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3 key Democrats still undecided on ENDA

Republicans say House vote on measure unlikely

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Employment Non-Discrimination Act, ENDA, gay news, Washington Blade
Joe Manchin, Mark Pryor, Bill Nelson, United States Senate, Democratic Party, West Virginia, Arkansas, Florida, Employment Non-Discrimination Act, ENDA, gay news, Washington Blade

Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) are three Senate Democrats who haven’t said how they’ll vote on ENDA. (Photos public domain).

As LGBT advocates ramp up efforts to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, some key U.S. senators this week said they’re still undecided on how they’ll vote on the bill.

Most notable among these holdouts are three Senate Democrats who are not co-sponsors of ENDA — Sens. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) — even in the aftermath of a 15-7 Senate committee vote weeks ago reporting out ENDA to the floor.

Manchin ignored questions from the Blade on how he’ll vote on the bill. His response to the final question: “It’s very nice to meet you.”

Pryor was similarly non-committal. Asked whether he was familiar with the legislation, the senator replied, “I am in concept, but I haven’t seen it or read it yet.”

Asked for a sense of how he’ll vote on ENDA, Pryor said he needed time to review the bill, adding, “I’ll just have to look at it.”

Nelson couldn’t be reached on Capitol Hill for a comment on how he’ll vote on ENDA. In a recent interview with the Tampa Bay Times, the Florida senator reportedly cited the transgender protections in the legislation as an issue of concern.

“There are so many ramifications,” Nelson was quoted as saying. “What is the responsibility of an employer to provide facilities, for example, for someone who dresses, thinks, acts, has had hormone treatments as a woman, but who has not had the operations? Is that person allowed to go into the women’s restroom? There are just a whole host of issues that I haven’t worked through.”

It’s not unusual for senators to refrain from saying how they’ll vote on legislation that isn’t imminently before them. Still, Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee Chair Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said that he’s expecting a floor vote this fall after August recess.

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, said the time has come for the holdout Democrats to co-sponsor ENDA because the more time that passes without their support makes them “look sillier and weaker the longer they drag this out.”

“The three holdout Senate Democrats are alienating themselves further from the Democratic Party and ignoring American values of hard work and success with every passing day that they stubbornly refuse to cosponsor the bipartisan ENDA,” Almeida said.

Although the lack of commitment from Pryor and Manchin may not be surprising because they’re among the Democrats who don’t support marriage equality, Nelson’s silence is striking because he supports same-sex marriage. In May 2010, the senator also voted for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee even before the Pentagon report on open service came out later that fall.

Almeida called on Obama and senior White House officials to take additional action to win ENDA support from Nelson as well as Pryor and Manchin.

“There’s a difference between providing strong leadership and issuing press statements, and LGBT Americans who fear getting fired from their jobs have been waiting for President Obama’s leadership for a long time,” Almeida said. “President Obama, Vice President Biden, Valerie Jarrett, Cecilia Munoz and especially the LGBT staff at the White House should start lobbying Congress to bring home these three holdout Democratic senators.”

Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, insisted that White House officials are reaching out to the Senate to ensure a successful floor vote.

“The president is pleased that the Senate HELP Committee, on a bipartisan basis, approved ENDA in July, and we look forward to the Senate’s consideration of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act,” Inouye said. “The White House will continue to reach out to lawmakers on this legislation which would enshrine into law strong, lasting and comprehensive protections against employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.”

LGBT groups launch campaigns to build ENDA support

Employment Non-Discrimination Act, ENDA, gay news, Washington Blade

(Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Amid attention on these three Democratic senators, the Human Rights Campaign announced on Tuesday evening that it launched a $2 million campaign to work to pass ENDA called “Americans for Workplace Opportunity.”

The steering committee is being billed as a bipartisan group of organizations and consists of the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Federation of Teachers, the American Unity Fund, HRC, the Leadership Conference on Civil & Human Rights, the National Center for Transgender Equality, the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force and the Service Employees International Union.

Heading the campaign will be Matt McTighe, an LGBT activist who most recently was Marriage Project Director for Gill Action after leading the campaign to bring marriage equality to Maine last year.

In a statement, McTighe said the campaign plans to “mobilize the supermajority of diverse Americans” who believe LGBT people should be protected from workplace discrimination.

“With the tremendously successful mark-up of ENDA earlier this month, we have strong momentum as we build to reach 60 votes on the Senate floor,” McTighe said. “We will use all of our resources including grassroots action and strong corporate support to make it clear that the American people want action on this bill.”

In addition to states represented by Senate Democratic holdouts on ENDA — Arkansas, Florida and West Virginia — the campaign will be engaged in grassroots activities to encourage Republican votes for ENDA in Arizona, Idaho, Indiana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Ohio and Pennsylvania. According to HRC’s announcement, the eight steering committee members represent more than 5.6 million members and supporters.

It’s noteworthy that McTighe’s stated goal with the campaign is “to reach 60 votes” to pass ENDA on the Senate floor. Freedom to Work’s Almeida has been more bullish about ENDA and has projected between and 60 and 65 votes for the bill in the Senate.

At the same time, statewide LGBT advocacy groups in Florida and West Virginia say they’ve met with the respective senators from their states to encourage them to support ENDA.

Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida, said she’s “optimistic” that Nelson will vote in favor of ENDA following a D.C. meeting that her organization — along with transgender activist and former Seal Team 6 member Kristin Beck — had in June with the Florida senator.

“Our team had a great conversation about the importance of protections for LGBT people, and were able to have an honest dialogue with the senator,” Smith said. “The meeting clearly had an impact and we are continuing to work with his staff to keep this on the front burner.”

Casey Willits, a spokesperson for Fairness West Virginia, said his organization has had conversations with Manchin and his staff on ENDA.

“When ENDA is voted on in the Senate, we trust that Sen. Manchin will act on the West Virginia values of hard work and fairness,” Willits said. “I’m sure when Sen. Manchin votes, he will have the story of Sam Hall, a gay West Virginian coal miner, on his mind. It’s our goal to have two senators in the ‘yes’ column for ENDA.”

Internal discussions within the Senate are also underway. A Senate aide familiar with ENDA, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the five original co-sposors of the bill — Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Tom Harkin — met recently to discuss a whip strategy for ENDA.

Additional conversations will happen in the next few weeks, the Senate aide said, in anticipation of a Senate floor vote before the end of the year.

The aide also said Merkley met with Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) prior to her “yes” vote on ENDA during the committee vote and also met recently with Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who’s considered a swing vote on ENDA, to talk about the bill.

Jeffrey Sadoksy, a Portman spokesperson, confirmed that Merkley met with the Republican senator and said the meeting took place last week, but wasn’t able to provide any information on whether Portman would vote for ENDA in the wake of the meeting.

Conversations over scheduling a vote apparently haven’t taken place yet within the Senate Democratic leadership. Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) said he’s unaware of those conversations happening at this time.

“I have not heard any, but there’s strong support for it,” Durbin said. “Sen. Merkley is, I believe, the lead sponsor — at least that was my understanding a few weeks ago. I hope we can schedule this quickly.”

Flake calls trans protections ‘problematic’

As groups push Senate Democrats to vote for ENDA, support from key Republicans is also necessary to surpass the 60-vote threshold needed to end a filibuster in the Senate. Most of the states targeted in the “Americans for Workplace Opportunity” campaign are represented in the Senate by Republicans.

One Republican who’s considered in play is Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.). Asked by the Blade about ENDA, Heller initially said he was unfamiliar with the bill.

When the Blade explained the legislation would prohibit job discrimination against LGBT people, Heller said, “I’m against discrimination.” Asked if that means he’ll vote for the bill, Heller repeated, “I’m against discrimination.”

Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) said on Capitol Hill in response to a question on ENDA, “I’m familiar with it, but I haven’t studied it,” and refused to comment on how she’d vote on the bill.

Another Senate Republican — Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) — is considered in play because he voted “yes” in 2007 on a gay-only version of ENDA as a U.S. House member. Asked by the Blade about ENDA, Flake recalled that he voted for the measure while serving in the lower chamber of Congress.

But Flake refused to offer a commitment on ENDA this time around, saying the language has changed since 2007 and that he needs to revisit the bill.

“I don’t know if it’s going to go back to the original or not, and so, until I see the language, I can’t tell you,’ Flake said.

When the Blade pointed out that a major difference between the 2007 version of ENDA and the current one is the addition of protections for transgender workers, Flake suggested that could be a sticking point for him.

“I know there were some issues there that came up for employers, so that was problematic,” Flake said. “I’ll have to look at the language and see.”

Flake’s counterpart from Arizona — Sen. John McCain (R) — asserted he was completely oblivious to ENDA. Asked by the Blade if he was familiar with the legislation, McCain replied, “I”m not familiar with it.”

When the Blade explained the bill provides non-discrimination protections for LGBT workers, McCain said, “I have not looked at it. I’m engaged in a whole lot of issues and I haven’t been engaged in that.”

Asked if he could say how he intends to vote on the bill, McCain replied, “No, of course not, because I haven’t looked at it.”

Jeff Cook-McCormac, senior adviser to the newly formed Republican-affiliated American Unity Fund, said his organization is building off work advancing LGBT initiatives throughout the states and in the last few weeks has held conversations with a “wide berth” of Republicans to persuade them to vote for ENDA.

“One of things we’ve learned over the years is not to count people out,” Cook-McCormac said. “As I’m sure you’ve seen with the vote on ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal and many of the state legislatures both on marriage and non-discrimination, it’s really not fair to assume that any legislator is hostile to this legislation.”

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), among the Republicans to vote in favor of ENDA in committee, said he doesn’t know if his vote would bring along other GOP senators to support the bill as he explained his support for ENDA.

“I don’t believe in discrimination against anybody,” Hatch said. “I do draw the line on marriage, the definition of marriage. I just think that would be a tragic shame to change that. But I don’t like the way some people are treated.”

Even if the Senate approves ENDA, questions remain over the strategy to pass the legislation in the House, where Republican control makes advancing the bill difficult to say the least.

For his part, Hatch was pessimistic about the prospects of the House taking up ENDA even after a successful Senate vote.

“I doubt the House is going to do that” Hatch said. “I really doubt that, but I can’t speak for them either. You never know.”

Cook-McCormac acknowledged that much of the attention that LGBT advocates put on ENDA is devoted at this time to moving the legislation in the Senate.

“Getting the House to move is going to require initial Senate action,” Cook-McCormac said. “I think that the real critical focus for this coalition of business and labor, of the gay community and employers, is building on the overwhelming vote in the Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee to get to floor consideration, to get the majority that we need and then to begin to work in a careful and thoughtful way with House Republicans to think through ways that this important measure can be realized.”

UPDATE: This article has been updated to include the quote from Nelson on ENDA in the Tampa Bay Times piece.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. peter rosenstein

    August 1, 2013 at 3:54 pm

    It makes it difficult to contribute to the DSCC when not all Democratic Senators are on board with voting for ENDA. Many people don’t want to see their money going to Senators that refuse to vote against discrimination.

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Exclusive: Biden briefed on transgender deaths breaking record in 2021

At least 46 people killed in grim milestone

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President Biden was briefed on Nov. 18 on anti-transgender violence the year, a White House official said.

President Biden, in a year when the killings of transgender people are at the highest number in recorded history, has been briefed on the grim milestone of anti-transgender violence, the Washington Blade has learned exclusively.

A White House official confirmed via email to the Blade on Monday that Biden was briefed Thursday, Nov. 18 on the number of transgender and non-binary people killed in 2021, which was the same week as the Transgender Day of Remembrance.

In response to a follow-up inquiry from the Blade on which principals were in attendance at the briefing, the White House official had nothing to share.

At least 46 transgender and non-binary people have been killed, which is the highest number since efforts to record those deaths began. The violence has consistently had a disproportionate impact on transgender women of color.

The Blade first posed the question about whether Biden was briefed on anti-transgender violence to White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Nov. 12. At the time, Psaki said she was unsure whether Biden was briefed, but said deaths were “terrible, heartbreaking” to hear.

Biden’s briefing on the anti-transgender violence is consistent with the statement he issued on Saturday recognizing the Transgender Day of Remembrance, which decried the deaths of the 46 transgender and non-binary people killed in 2021.

“Each of these lives was precious,” Biden said in the statement. “Each of them deserved freedom, justice, and joy. Today, on Transgender Day of Remembrance, we mourn those we lost in the deadliest year on record for transgender Americans, as well as the countless other transgender people — disproportionately Black and brown transgender women and girls — who face brutal violence, discrimination, and harassment.”

Biden, who has called transgender rights “the civil rights issue of our time,” is credited with being a transgender advocate in the White House, having issued policies such as a rollback of former President Trump’s transgender military ban and signing an executive order requiring federal agencies to implement the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling against anti-LGBTQ discrimination to the furthest extent possible under the law.

The Biden administration announced in June an interagency task force charged with making the U.S. government as transgender inclusive as possible, which the White House says is ongoing.

The year 2021 reached a new record for anti-transgender murders upon the death of Marquiisha “Quii” Lawrence, a 28-year-old Black transgender woman who was shot and killed in her home in Greenville, S.C.

Biden and other transgender advocates marked the Transgender Day of Remembrance this year with the solemn acknowledgment of the 46 transgender and non-binary people lost in 2021.

Biden as a 2020 presidential candidate highlighted ongoing anti-transgender violence, including its disproportionate impact on transgender people of color. In his comprehensive LGBTQ platform, Biden repeatedly pledged he’d take steps to protect LGBTQ people from violence.

In fact, Biden predicted the killing of transgender people would end if former President Trump were voted out of office, telling attendees at the Human Rights Campaign dinner in 2019: “The fastest way to end it is to end the Trump administration.”

Democratic National Committee chair Jaime Harrison and LGBTQ Caucus chair Earl Fowlkes issued a joint statement, saying each of the lives lost “represents a family broken, a friend forever changed, or a community in mourning.”

“Today, we mourn the lives lost due to senseless violence,” Harrison and Fowlkes said. “Tomorrow, we reaffirm and rededicate ourselves to enacting the change necessary to create a future where no one is forced to hide or live in fear.”

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Biden recognizes anti-trans violence on Transgender Day of Remembrance

2021 deadliest year on record for transgender people

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President Biden recognized the deaths of 46 people on the Transgender Day of Remembrance.

President Biden issued on Saturday a statement recognizing the Transgender Day of Remembrance, noting an estimated 46 transgender and non-binary were recorded as killed in 2021 in a horrific milestone of the most violent year on record for the transgender community.

“This year, at least 46 transgender individuals in this country — and hundreds more around the world—were killed in horrifying acts of violence,” Biden said. “Each of these lives was precious. Each of them deserved freedom, justice, and joy. Today, on Transgender Day of Remembrance, we mourn those we lost in the deadliest year on record for transgender Americans, as well as the countless other transgender people—disproportionately Black and brown transgender women and girls — who face brutal violence, discrimination, and harassment.”

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, in response to a question from the Washington Blade last week on whether Biden was briefed on anti-transgender violence reaching a new record in 2021, called the grim milestone “heartbreaking to hear,” but said she was unsure if Biden was briefed on the issue.

The Biden statement implies he was briefed on the deaths because it referenced 2021 being the deadliest year on record with 46 deaths, although the White House hasn’t responded to the Blade’s request to comment on whether he was briefed on the violence.

Biden moved early on during his administration to act on transgender rights, reversing President Trump’s transgender military ban and signing an executive order directing federal agencies to implement the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision against anti-LGBTQ discrimination to the fullest extent possible.

The Biden administration has announced an ongoing created an interagency task force charged with making the U.S. government as transgender inclusive, which is the White House says is still ongoing.

Read Biden’s full statement below:

November 20, 2021
 Statement by President Biden on Transgender Day of Remembrance
 This year, at least 46 transgender individuals in this country—and hundreds more around the world—were killed in horrifying acts of violence. Each of these lives was precious. Each of them deserved freedom, justice, and joy. Today, on Transgender Day of Remembrance, we mourn those we lost in the deadliest year on record for transgender Americans, as well as the countless other transgender people—disproportionately Black and brown transgender women and girls—who face brutal violence, discrimination, and harassment.
 
In spite of our progress strengthening civil rights for LGBTQI+ Americans, too many transgender people still live in fear and face systemic barriers to freedom and equality. To ensure that our government protects the civil rights of transgender Americans, I charged my team with coordinating across the federal government to address the epidemic of violence and advance equality for transgender people. I continue to call on state leaders and lawmakers to combat the disturbing proliferation of discriminatory state legislation targeting transgender people, especially transgender children. As I have said before, these bills are nothing more than bullying disguised as legislation, they are un-American, and they endanger the safety and well-being of our children. I also continue to urge the Senate to swiftly pass the Equality Act so that all people are able to live free from fear and discrimination.
 
Transgender people are some of the bravest Americans I know. But no person should have to be brave just to live in safety and dignity. Today, we remember. Tomorrow—and every day—we must continue to act.
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House resolution introduced to recognize Transgender Day of Remembrance

2021 deadliest year on record with 47 recorded deaths

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Reps. Marie Newman (left), Pramila Jayapal (center) and Jennifer Wexton have introduced a resolution to recognize the Transgender Day of Remembrance Photos of Newman and Jayapal public domain; Washington Blade photo of Wexton by Michael Key).

On the eve of the Transgender Day of Remembrance, a trio of House Democrats have introduced during a year with the highest recorded deaths of transgender and non-binary people a resolution that would officially recognize the annual occasion.

The measure was introduced by Reps. Marie Newman (D-Ill.), Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.), who are known as vocal transgender advocates and members of the Transgender Equality Task Force, as part of group of 62 members of the U.S. House, according to a statement from the LGBTQ Equality Caucus. The resolution would commemorate Nov. 20 as the Transgender Day of Remembrance.

Newman, who’s been open about having a young transgender daughter, said in a statement violence against transgender Americans, particularly Black and Brown transgender women, has become a “national epidemic.”

“With this resolution, we are not only recognizing the far too many souls lost to violence this year but also honoring their memory with a commitment to fight against anti-trans hate, rhetoric and violence,” Newman said. “Transgender Americans face hateful and disgusting attacks — verbal and physical — every single day just for simply existing in the world, and each of us has a fundamental obligation to speak out against it.”

The Transgender Day of Remembrance comes with 2021 having the highest number of recorded killings of transgender and non-binary people in a single year. A total of 47 deaths have been recorded, according to the LGBTQ Equality Caucus.

Wexton said in a statement the ongoing deaths of transgender people are “cannot be overlooked or ignored,” calling 2021 the deadliest year on record.

“Our trans friends and neighbors face greater threats of violence, bullying, and discrimination in nearly every aspect of their lives, and they deserve justice and equality,” Wexton said.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, under questioning from the Washington Blade last week on whether President Biden was briefed on 2021 being the deadliest year on record for transgender people, said the grim milestone is “terrible and heartbreaking” although she said she was unsure on whether Biden was briefed.

The White House hasn’t responded with any update on whether or not Biden has been briefed as of the eve of the Transgender Day of Remembrance.

Jayapal, who in addition to being a transgender advocate has been the face of the $1.75 trillions Build Back Better plan approved recently in the House, said in a statement the names of each of the transgender dead should be spoken aloud, the action should follow.

“Our resolution acknowledges this truth as we continue our dedicated work to strengthen hate crime laws, pass the Equality Act through the Senate, and ensure that every transgender person is able to live freely as themselves,” Jayapal said.

An LGBTQ Equality Caucus spokesperson didn’t respond Friday to the Blade’s request to comment on whether House leadership gave the sponsors of the legislation any indication the resolution would obtain a floor vote.

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