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HISTORIC: Senate panel advances trans-inclusive ENDA

In first, committee reports out trans-inclusive LGBT anti-bias bill

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Mark Kirk, Tammy Baldwin, United States Senate, gay news, Washington Blade
United States Senate, gay news, Washington Blade, HELP Committee

Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee approved a trans-inclusive ENDA on Wednesday (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A Senate committee made history on Wednesday by approving for the first time a trans-inclusive version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and picking up key Republican support from Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).

Lawmakers on the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee reported out ENDA by a 15-7 vote after a short period of discussion. No amendments were offered except for a manager’s amendment, although Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said he’ll reserve three that he planned for consideration on the Senate floor.

Senate HELP Committee Chair Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) noted the historic nature of the committee’s action prior to the vote and said it’s “time, long past time” for Congress to take action against LGBT workplace discrimination.

“Qualified workers should not be turned away or have to fear losing their livelihood for reasons that have nothing to do with their qualifications, skills or performance,” Harkin said. “Let’s not mince words: such practices are un-American. They should have no place in any American workplace.”

All 12 Democrats on the committee, including lesbian Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), are co-sponsors of the bill as well as one Republican, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.). They each voted in favor of ENDA during the final vote.

At the start of the markup, Kirk explained he has supported ENDA — both in his capacity as a U.S. House member and a U.S. senator — because gay people should “not have that cloud of potential discrimination” in the workplace.

Speaking with reporters afterwards, Kirk explained his support for ENDA derives in part from his work as an officer in the Navy Reserve.

“For me, as you guys know, I’m a military guy,” Kirk said. “We think about how blindingly idiotic it was for Adolf Hitler to discriminate against the Jews. When you think about all the Senate pieces of the Manhattan Project, we actually developed a war-winning weapon because we were protecting creativity and science, and we became a much stronger society that allowed us to prevail. The society that is more open will be stronger, in my view, probably economically and militarily.”

Tammy Baldwin, Mark Kirk, Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee, gay news, Washington Blade

Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

New support for ENDA also came from Republicans on the panel: Hatch and Murkowksi. Hatch voted “yes” by proxy and Murkowski voted “yes” in person. The Alaska senator is the third sitting Republican U.S. senator to come out in favor of marriage equality.

In a statement after the markup, Murkowski said she voted “yes” because “discrimination should never be tolerated in the workplace.”

“I am a strong believer that individuals should be judged on whether they can do the job, not their sexual orientation – and I appreciate the hundreds of Alaskans who shared their thoughts with me and my staff as we considered this bill,” Murkowski said.

While she said improvements to the bill “might be in order in the form of floor amendments,” Murkowski added she’s pleased ENDA addresses “employers’ needs to run efficiently and reduce compliance costs” by prohibiting discrimination claims based on disparate impact.

In a statement provided to the Washington Blade, Hatch explained he was able to support ENDA because of the strong religious exemption in the bill.

“I appreciate that the authors of the bill were willing to include a robust religious exemption in this bill,” Hatch said. “I voted for it because it prohibits discrimination that should not occur in the workplace, it protects the rights of religious entities, and minimizes legal burdens on employers.”

The bill now heads to full Senate for passage on the floor, where 60 votes will likely be necessary to overcome a Senate filibuster. During the markup, Harkin said he expects ENDA to come to the floor “sometime in the fall,” but not before lawmakers leave for August break.

Asked by the Washington Blade after the committee vote whether he’s confident that ENDA will find 60 votes on the Senate floor, Harkin replied, “Yeah, I think we’ll have 60 votes.”

“As you saw, we had some very key Republicans on the committee, and that will be very helpful,” Harkin said. “As I said, I think society is there, and the things that have recently happened with the Supreme Court decision and others, I think we’re ready to move on in a way that we haven’t been ready move on in the past. Keep your fingers crossed.”

But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is responsible for scheduling what comes to the floor in the Senate. His office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on when an ENDA floor vote would take place. In his Pride statement issued last month, Reid said he looks forward to bringing up ENDA “soon.”

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney issued a statement saying President Obama “welcomes” the bipartisan support ENDA received in committee and looks forward to further action.

“The President has long supported an inclusive ENDA, which would enshrine into law strong, lasting and comprehensive protections against employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity,” Carney said. “We look forward to the full Senate’s consideration of ENDA, and continue to urge the House to move forward on this bill that upholds America’s core values of fairness and equality.”

It was the first markup of ENDA in the Senate since 2002 and the first time ever a committee in either chamber of Congress approved a version of ENDA that protects not only gay, lesbian and bisexual people from workplace discrimination, but also transgender people.

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said a trans-inclusive ENDA has been advancing all along, but committee approval of the bill with gender identity protections is “really amazing.”

“This is a life-or-death issue for trans people, and I think this shows that we’re moving, we’re going to get it done,” Keisling said. “Next, we’re going to get it passed in the Senate, and we’re going to try to figure out how to get it through the dysfunctional House of Representatives. But it’s really important and shows trans people everywhere that this is going to happen — whether it’s this year or another year — it’s going to happen. We are going to get relief from job discrimination.”

Transgender inclusion in ENDA has been a sensitive issue in the LGBT community. In 2007, gay former Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) removed ENDA’s gender identity provisions before holding a House vote on the bill because he said the votes were lacking to pass the legislation with those protections on the House floor. The decision led to an outcry and ENDA advanced no further even though Democrats controlled both chambers of Congress.

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, praised the Senate committee approval of ENDA, calling the vote “fantastic.”

“It was a big, bipartisan win, and we’re going this ride momentum to 60 votes by September,” Almeida said. “We think we can get to 60 votes in the Senate in September — possibly October if it takes that long. We could actually get between 60 and 65 votes in the end in the Senate, and that huge momentum will allow us to do some real campaigning with members of the House.”

Despite the support ENDA’s religious exemption has received from Republicans like Hatch, there are differing opinions on the language within the LGBT community.

Unlike existing employment discrimination law under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, ENDA’s religious exemption provides leeway for religious organizations, like churches or religious schools, to discriminate against LGBT employees.

Some ENDA supporters, like the Center for American Progress, say ENDA’s religious exemption is politically necessary for the bill to pass Congress, while others, like the American Civil Liberties Union, say it allows for continued LGBT workplace discrimination. No action was taken on the religious exemption during the markup.

Ian Thompson, legislative representative for the ACLU, said after the markup he’s pleased with the progress on ENDA, but added the growing support for LGBT rights demonstrates the bill’s religious exemption may no longer be necessary.

“Today’s vote clearly demonstrates that the tide has turned on LGBT rights,” Thompson said. “What was true five, 10, and 20 years ago is no longer the case. To that end, I think it is becoming increasingly clear that there is no reason to adopt an exemption that would needlessly dilute ENDA’s critical protections.”

Before final passage, the committee approved by unanimous consent a manager’s amendment that made technical changes to ENDA.

Some changes were made at the behest of GOP supporters who wanted clarification on certain issues. Among them is ensuring under ENDA disparate impact claims are not allowed; a plaintiff cannot recover for the same offense under both Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and ENDA; and an employer can amend an existing poster notifying employees of the non-discrimination policy, rather than creating a separate poster.

The manager’s amendment also updates ENDA in the wake of Supreme Court rulings on employment non-discrimination law. Following the Supreme Court’s decision in the 2009 case of Gross v. FBL Financial, the bill now includes language to ensure that the burden of proof in mixed motive cases is the same under ENDA as it is under Title VII.

Almeida, who had called for an update to ENDA in the wake of the Gross ruling, commended Harkin and his counsel for “fixing the loopholes and technical mistakes” that existed in the original version of ENDA.

“Some were on the left, and some were on the right,” Almeida said. “By making these corrections, Chairman has shown respect for Republicans on the committee and created a smarter, better Employment Non-Discrimination Act.”

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9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. Skeeter Sanders

    July 10, 2013 at 2:45 pm

    It’s pretty clear that however distasteful the religious exemption in the proposed Employment Non-Discrimination Act may be for its supporters, it is, unfortunately, necessary for the legislation to avoid a First Amendment freedom-of-religion legal challenge in court — a legal challenge religious groups opposed to LGBT rights would almost certainly win if ENDA became law without the exemption.

  2. Ray Wooldridge

    July 10, 2013 at 9:54 pm

    About time that they have their rights…………

  3. Renee Cannady

    July 11, 2013 at 4:38 am

    WOW! Now time to make it law!

  4. Pedro A. Romanach

    July 12, 2013 at 3:04 pm

    I think the article should name the fifteens senators who voted “Yes” and the seven senators who voted “No”. I am for this bill and I would like to know how everyone voted. I am sure many other readers would also.

  5. Pedro A. Romanach

    July 12, 2013 at 3:05 pm

    Typo corrected: I meant “fifteen”, of course. Sorry.

  6. Joanna Hill

    July 13, 2013 at 12:47 pm

    One day I came across an article asking the question of why a strait white guy would support transgender rights. The answer is simple. Many transgenders have proven their worth to society. Everyday their contributions go unnoticed, but they are there and they make our world a better place to live.

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Politics

Anti-LGBTQ Daily Wire host says 2 men shouldn’t be allowed to adopt babies

” […] because babies need mothers. They also need fathers, which is why two women shouldn’t be allowed either.”

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Screenshot of Matt Walsh via YouTube (Blade file photo)

NASHVILLE – Anti-LGBTQ Daily Wire podcast and YouTuber Matt Walsh joined the growing chorus of far-right and conservative voices outraged that U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg went on paternity leave from his job in August after he and his husband Chasten had adopted two children.

On his show Monday Walsh not only criticized Buttigieg, but he attacked same-sex couples adopting children altogether.

It’s absurd for any public employee, paid on taxpayer dime, to be given that much time off. Now, you can make an argument for women on maternity leave but not for men. Paternity leave is a nice luxury for private companies that can afford it. The U.S. government is not a private company – it’s a public institution, deeply in debt, failing in just about every way and everywhere. So this is not a time and not the place for those kinds of luxuries. But that’s the somewhat safer point to make, right? You are in a much more hazardous place, you are in more hazardous waters when you go away from that and, instead, you start saying mildly critical things about paternity leave in general as a concept.”

I also didn’t say that there’s nothing at all for a man to do for his family after a child is born. I said that as far as caring for the newborn himself, most of that is going to be done by the mother. She, in most cases, will be feeding the child. The child also needs and wants his mother’s presence, his mother’s touch, her voice. The father should be interacting with the baby also, obviously, but the infant is far more focused on his mother at that age. And needs his mother more. There is no mother in the Buttigieg household, but that doesn’t change the point here.”

Babies need their mothers, which is why two men shouldn’t be allowed to adopt babies in the first place. And the outrage mob can now start a secondary campaign over that comment. But I’ll say it again. Two men should not be allowed to adopt babies because babies need mothers. They also need fathers, which is why two women shouldn’t be allowed either.

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Politics

Pete Buttigieg calls out Tucker Carlson over attack

Fox News host mocked transportation secretary over paternity leave

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U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg (Washington Blade file photo)

Appearing remotely on MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace’s politics program Friday, U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg called out Fox News host Tucker Carlson for the attack on his parental leave.

“This attack is coming from a guy who has yet to explain his apparent approval for the assassination of Harvey Milk, ” Buttigieg said.

During his Thursday evening program Carlson said, “Pete Buttigieg has been on leave from his job since August after adopting a child—paternity leave, they call it—trying to figure out how to breastfeed. No word on how that went. But now he’s back in office as the transportation secretary and he’s deeply amused, he says, to see that dozens of container ships can’t get into this country.”

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National

Biden recognizes National Coming Out Day as time to honor LGBTQ people

White House statement denounces ‘bullying and harassment’

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President Biden recognized Oct. 11 as National Coming Out Day in a statement on Monday calling the occasion a time to celebrate the “courage of LGBTQ+ people who live their lives with pride, create community with open arms and hearts, and showcase the strength of being your authentic self.”

Biden ticked off in the statement the achievements on LGBTQ policy, including signing an executive order on his first day in his office ordering federal agencies to implement the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year against anti-LGBTQ discrimination to the furthest extent possible.

“Despite the extraordinary progress our nation has made, our work to ensure the full promise of equality is not yet done. Anti-LGBTQ+ bills still proliferate in state legislatures,” Biden said. “Bullying and harassment — particularly of young transgender Americans and LGBTQ+ people of color — still abounds, diminishing our national character. We must continue to stand together against these acts of hate, and stand up to protect the rights, opportunities, physical safety, and mental health of LGBTQ+ people everywhere.”

Read Biden’s full statement below:

Statement by President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. on National Coming Out Day

Today, we celebrate National Coming Out Day and the courage of LGBTQ+ people who live their lives with pride, create community with open arms and hearts, and showcase the strength of being your authentic self. Today and every day, I want every member of the LGBTQ+ community to know that you are loved and accepted just the way you are – regardless of whether or not you’ve come out.

My Administration is committed to ensuring that LGBTQ+ people can live openly, proudly, and freely in every corner of our nation. I am proud to lead an Administration with LGBTQ+ officials serving openly at the highest levels of government — and prouder that together we have made historic progress advancing protections and equal opportunities for the LGBTQ+ community. From acting on Day One to prevent and combat discrimination, to enabling all qualified Americans – including transgender Americans – to serve their country in uniform, to defending the human rights of LGBTQ+ people around the world, my Administration has been clear that we will continue to champion the dignity, equality, and wellbeing of the LGBTQ+ community. 

Despite the extraordinary progress our nation has made, our work to ensure the full promise of equality is not yet done. Anti-LGBTQ+ bills still proliferate in state legislatures. Bullying and harassment — particularly of young transgender Americans and LGBTQ+ people of color — still abounds, diminishing our national character. We must continue to stand together against these acts of hate, and stand up to protect the rights, opportunities, physical safety, and mental health of LGBTQ+ people everywhere. From defeating discriminatory bills to passing the Equality Act, we have more work to do to ensure that every American can live free of fear, harassment, and discrimination because of who they are or whom they love.

To LGBTQ+ people across the country, and especially those who are contemplating coming out: know that you are loved for who you are, you are admired for your courage, and you will have a community — and a nation — to welcome you. My Administration will always have your back, and we will continue fighting for the full measure of equality, dignity, and respect you deserve.

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