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Reid to set up ENDA vote before Thanksgiving

Bill to stop anti-LGBT job bias to come to Senate floor this work period

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is set to announce he'll bring ENDA to floor this Thanksgiving (Blade file photo by Michael Key).

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is set to announce he’ll bring ENDA to floor this Thanksgiving (Blade file photo by Michael Key).

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced on the Senate floor Monday that he’ll bring up the Employment Non-Discrimination Act for a vote before Thanksgiving.

In his first remarks following a short recess, Reid said the bill, which would prohibit anti-LGBT bias in the workforce, would be among the items the Senate will take up during the four-week work period.

“We’re going to consider the act known as ENDA,” Reid said, adding that it “failed in the House of Representatives before, but we’re going to take it up here again.”

Adam Jentleson, a Reid spokesperson, said the exact floor timing “remains to be determined based on how votes go this week,” but a vote on the long pursued legislation to prohibit anti-LGBT job bias could come up as early as next week.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), chief sponsor of ENDA, praised Reid in a statement for the decision to bring ENDA to the floor in the coming weeks.

“I thank Majority Leader Reid for committing to bring ENDA to the floor this work period. Americans understand that it’s time to make sure our LGBT friends and family are treated fairly and have the same opportunities,” Merkley said. “Now it’s time for our laws to catch up. People should be judged at work on their ability to do the job, period.”

The Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee reported out ENDA on bipartisan basis in July by a 15-7 vote. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), an original co-sponsor of the bill, and Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) joined all 12 Democratic members of the committee in voting in favor of the legislation.

The legislation is unlikely to proceed to the floor by unanimous consent, so 60 votes will be necessary to end a filibuster. That hurdle is higher than the 54 senators who currently sponsor the bill.

Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, expressed gratitude that Reid is poised to bring the bill to floor vote and said 60 votes are within sight.

“We’re gratified that Senator Reid is bringing this important bill to the floor,” Reid said. “Over the course of the past six months, we’ve worked hard to ensure that senators know their constituents support this bill. We’re in the homestretch of securing the 60 votes necessary and remain optimistic that the support will be there when we need it.”

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, was more bullish and said 60 votes are already present on the floor to pass ENDA.

“We’re ready for a winning vote,” Almeida said. “After months of Republican outreach led by our Legislative Director Christian Berle and teamed with Log Cabin Republicans, we’re confident we have the 60 votes to defeat any attempted filibuster.”

The goal of finding 60 votes to pass ENDA in the Senate is a small hurdle in comparison to finding sufficient support for passing the bill in the House, where Republican control will make passage daunting to say the least.

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, expressed gratitude that a Senate vote on ENDA would take place, but suggested that a House vote will have to come at later time when the makeup is different.

“Because of all the work people have done over th­­e years at the grassroots level and on Capitol Hill, we’re optimistic that the Senate vote will go our way,” Keisling said. “The forthcoming Senate vote will change the playing field once we have a friendlier House that can tackle ENDA.”

Advocacy groups have been ramping up their efforts on ENDA in expectations that a Senate vote on the bill would take place sometime this fall. The most prominent among them is Obama’s political arm, Organizing for Action.

Last week, Organizing for Action held a conference call with supporters and Matt McTighe, campaign manager for Americans for Workplace Opportunity, to discuss the legislation. The organization has also sent out to email blasts to supporters asking them to let the senators know that backing ENDA “is about standing up for what’s right.”

Ben Finkenbinder, an OFA spokesperson, said his organization is helping to pass ENDA because it’s about making sure all Americans have equal opportunity in the workplace.

“OFA is working to make sure Americans know what is at stake in the ENDA fight, ensuring all Americans who work hard have a fair shot — which means every American having the same protections in the workplace, no matter who they are or whom they love,” Finkenbinder said.

With the exception of three lawmakers, every Democrat in the Senate is an ENDA co-sponsor. The three holdouts are Sens. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.). Additional Republicans that Log Cabin has said could support the bill are Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Dean Heller (R-Nev.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.).

According to a Friday report in the Washington Post, Cindy McCain has also engaged in lobbying efforts to encourage her husband Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to back ENDA. She signed a postcard from the Human Rights Campaign urging her husband to support the bill.

The Post reported that HRC organizer John Gomez spotted Cindy McCain at a Staples in Arizona. After talking with her about ENDA, Cindy McCain said she shared her support for the bill, signing the postcard and addressed it to her husband, according to the Post.

Freedom to Work’s Almeida said his organization has been pursuing Latino voters in efforts to encourage senators in Florida, Arizona in Nevada, which have significant Latino populations, to support the legislation.

“Last week we launched phone-banking to thousands of registered Latino voters in Arizona and Nevada asking them to patch-through to Senators McCain, Flake and Heller to urge them to vote ‘yes,'” Almeida said. “We’re using bilingual call centers and the same parameters for Latino voter lists that national Latino organizations used earlier this year to flood the Senate with calls in favor of immigration reform.”

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District of Columbia

Activists, policy makers mark Celebrate Bisexual Day in D.C.

BiPlus Organizing US hosted event at HRC

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Adrian Shanker, senior advisor for LGBTQI+ health equity in the U.S.Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health, speaks at a Bisexual Awareness Day event at the Human Rights Campaign on Sept. 23, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Cal Benn)

BiPlus Organizing US on Saturday hosted a Celebrate Bisexual Day event at the Human Rights Campaign.

Fiona Dawson, co-founder of BiPlus Organizing US, and Mélanie Snail, committee member of the organization, emceed the event. HRC Senior Vice President of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Rebecca Hershey welcomed attendees. 

Heyshey discussed her journey as a bisexual, mixed race, Jewish woman. Hershey paraphrased Adrienne Maree Brown, stating “change is coming, we are creating change.” 

PFLAG Learning and Inclusion Manager Mackenzie Harte gave a presentation on the history of bisexual identities, defined terms surrounding gender and sexuality and went over statistics of discrimination and health disparities that bisexual individuals face.

Harte’s presentation noted 48 percent of bisexual individuals reported an annual income of less than $30,000, compared to 30 percent of gay men, 39 percent of lesbians and 28 percent of all adults in the U.S. 

Harte went on to say 28 percent of bisexual students report having attempted suicide; and bisexual people have a higher risk of mood disorders, substance abuse and mental illness than their lesbian, gay, or straight cohorts. Bisexual people of all genders face higher rates of sexual assault than those same peers. One reason for these statistics is isolation: 39 percent of bisexual men and 33 percent of bisexual women report not being out to any health care provider, and only 44 percent of bisexual youth report having an adult they could turn to if they were sad. 

Harte also spoke about the Bisexual Manifesto, which the Bay Area Bisexual Network wrote in 1990. 

“The bisexual manifesto very intentionally was not binary,” Harte said.

They said the text works against the stigma and stereotypes that claim bisexuality is confined to “male, female.” 

Tania Israel, a bisexual advocate and psychology professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, shared some of her bisexual haikus, which she calls, “bikus.”

Dawson moderated the next panel.

Panelists included Nicole Holmes, a bisexual advocate and public health professional, National Center for Transgender Equality Communications Director Leroy Thomas and NCTE Policy Counsel Kris Tassone. 

The panel talked about how shame and stigma drive the statistics that negatively impact the bisexual community. Another word that came up as a driving force was “intersectionality.” 

Holmes said that when it comes to intersectionality, it’s important to not just “list identities,” but to look deep into “the purpose behind why we are talking about intersectional identities” in the first place.

Adrian Shanker, senior advisor on LGBTQ+ Health Equity for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, spoke about health equity for the bisexual community. 

“Striving for health equity remains a core priority. It also remains an unmet dream,” said Shanker. “Queer people have always had to be our own health advocates.” While health equity may not be here yet, Shanker says there is much in the works for the LGBTQ community, bisexuals specifically. 

Shanker cited a National Cancer Institute funding opportunity that invites research proposals to cancer care for sexual and gender minorities, stating bisexual specific proposals are welcome. The impending potential government shutdown may postpone it. 

The Biden-Harris administration is also working to ban so-called conversion therapy at the federal level. Additionally, 988, the national suicide prevention hotline, began a program to offer specialized support for LGBTQ youth and young adults last year. 

Shanker said bisexual people should prioritize preventative screenings for skin cancer, oral cancer, lung cancer, regular cervical and anal pap tests, mammograms, prostate exams and colonoscopies. 

“If you have a body part, get it screened,” said Shanker. 

Megan Townsend, senior director of entertainment research and analysis for the GLAAD Media Institute, did a presentation on bisexual representation in the media and opportunities for advancement. 

 “I want to see bi+/pan colors displayed on the White House,” said Dawson. “I want every national LGBTQIA+ organization to be talking about us, to put our concerns front and center.”

The data presented can be found here.

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Delaware

Flight attendants union endorses Sarah McBride

Del. lawmaker would be first transgender member of Congress

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Delaware state Sen. Sarah McBride speaks at the LGBTQ+ Victory Fund National Champagne Brunch in D.C. on April 10, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Delaware congressional candidate Sarah McBride has earned the support of the Association of Flight Attendants, the nation’s most prominent flight attendant union.

It’s the second big labor endorsement for McBride after the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 27’s endorsement. The Association of Flight Attendants praised her for spearheading efforts to bring paid family and medical leave to Delaware, which will take effect in 2026. 

“Sarah’s record in the Delaware Senate shows that she understands how to work collaboratively, build power and make big things happen,” the union’s president, Sara Nelson, wrote in a press release shared exclusively with the Washington Blade. “That’s the kind of leader we need in Congress, and we’re proud to endorse her candidacy.”

McBride also announced her support for creating a list of abusive passengers and banning them from flying. Each airline has a list of passengers banned from flying, but airlines don’t share the lists with each other, though Delta Air Lines has asked them, because of “legal and operational challenges,” as a representative for the airline industry trade group Airlines of America told a House committee in September 2021.

“Right now, someone can be violent towards a flight attendant or another passenger and walk directly off of that flight and onto one with a different airline to endanger more people,” an Association of Flight Attendants spokesperson wrote in a statement. 

The Protection from Abusive Passengers Act would put the Transportation Security Administration in charge of building the database of passengers fined or convicted of abuse and has bipartisan support but has sat idly in committee since March. It failed to pass last year, and civil rights groups including the American Civil Liberties Union have charged that the list would disproportionately target people of color and strip and a better step to reducing hostility would be making flights more comfortable. Reports of defiant and unruly passengers have more than doubled between 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic, and 2022.

“I thank the Association of Flight Attendants for endorsing our campaign,” McBride wrote in the press release. “It’s important that we recognize and celebrate the symbiotic relationship between strong, unionized workforces and the continued growth of employers here in our state.”

The union representing 50,000 flight attendants across 19 airlines is putting pressure on airlines to grant union demands in contract negotiations. At American Airlines, unionized flight attendants voted to authorize a strike — putting pressure on the airline to accede to its demands. Flight attendants at Alaska Airlines say they are ready to strike but have not voted to authorize one yet. United Airlines flight attendants picketed at 19 airports around the country in August, ratcheting up the pressure. 

The union’s endorsement adds to a growing list of McBride endorsements, including 21 Delaware legislators, the United Food and Commercial Workers, the Human Rights Campaign, EMILY’s List, and Delaware Stonewall PAC. McBride, who would be the first openly transgender politician in Congress, has powerful connections in Washington — including with the White House — and is favored to win Delaware’s lone House seat. 

A poll commissioned by HRC shows her leading the pack of three candidates vying for the seat — 44 percent of “likely Democratic voters” told pollster company Change Research, which works with liberal organizations. The poll of 531 likely Delaware Democratic primary voters, though, was conducted only online — meaning those with less familiarity or access to the internet may not have been counted — and Change Research’s methodology for screening likely voters is unclear. The company also did not provide a breakdown of respondents by age, gender, and race, but says it uses an algorithm to make the results representative.  

Nelson said McBride’s time in Delaware’s state Senate shows her prowess in building power and working collaboratively.  

“That’s the kind of leader we need in Congress, and we’re proud to endorse her candidacy,” she wrote.

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The White House

Biden, Harris, deliver remarks for White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention

Pulse survivor Brandon Wolf among those who spoke

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President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris listen as U.S. Rep. Maxwell Alejandro Frost (D-Fla.) addresses an audience in the Rose Garden including federal, state and local officials, survivors and family members, and gun violence prevention advocates on Sept. 22, 2023. (Photo courtesy of Brandon Wolf)

President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and U.S. Rep. Maxwell Frost (D-Fla.) addressed an audience from the Rose Garden of the White House on Friday to honor the establishment of a first-ever White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention.

In a press release Thursday announcing the move, the administration said its aim is to implement and expand the provisions of last year’s Bipartisan Safer Communities Act along with those contained in the president’s executive orders targeting issues of gun violence.

Additionally, Biden explained in his remarks, the office will coordinate more support for survivors, families and communities, including mental health services and financial aid; identify new avenues for executive action; and “expand our coalition of partners in states and cities across America” given the need for legislative solutions on the local and state level.

Harris, who will oversee the office, pledged to “use the full power of the federal government to strengthen the coalition of survivors and advocates and students and teachers and elected leaders to save lives and fight for the right of all people to be safe from fear and to be able to live a life where they understand that they are supported in that desire and that right.”

The vice president noted her close experiences with the devastating consequences of gun violence in her work as a federal prosecutor, San Francisco district attorney, California attorney general and in her current role.

Biden’s comments also included highlights of his administration’s accomplishments combatting gun violence and a call to action for Congress to do more. “It’s time again to ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines,” he told lawmakers.

The president also credited the the work of advocates including those who were gathered at the White House on Friday: “all of you here today, all across the country, survivors, families, advocates — especially young people who demand our nation do better to protect all; who protested, organized, voted, and ran for office, and, yes, marched for their lives.”

Taking the stage before introducing Biden, Frost noted that “Right before I was elected to Congress, I served as the national organizing director for March for Our Lives, a movement that inspired young people across the nation to demand safe communities.”

“The president understands that this issue especially for young people, especially for marginalized communities, is a matter of survival,” the congressman said. And the formation of this office, “comes from Pulse to Parkland,” he said, adding, “we fight because we love.”

Human Rights Campaign National Press Secretary Brandon Wolf, a survivor of the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting, which was America’s second deadliest mass shooting and the deadliest against the LGBTQ community, shared a comment with the Washington Blade after Friday’s ceremony:

“Seven years ago, when my best friends and 47 others were murdered at our safe place — Pulse Nightclub — we promised to honor them with action. This is what that looks like. This deep investment in the fight to end gun violence matters, and I cannot wait to see Vice President Harris lead these efforts. We can blaze the path toward a future free of gun violence. And today marked an important step in that direction.”

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