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9 U.S. senators to Harkin: Time to move on ENDA

Bipartisan group calls for vote on non-discrimination bill



A bipartisan group of nine senators is backing the idea of having the Senate panel with jurisdiction over the Employment Non-Discrimination Act advance the legislation to the floor by a committee vote.

The group is asking for Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee, to hold a markup on ENDA in the wake of the panel’s hearing on the legislation last week and the senator’s remarks to the Washington Blade immediately afterward that he wanted “to poll the committee” about moving the bill forward.

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Sen. Mark Kirk is among those calling for an ENDA markup (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

In the week after the hearing, the Blade solicited statements from the offices of all 22 members of the Senate panel on whether they want to see the committee move the legislation to the Senate floor. Those who responded affirmatively were spokespersons for Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), ENDA’s lead sponsor, as well as Sens. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), the only Republican on the panel who responded to the Blade’s inquiry.

All 12 Democrats on the panel — as well as Kirk, an original co-sponsor of the bill — are among the 41 total co-sponsors of ENDA, so the bill should have no trouble moving out of committee. The legislation would bar employers in most situations in the public and private workforce from discriminating against workers because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Sanders’ office accompanied his call for a committee vote on ENDA with a statement saying the time is now to pass ENDA to end workforce discrimination against LGBT people.

“As I’ve said many times before, discrimination of any kind is not what America is supposed to be about,” Sanders said. “Yet only 16 states, including my own state of Vermont, and D.C. currently prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. I will fully support Sen. Merkley and Chairman Harkin in their efforts to move the Employment Non-Discrimination Act out of committee, because no Americans should have to live with the fear of losing their jobs simply because of who they are.”

The support that Murray’s office conveyed to the Blade echoes the sentiment she expressed about moving the legislation forward during the committee hearing last week. Murray was explicit in calling for a markup, saying she wants to see ENDA pass out of committee “expeditiously.” In response, Harkin said, “I hope so.”

But speaking to the Washington Blade after the hearing, Harkin was non-committal about holding a markup, saying he wants to speak with panel members before moving forward.

Senate HELP Committee Chair Tom Harkin (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

“I’m going to poll my committee and see,” Harkin said. “Right now, I’m kind of up to here in getting [Food & Drug Administration] bill through, as you know. We got it through the Senate; we’ve got to work with the House on that trying to get that put to bed, and then I’m going to poll the committee and see what we want to do.”

The Senate HELP Committee didn’t respond to a request for comment on the possibility of holding a markup on ENDA. It’s unclear whether the seven senators who expressed support for a markup to the Blade’s solicitation is enough support for Harkin to schedule a markup.

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, said a markup would enable the committee to make technical changes to the bill before taking it to the Senate floor for final passage.

“Senate rules allow leader Reid to bring ENDA to the floor of the Senate without a committee vote, but a committee mark-up would present a good opportunity for Chairman Harkin to make technical improvements to ENDA, for example, by fixing the legal loophole created by a bad Supreme Court decision called Gross vs. FBL Financial,” Almeida said. “Mr. Harkin recently introduced legislation to fix the same loophole in the age discrimination statute, and ENDA needs the same fix to be incorporated into the bill.”

Ian Thompson, legislative representative for the American Civil Liberties Union, also backed the idea of a committee markup as a way to advance ENDA.

“The Senate HELP Committee should move forward with a markup of this critical and long overdue legislation that will allow American workers who stand side-by-side at the workplace and contribute with equal measure in their jobs to also stand on the same equal footing under the law,” Thompson said.

Thompson added the committee should make modifications to the bill when it comes up for consideration: (a) narrowing the legislation’s exemption so that it doesn’t provide religious organizations “with a blank check” to discriminate against LGBT people for any reason and not just religious teachings, and (b) removing a provision that expands the Defense of Marriage Act and allows employers in states where same-sex couples can legally marry to treat married gay employees as unmarried for the purposes of employee benefits.

Reporting the legislation to the floor would be similar to what Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) did for the Respect for Marriage Act, legislation that would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. In November, Leahy held a markup on the bill in the Senate Judiciary Committee, passing the bill via a party-line vote.

A committee markup may be the furthest extent to which ENDA can advance during the 112th Congress. The 41 co-sponsors of the legislation fall significantly short of the 60 votes needed to overcome a Senate filibuster. Additionally, it’s highly unlikely that the Republican-controlled House would consider ENDA as long as House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is the presiding officer of that chamber.

The office of Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) reiterated the senator’s support for ENDA in response to the Blade inquiry without explicitly calling for a markup. Jude McCartin, a Bingaman spokesperson said, “Sen. Bingaman is a cosponsor of the bill and as such intends to vote for it.” McCartin didn’t respond to follow up inquiries to clarify whether this means Bingaman wants to see a markup.

But some of the committee members who responded affirmatively to the idea of a markup — Merkley, Murray, Casey and Kirk — went further and volunteered they also want to see a floor vote on the legislation despite the lack of assured passage of the legislation. Even a vote that failed would demonstrate where senators stand on the bill — and which lawmakers ENDA supporters should work to expel on Election Day.

Merkley expressed support for the idea of a markup and floor vote in response to a question from the Washington Blade during a conference call with reporters following the ENDA hearing last week.

“I support any effort that takes this issue forward whether it’s a markup in committee or it going straight to the floor,” Merkley said. “I’ll defer to the leadership of the committee on the most effective legislative strategy, but I think it is long past time for the Senate as a whole to debate and vote on this bill.”

In a statement to the Blade, Casey expressed support for a Senate vote on ENDA in a statement accompanying his backing a markup of the bill.

“I hope that the Senate moves quickly toward bipartisan passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act,” Casey said. “This common-sense legislation ensures that employees are judged on their skills and abilities in the workplace and not on their sexual orientation or gender identity and I am hopeful that it will see swift passage.”

Kirk’s support for both a markup and floor vote on ENDA puts him ahead of many Democrats on where he wants to take the legislation. Kate Dickens, a Kirk spokesperson, said, “Sen. Kirk is supportive of committee passage and floor consideration of ENDA.”

Christian Berle, deputy executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, said his organization supports Kirk’s call to advance the legislation as far as possible in the Senate.

“Jobs and the economy must be the first priority for Congress, and the freedom to work is fundamental to getting all Americans back to work,” Berle said. “Log Cabin Republicans support Sen. Mark Kirk’s effort to secure a markup both in committee and on the floor. Sen. Harry Reid remains the majority leader and could easily schedule a vote to maintain his commitment to equality and should not delay in doing so.”

Support for a floor vote on ENDA echoes a letter that Freedom to Work sent to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) calling for a floor vote this summer on the legislation. The letter notes that Reid said during a 2009 Human Rights Campaign dinner in Utah a floor vote on ENDA would take place “soon” — but has yet to happen — as well as the Blade’s questioning of then-White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs at the start of this Congress.

In response to a question on whether the administration sees values in passing ENDA in one chamber of Congress, Gibbs acknowledged, “there’s no doubt that whenever you get something done in one [chamber], you’re closer to certainly seeing it come to fruition.”

A number of LGBT groups — including the Human Rights Campaign and the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force — had previously called for a markup of ENDA as they sought a Senate hearing on the legislation. But the call for a full Senate vote on ENDA wasn’t as unified.

Fred Sainz, HRC’s vice president of communications, wasn’t explicit in calling for a floor vote when asked by the Blade if his organization wants to see the Senate take the legislation that far during this Congress.

“HRC supports advancing the bill in the smartest, most strategic fashion and at the most opportune time,” Sainz said. “We will continue to work with our ally organizations as well as fair-minded members of both houses of Congress to find that time.”

Stacey Long, the Task Force’s director of public policy and government affairs at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said her organization wants to see a Senate vote, but only after the committee has first marked up the bill.

“We want it to follow the procedure — first voted out of committee, then sent to the Senate floor, followed by a full Senate vote,” Long said.

But Almeida insisted that a Senate floor vote on ENDA is the best possible route for the bill in the immediate future regardless of what action the committee takes.

“The most opportune time for a Senate vote on ENDA is right away,” Almeida said. “We should not accept excuses for further delay on a Senate vote for legislation supported by super-majorities of the American people. … ENDA now has Republicans calling for a full Senate vote, and that is consistent with the White House’s position that right now the administration prefers a congressional vote on ENDA rather than an executive order that is waiting for the president’s signature.”

Almeida was referring to the proposed executive order barring federal contractors from discriminating against workers based on sexual orientation and gender identity. In April, the White House announced it wouldn’t issue such a directive at this time.

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  1. brian

    June 21, 2012 at 4:44 pm

    “HRC supports advancing the bill in the smartest, most strategic fashion and at the most opportune time,” Sainz said. “We will continue to work with our ally organizations as well as fair-minded members of both houses of Congress to find that time.”
    The question of whether the president should issue an *OFFICIAL* ENDA Executive Order is much closer that that of the president’s decision to express his *PERSONAL* opinion in favor of civil marriage equality. As it turned out, the president’s personal opinion moved public opinion *FOR* marriage equality big time, and nearly overnight, especially among African Americans.

    IMO, an ENDA E.O. would not likely be a big opportunity for Romney and Republicans. But I also respect the question, “Why risk that, now?”

    However, the question of getting Democratic Party Senators– a number of whom are up for re-election this year– to go on record regarding ENDA is a much, much closer question, still.

    The likelihood that Dem senators and/or new Dem senatorial candidates would then have well-funded Republican/ Tea Party opponents run despicable, transphobic negative ads against them ought to give all of us pause. Moreover, the very significant risk of losing ENDA by forcing votes now, could kill its chances for another two years, for example. And losing more Dem senators is not a good strategy for confirming pro-LGBT, progressive judges, either.

    Leaving ENDA’s timing to the Senate’s Democratic leadership, and following HRC’s more careful approach regarding timing makes sense– at this time, anyway. Repeal of DADT happened in the 2010 lame duck session, folks should recall.

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Rachel Levine on becoming four-star admiral: ‘It comes from my desire to serve’

Trans official sworn-in to U.S. Public Health Service



For Rachel Levine, the appointment to her new role as a four-star admiral complementing her existing duties as assistant secretary for health is another way for the first openly transgender Senate-confirmed presidential appointee to serve.

“I think that this just really comes from my desire to serve in all capacities,” Levine said in an interview Tuesday with the Washington Blade. “To serve the first day in my field of academic medicine and pediatrics, but then in Pennsylvania and now in the federal government, and it furthers my ability to do that.”

Levine, 63, also recognized the importance of the appointment as a transgender person within the U.S. Public Health Service, for which she was ceremonially sworn in on Tuesday

“I think for the LGBTQ+ community, it is a further sign of progress and our president’s commitment to equity, to inclusion and diversity,” Levine said. “So I think that it is a very important milestone, and I’m pleased to serve.”

As part of her duties, Levine will lead an estimated 6,000 public health service officers serving vulnerable populations, including deployments inside and outside the country for communities beleaguered with the coronavirus, according to the Department of Health & Human Services. The role involves working closely with U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murphy, whom Levine called her “friend and colleague.”

The U.S. Public Health Service, Levine said, has deployed “many, many times,” including its greatest number ever of deployments to vulnerable populations during the coronavirus pandemic. Among the places the service has deployed, Levine said, was in her home state of Pennsylvania, where she recently served as secretary of health.

Not only is Levine the first openly transgender person to serve in the uniformed health service as a four-star general, but she’s also the first woman to serve in that capacity.

“We have 6,000 dedicated committed public servants really all focused on our nation’s health, and they serve in details to the CDC and the FDA and the NIH, but also clinically with the Indian Health Service, and the federal prison system,” Levine said. “They’re also detailed and deployed throughout the country, and they deployed like never before for COVID-19 as well as the border, as well as dealing with floods and hurricanes and tornadoes.”

Although the Public Health Service is primarily focused on addressing public health disasters within the United States, Levine said it has a record of deployments overseas, including years ago when it was deployed to Africa under the threat of Ebola.

Secretary of Health & Human Services Xavier Becerra had high praise for Levine in a statement upon news of taking on a leadership position in the service.

“This is a proud moment for us at HHS,” Becerra said. “Adm. Levine — a highly accomplished pediatrician who helps drive our agency’s agenda to boost health access and equity and to strengthen behavioral health — is a cherished and critical partner in our work to build a healthier America.”

Levine, however, was careful to draw a distinction between her appointment within the Public Health Service and being a service member within the U.S. armed forces.

“It is not a military branch, it’s not the armed forces: It’s a uniformed force, so it’s different,” Levine said. “For example, the Army, the Navy, our military, there are two other uniformed branches, and that is ours, the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps and NOAA.”

The new role, Levine said, would complement her duties as assistant secretary for health. Although not only secretaries of health have been commissioned to take the uniform, Levine said she wanted to undertake that as part of her role in the Biden administration.

The two appointments were not simultaneous, Levine said, because of a general process she undertook, which was completed just this week.

It hasn’t been an easy road for Levine. During her Senate confirmation process, when she was hounded by anti-transgender attacks in conservative media and rude, invasive questioning by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on her gender identity.

Levine, however, said she hasn’t encountered any hostility regarding her new role (as of now) and shrugged off any potential attacks in the future and said the move is about her career “to serve and to help people.”

“I’ve continued that for our nation as the assistant secretary for health and this is just a further demonstration of my commitment to service,” Levine said. “I don’t know what others will say, but that’s the genesis of my wanting to serve in the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, and to place on the uniform.”

Levine’s new appointment comes shortly after a group of Democratic senators led by Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) sent her a letter dated Sept. 30 calling on her and Miriam Delphin-Rittmon, assistant secretary for mental health and substance use, to issue new guidance for hospital or residential care on mental health needs of transgender people.

Asked about the letter, Levine said mental health issues are under the authority of Delphin-Rittmon and the two “will work together and we will respond.”

Specifically, the senators in the letter call on the Behavioral Health Coordinating Council, or BHCC, and experts in the field of adolescent trans care to offer guidance on best practices for inpatient mental health care among these youth.

Asked what the response will look like, Levine said, “We’re going to work on that.”

“We will be looking at what they’re asking for and the requirements, and we’ll talk with them and the stakeholders and we’ll look to issue appropriate guidance,” Levine said.

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Colin Powell, leaving mixed legacy on ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ dies at 84

Key figure once opposed gays in military, then backed review



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Colin Powell leaves behind a mixed legacy on 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

Colin Powell, the first ever Black secretary of state who served in top diplomatic and military roles in U.S. administrations, died Monday of coronavirus at age 84, leaving behind a mixed record on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

The world continues to grapple with the pandemic and the public grows increasingly frustrated with its persistence as many remain unvaccinated despite the wide availability of vaccines. Powell was fully vaccinated, according to a statement released upon his death. Powell reportedly suffered from multiple myeloma, a condition that hampers an individual’s ability to combat blood infections.

Rising to the top of the military as chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Powell supported in 1993 Congress moving forward with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” a law that barred openly gay people from serving in the U.S. military.

During a key moment congressional testimony, Powell and other top military officials were asked whether or not allowing gay people in the military would be compatible with military readiness. Each official, including Powell,” responded “incompatible.” Congress would enact “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” that year.

Things changed when President Obama took office 15 years later and advocates for repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” were eager to claim Powell’s voice among their ranks. After all, Powell was highly respected as a bipartisan voice after having served as secretary of state in the administration of George W. Bush and endorsing Obama in the 2008 election.

After the Obama administration in 2010 announced it would conduct a review of the idea of allowing gay people to serve openly in the military, Powell came out in support of that process. Advocates of repeal called that a declaration of reversal, although the statement fell short of a full support for gay people serving openly in the military.

“In the almost 17 years since the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ legislation was passed, attitudes and circumstances have changed,” General Powell said in a statement issued by his office, adding, “I fully support the new approach presented to the Senate Armed Services Committee this week by Secretary of Defense Gates and Admiral Mullen.”

Congress acted to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the policy was lifted in 2011. At the time, Powell was widely considered a supporter of ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and publicly counted among supporters of repeal, although the Blade couldn’t immediately find any statements from him to that effect.

In 2012, Powell had similar vaguely supportive words on same-sex marriage, saying he had “no problem with it” when asked about the issue.

“As I’ve thought about gay marriage, I know a lot of friends who are individually gay but are in partnerships with loved ones, and they are as stable a family as my family is, and they raise children,” Powell said. “And so I don’t see any reason not to say that they should be able to get married.”

The Blade also couldn’t immediately find any statement from Powell on transgender people serving in the military. After the Obama administration in 2016 lifted decades-old regulations against transgender service, former President Trump issued a ban by tweet the following year. President Biden reversed that ban and allowed transgender people to serve and enlist in the military in his first year in office.

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Texas House approves anti-trans youth sports bill

HB 25 now heads to state Senate



GenderCool Project leader and Trans activist Landon Richie (Photo courtesy of Landon Richie)

Texas House Republicans were able to push through the anti-trans youth sports measure Thursday evening after hours of emotional and at times rancorous debate, passing the bill in a 76-54 vote along party lines.

Under the provisions of Texas House Bill 25, all trans student athletes in grades K-12 will be prohibited from competing on sports teams aligned with their gender identity. The bill will now head to the Senate, where it is expected to pass.

The Texas Tribune reported that the University Interscholastic League, which governs school sports in Texas, already requires that an athlete’s gender be determined by the sex listed on their birth certificate. Republican Rep. Valoree Swanson, R-Spring, the author of HB 25 has said the bill would simply “codify” existing UIL rules.

However, UIL recognizes any legally modified birth certificates. That policy could accommodate someone who may have had their birth certificate changed to match their gender identity, which can sometimes be an arduous process.

HB 25 would not allow recognition of these legally modified birth certificates unless changes were made because of a clerical error. It’s not clear though how it will be determined if a birth certificate has been legally modified or not. According to the UIL, the process for checking student birth certificates is left up to schools and districts, not the UIL the Tribune reported.

“To say that tonight’s passage of HB 25 is devastating is an understatement. For the past 10 grueling, exhausting, and deeply traumatic months, trans youth have been forced to debate their very existence—only to be met by the deaf ears and averted eyes of our state’s leaders,” Landon Richie, a GenderCool Project leader, University of Houston student and Transactivist told the Washington Blade after the vote.

“Make no mistake: This bill will not only have detrimental impacts on trans youth, who already suffer immense levels of harassment and bullying in schools, but also on cisgender youth who don’t conform to Texas’s idea of ‘male’ or ‘female.’ To trans kids everywhere: you belong, you are loved, you are valued, you are deserving of dignity, respect, care and the ability to live freely as your true and authentic selves, no matter where you are. We will never stop fighting for trans lives and a future where trans kids are unequivocally and unwaveringly celebrated for who they are,” Richie said.

“The cruelty of this bill is breathtaking, and the legislators who are pushing it forward are doing irreparable harm to our state. Texas is a place where people value freedom and respect for diversity. This bill is a betrayal of those cherished values, and future generations will look back on this moment in disbelief that elected officials supported such an absurd and hateful measure,” Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights told the Blade. “The families of these kids deserve better, and the burden is now on the rest of us to do everything in our power to stop this dangerous bill now,” he added.

During the debate on the measure, state Rep. James Talarico, (D-Round Rock), a former middle school teacher, began his remarks by apologizing to the trans kids and families who have gone to the Capitol time and time again this year. He tells the chamber he speaks now as a legislator, and educator, and a Christian.

He quoted Republican Rep. Valoree Swanson, R-Spring, the author of HB 25 who said “if one girl wins a game, it’s worth it.” He says he has a different moral yardstick. “If one trans kid dies for a trophy, this bill is grotesque.”

He ended speaking to his “fellow believers” in the chamber. “The worst part in these hearings have been in hearing the Bible used against trans kids to support these bills. Even tonight, ‘God’s law’ was used to present an amendment.” He then quoted the first two lines of the Bible, where God is referred to with two different Hebrew words, one masculine/one feminine. “God is non-binary.” He then prevented an interruption in the chamber and continued telling trans kids that he loves them.

Fellow Democratic state Rep. Jessica González, (D-Dallas County), vice-chair of the Texas House LGBTQ Caucus asked the chamber how many trans Texas kids they are willing to hurt. She reminded her fellow representatives that cisgender women and girls will also be hurt by the bill. She shared a personal story about being outed in high school by a friend, having her locker, home, and car vandalized and losing all of her friends. “Kids are cruel.”

González told lawmakers that her brother encouraged her to try out for soccer, and she was bullied with comments like “shouldn’t she be trying out for the boys’ team.” She went from feeling a bit accepted to being an outsider again. She then reflected on carrying those feelings into adulthood and said that this bill will have long-term affects on trans kids. She asked legislators to listen to the stories of the trans kids who have bravely testified, saying kids will contemplate suicide or complete suicide.

Representative Diego Bernal, (D-San Antonio), told the chamber that some representatives can’t wrap their heads around knowing that there is no problem but there is *real* harm to trans kids, and for whatever reason, that’s not enough it seems to stop moving these bills.

He said that he has heard “if they already have mental health issues and suicide ideation, this can’t make it worse” and “if the debate is harming them, let’s just vote.” The he breaks down the Texas statute’s definition of bullying, telling lawmakers, “The bullying statute doesn’t have an intent requirement. It doesn’t matter if you don’t mean to cause them harm. We are bullying these students. Know that by law … our own definitions and our own words, we are. And we don’t have to.”

“Texas lawmakers voted today to deliberately discriminate against transgender children. Excluding transgender students from participating in sports with their peers violates the Constitution and puts already vulnerable youth at serious risk of mental and emotional harm,” Adri Perez, policy and advocacy strategist at the ACLU of Texas said in a statement to the Blade.

“There is no evidence that transgender kids pose any threat. It is indefensible that legislators would force transgender youth and their families to travel to Austin to defend their own humanity, then blatantly ignore hours of testimony about the real damage this bill causes. Trans kids and their families deserve our love and support—they’ve been fighting this legislation for months. Texans will hold lawmakers accountable for their cruelty,” she added.

The statewide LGBTQ+ advocacy group Equality Texas in a tweet after the vote said; ” We will not stop fighting to protect transgender children.” Then added “We’ll continue to educate lawmakers—replacing misinformation with real stories—and demand the statewide and federal nondiscrimination protections we need to prevent further harms.”

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