to let them hang in this election unless they keep their many unfulfilled promises to the LGBT community.

  • Call your Senators and Representative at 202-224-3121 and urge them to co-sponsor and pass ENDA. Calling Congress is the best action we can take to get ENDA passed this year.

  • I’m so sick of Pelosi putting off ENDA. She’s from San Francisco isn’t she? Why isn’t the community their demanding more from her in terms of leadership in regards to our legislation and making it a priority?

    Not enough votes to overcome a filibuster in the Senate and danger of it being recommitted in the House? What chances does the bill have in the Fall if more right-wing conservatives replace current incumbents? It’s never a good time or a right time. I blame Pelosi and the Democrats for dragging this on for so long without a vote with excuses like Health Care has to come first. Why must we always come last in relations to everything else?

    ENDA is more important than DADT! More people in our community benefit from ENDA than they will from lifting DADT. Why should ENDA lose out to accommodate a vote on lifting DADT? It’s a stupid shorsighted set of priorities that puts DADT over ENDA!

    Further, I am for helping out transgenders but if including them in the bill gives our enemies enough ammunition to derail the bill, then I have to question how effective is an all or nothing strategy? Having gays and Lesbians protected from national job discrimination is important and that should not be sacrificed if transgenders will keep the bill from passage indefinitely. We’ve been fighting for acceptance since 1969 while transgenders have only come on the scene over the last decade or so. They are way behind in making the majority more accepting and tolerate of them. Why should all the community pay for that?

    • I have to agree with EL on several points. First, we should hold Speaker Pelosi accountable, and if she doesn’t find the enough time to schedule votes on our bills in 2 years time, she needs to face primary opposition from an openly gay candidate in the San Francisco area which she represents. She can be replaced with a pro-LGBT candidate who will put our issues first, or at least make them a higher priority as opposed to being dead in the agenda, and this goes for all the Democratic members of Congress who leave us hanging.
      I also agree that ENDA has to be a higher priority than DADT, because ENDA affects the whole community, whereas DADT only affects those LGBT people who serve in the military. Of course, there are a number of other LGBT bills pending in Congress that are not getting votes; such as the Uniting American Families Act, the Domestic Partnership Benefits & Obligations Act, the Student Non-Discrimination Act, and the Repeal of the obnoxious DOMA law. So far, the Dems haven’t done squat on any of these bills, and now they want us to wait until next year when they will have fewer members and may actually lose control of Congress!

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