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HISTORIC: SENATE PASSES ENDA

10 Republicans join 54 Dems to approve pro-LGBT bill for first time

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Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) is among the supporters of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key).

For the first time in history, the U.S. Senate approved with bipartisan support a long sought piece of legislation that would bar employers from discriminating against or firing workers based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

By a vote of 64-32, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act passed the Senate, marking the first time that either chamber of Congress has passed a version of the bill with protections for transgender workers.

A total of 10 Republicans voted in favor of the bill: Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), Dean Heller (R-Nev.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). All 54 Democrats present voted in favor of the legislation.

The vote also marks a turnaround for the Senate. In 1996, a version of ENDA came to the floor as part of a deal to bring up the Defense of Marriage Act for a vote, but the pro-gay bill failed at that time.

Prior to the vote, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), ENDA’s chief sponsor, delivered a speech on the Senate floor recognizing the historic nature of the moment.

“I look forward to this vote, this vote for liberty, this vote for freedom, this vote for opportunity, this vote for a fair and just America,” Merkley said.

Merkley also recognized the “champions of liberty” he said helped move ENDA forward like lesbian Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Republican senators who joined in support of the bill.

Senators approved ENDA after three days of debate on the legislation, which began on Monday morning. Many senators spoke out in favor of the legislation ranging from Democrats like Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) to Republicans like Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.).

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) invoked the LGBT non-discrimination law in Minnesota as evidence the country can enact a similar statute on a nationwide basis.

“We have had this law in place for over 20 years in Minnesota, and what has been the effect?” Franken said. “For LGBT Minnesotans, it has meant that they don’t have to live in fear of being fired, or discriminated against in hiring, just because of who they are or whom they love. That is a big deal.”

The only senator to speak out in opposition to the legislation was Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.). On Thursday morning, Coats said he couldn’t bring himself to support ENDA out of concern for religious liberties of employers — despite the exemption in the bill for religious institutions.

“I oppose discrimination of any kind, and that includes discrimination of individuals or institutions for their faith and values, which often gets lost and has been lost in this discussion,” Coats said. “So there’s two types of discrimination here we’re dealing with and one of those goes to the very fundamental right granted to every American through our Constitution, a cherished value of freedom of expression and religion. And I believe this bill diminishes that freedom.”

Flake, who initially expressed opposition to the bill over its transgender protections, said he ultimately voted “yes” on the bill “to protect the rights of individuals.” In 2007, Flake voted as a U.S. House member for a version of ENDA with sexual orientation-only protections.

“While I had concerns about expanding protections beyond those House provisions, after consideration, I believe supporting this bill is the right thing to do,” Flake said. “I am hopeful that the bill moves forward in a way that works for employers as well as employees.”

McCain issued a similar statement saying he voted in favor of ENDA because of his opposition to employment discrimination.

“I have always believed that workplace discrimination – whether based on religion, gender, race, national origin or sexual orientation – is inconsistent with the basic values that America holds dear,” McCain said. “With the addition of an amendment I co-sponsored with Senators Rob Portman and Kelly Ayotte strengthening protections for religious institutions, I am pleased to support this legislation.”

Advocates praise vote, look to House of Representatives, White House

LGBT advocates heaped praise on the Senate for passing ENDA as they turned their attention to the House of Representatives, where Republican control makes passage significantly more challenging, and the White House.

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said the Senate made history “by standing up for a fundamental American truth.”

“Each and every American worker should be judged based on the work they do, and never based on who they are,” Griffin said. “This broad Senate coalition has sent a vital message that civil rights legislation should never be tied up by partisan political games.”

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, commended the Senate for approving ENDA on a bi-partisan basis and said the House should take the same action.

“The Senate has taken a bi-partisan and historic step toward ensuring that gay and transgender Americans have the same workplace protections that give all Americans a fair shot to succeed on the job,” Almeida said. “Our fight now moves to the House of Representatives where Speaker Boehner and the Republican Conference will have to decide which side of history they want to stand on.”

Both Griffin and Almeida said President Obama should follow up on the Senate vote by issuing an executive order barring federal contractors from engaging in LGBT discrimination.

Griffin said the directive would send a clear signal against “in support of workplace fairness” in addition to a House vote.

“This order is not a silver bullet, and ENDA is vitally necessary after the order is signed,” Griffin said. “But the Human Rights Campaign has long argued that, by signing the order, President Obama can extend workplace protections to over 16 million American workers.”

Tony Perkins, president of the anti-gay Family Research Council, responded to Senate passage of ENDA with dismay.

“Americans should be free to disagree, but ENDA would lead to a form of reverse discrimination,” Perkins said. “Anyone who expresses or promotes a view of family or morality that can be interpreted to be a disapproval of homosexual or transgender conduct will be subject to retaliation and discrimination.”

Despite claims like these from social conservatives, LGBT advocates have insisted that the bill would do nothing more than prohibit employers from discriminating against LGBT employees.

Speaking with the Washington Blade prior to the vote, Merkley said the task now for ENDA supporters is taking the momentum from the Senate to “create an irresistible pressure” for consideration in the House.

“With no shred of an argument to sustaining this type of discrimination, and a strong bi-partisan vote in the Senate, I hope we can create the pressure in the House to act,” Merkley said.

Similar to prior claims made by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Merkley predicted that ENDA would pass the House if Republican leadership held a vote on the legislation.

“I do believe that if an up-or-down vote was held on what we would pass through the Senate that it would pass the House,” Merkley said. “If a majority of the House is ready to say ‘no’ to discrimination, it is wrong for the leadership to block that vote, and I hope that they’ll come to see that view and allow such a vote to happen.”

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney addressed the vote on Thursday during his routine news briefing taking place at the same time, saying passage of ENDA in the House would be the “right thing to do because we’re all equal.”

“To oppose this kind of legislation is to announce that you want to be left behind by history,” Carney said. “The necessity of making sure that every American has equal rights is fundamental to our history and to who we are. And that’s what this legislation represents. Some of the objections that I’ve heard from members in the House are reminiscent of objections that opponents of other civil rights legislation put forward. And they were wrong then and they’re wrong now.”

The vote on final passage took place about 45 minutes after the Senate invoked cloture by a vote of 64-34 to end debate on the legislation.

The Senate earlier held a cloture vote Monday on ENDA, but that vote was to begin debate on the legislation. A second cloture vote was necessary to end debate and proceed to final vote.

ENDA amendments debated

Two amendments were also discussed with respect to the legislation. One was adopted, the other was not.

On Thursday, the Senate defeated an amendment proposed by Sen. Pat Toomney (R-Pa.) that would have expanded the groups eligible under ENDA’s religious exemption. That amendment, which required 60 votes to pass, failed on a 43-55 vote.

Prior to the vote, Toomey said his measure was an attempt to “strike an appropriate balance,” saying he opposes discrimination against LGBT people, but “another important American value is freedom, and particularly religious freedom.”

But Harkin spoke out on the Senate floor against the Toomey amendment for going too far. Noting ENDA already has a religious exemption, Harkin said if the Toomey amendment were approved, “thousands of for-profit businesses” would be allowed to discriminate.

Baldwin also said the expansion of the religious exemption that Toomey proposed wasn’t the appropriate balance.

“A capable employee in a non-religious [institution] should not be fired, or not be hired, because of his or her employer’s individual religious beliefs,” Baldwin said.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) initially cast a vote “no” vote in opposition to the amendment. But just before the vote was called, he rushed into the Senate chamber to inform the clerk he wanted to vote “yes” on the measure.

Notably, even though his amendment failed, Toomey voted “yes” in favor of ENDA during final passage.

On Wednesday, the Senate adopted with no controversy by voice vote an amendment to ENDA, introduced by Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), to ensure that institutions that invoke the religious exemption under ENDA won’t face retaliation from state, local or federal governments. LGBT advocates didn’t oppose the measure because they said it would simply reinforce the status quo.

Speaking on the floor, Ayotte commended the Senate for adopting the amendment to ENDA, which she said enables her to come on board in support.

“I have long been a strong supporter of the rights of conscience, of the rights under the First Amendment of the Constitution to religious freedom, and these protections are very important within this bill,” Ayotte said.

Two other amendments that were filed — one proposed by Sens. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) to attach a national right-to-work law to ENDA, another proposed by Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) that reportedly would have banned sex-selective abortions — didn’t come up for a vote.

Merkley said only the Portman and Toomey amendments were allowed to come up as a part of a unanimous consent agreement reached on Wednesday.

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Queen calls for conversion therapy ban in UK

British government urged to move quickly to prohibit practice

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Queen Elizabeth II (Photo public domain)

 

Queen Elizabeth II on Tuesday in a speech that marked the opening of Parliament called for a ban on so-called conversion therapy in England and Wales.

“Measures will be brought forward to address racial and ethnic disparities and ban conversion therapy,” Elizabeth said. 

While this announcement forecasts a step forward in LGBTQ activism and a change in the culture surrounding LGBTQ acceptance in the U.K.; the queen’s statement was met with hesitation, especially with regards to the when and how the ban will be implemented. 

According to the U.K.’s public sector information website, the passing of legislation to implement the ban will be preceded by a consultation and a survey of public opinion to ensure that the ban can address conversion therapy while “protecting the medical profession; defending freedom of speech; and upholding religious freedom.”

“We welcome the commitment to introduce legislation to ban so-called ‘conversion therapy’,” commented Nancy Kelley, CEO of Stonewall, one of the U.K.’s leading LGBTQ rights organizations. “However, the news of a consultation is concerning and will be hard for our communities to hear.”

“We don’t need a consultation to know that all practices that seek to convert, suppress, cure or change us are dangerous, abusive and must be banned,” Kelley further mentioned. “Lesbian, gay, bi, trans, intersex and ace communities have been waiting almost three years for the U.K. government to follow through on their promise to ban all conversion practices, and any delay leaves us at further risk of abuse.”

Peter Tatchell, director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation, also welcomed the queen’s announcement on the introduction of the new legislation, however, he expressed distaste at the “further delay, lack of clarity, and absence of a timetable for the ban.”

“The government has been promising this ban for nearly three years and still we don’t have it. All we’ve had is more than 1,000 days of dithering,” said Tatchell. “We have had countless studies and consultations. We don’t need any more. It’s time (Prime Minister) Boris (Johnson) got on with it and got this ban done.” 

“We need to see the proposed legislation,” Tatchell further proposed. “It must not allow religious exemptions. Faith bodies are the main proponents. The ban needs to be full and comprehensive and provide statutory support for victims and survivors.”

Similar sentiments have frequented social media platforms, with various LGBTQ individuals and allies criticizing the action plan to implement legislation that addresses conversion therapy.

“The U.K. government wants to consult the public before the ban, but we don’t need to consult before the banning,” Twitter user @jakepayne1994 tweeted. “There shouldn’t be consultation on torture and abuse. There should be a full ban on LGBT+ conversion therapy with no exceptions.”

“The government promised a blanket ban on gay conversion therapy years ago,” @ohkelliott tweeted. “Every waking second that goes by, people in the U.K. are undergoing torment, physical and psychological abuse, and vile life changing torture whilst the government are delaying its legislation.”

Calls to action for the British government to expedite the process of introducing the legislation have emerged and Tatchell mentions “the U.K. government must publish a comprehensive bill now, as well as a clear timeline for its implementation.” 

“As part of the Ban Conversion Therapy Coalition, we will continue to hold the U.K. government to account on their promise to ban this abhorrent practice for good, everywhere it happens and to everyone it harms, and protect our communities from harm,” said Tatchell.

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Mixed reviews from transgender Republicans on Caitlyn Jenner’s run

Remarks on kids in sport a sore point among LGBTQ advocacy groups

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Caitlyn Jenner was quickly repudiated by LGBTQ advocates after she entered California’s recall election as a gubernatorial candidate — and her fellow transgender Republicans are mixed over whether or not to back her up.

Transgender Republicans are few in number, but some are in high-profile positions and have been working with their party to change its approach and drop its attacks on transgender people, whether it be in the military, public bathrooms, or school sports.

Jordan Evans, a Charlton, Mass.-based transgender Republican who unsuccessfully last year ran to become a Massachusetts Republican State Committee Woman, told the Washington Blade she had high hopes for Jenner as a fellow transgender candidate, but they were quickly dashed after her campaign launched.

“My feelings changed quickly after Caitlyn made it clear that she was less interested in using this opportunity to present the Republican Party and conservative movements with an accessible and high-profile introduction to the trans community and simply wanted to be a trans woman who espoused the same destructive approaches that we just so happen to be seeing all over the country,” Evans said.

Evans said the high hopes she had were based on the transgender advocacy she said Jenner was doing behind the scenes and the potential for two prominent LGBTQ Republicans to run for governor in California. After all, Jenner may soon be joined in the race by Richard Grenell, who was U.S. ambassador to Germany and acting director of national intelligence before becoming the face of LGBTQ outreach for Trump’s failed re-election.

But Jenner’s approach to the gubernatorial recall in California, Evans said, is “putting trans youth at risk for a campaign that isn’t even transformative for Republicans during this volatile time.”

“Even her current messaging is superficial and does nothing to help dispel claims that she’s unqualified,” Evans said. “The only positive thing that I’ve seen come from this is conservative mainstream media using her correct pronouns, but that is not worth the damage that she’s inflicting.”

Much of the disappointment over Jenner’s campaign is the result of her essentially throwing transgender kids under the bus as part of her campaign at a time when state legislatures are advancing legislation against them, including the bills that would essentially bar transgender girls from participating in school sports.

Jenner, declining to push back on these measures and assert transgender kids have a place in sports, instead essentially endorsed the bills shortly after she announced her candidacy.

“If you’re born as a biological boy, you shouldn’t be allowed to compete in girls’ sports,” Jenner told TMZ, which asked her about the hot-button issue during a Sunday morning coffee run.

Jenner dug deeper into MAGA-world at the expense of solidarity with the transgender community. Last week, Jenner retweeted Jenna Ellis, who has a notoriously anti-LGBTQ background and was criticized just last year for refusing to use the personal pronouns of Rachel Levine, who’s now assistant secretary of health and the first openly transgender presidential appointee to win Senate confirmation.

Jennifer Williams, a New Jersey-based transgender Republican who unsuccessfully ran for a seat in the New Jersey General Assembly last year, said via email Jenner “did much good for several years by educating millions of people around the world about transgender folks,” but won’t countenance the candidate’s remarks on transgender kids in sports.

“In regard to her current run for California governor, her recent comments regarding transgender youth playing sports are confusing,” Williams said. “Just last year, she said that she supported transgender female athletes. Caitlyn should consult with tennis great Billie Jean King, soccer star Megan Rapinoe or WNBA legend Candace Parker on the subject of transgender athletes in women’s sports, as they are very well versed on the matter.”

At a time when state legislatures are pushing through legislation targeting transgender youth, restricting their access to sports and transition-related care, Jenner’s refusal to repudiate those measures has become a focal point for opposition to her candidacy from LGBTQ advocacy groups, who say she’s “out of touch” (although none were supporting her even before she made those comments).

The LGBTQ Victory Fund, which supports LGBTQ political candidates and public officials, has signaled it wants nothing to do with Jenner.

Sean Meloy, vice president of political programs for LGBTQ Victory Fund, said Jenner hasn’t applied for an endorsement from the Victory Fund “and she shouldn’t bother to.”

“Her opposition to full trans inclusion – particularly for trans kids in sports – makes her ineligible for the endorsement,” Meloy said. “There are many great trans candidates running this cycle who are champions for equality.”

To be sure, Jenner used her celebrity status as a former reality TV star and Olympic champion on behalf of transgender lobbyists, urging donations to groups like the National Center for Transgender Equality and going to Capitol Hill to lobby Republicans on transgender issues. Jenner has also given money for transgender kids to attend college, giving transgender advocate Blossom Brown a check for $20,000 on “The Ellen Show” in 2015.

Blaire White, a transgender conservative and YouTube personality, drew on these examples of Jenner helping transgender youth in a video earlier this month and said the two once had dinner together, but wasn’t yet ready to make a endorsement.

“I will say that until she lays out all of her policy positions and until she’s more on record in long form really talking about what she wants to do for the state of California, I can’t say for sure I would vote for her and would not vote for her,” White concluded in the video. “What I can say is: I’m interested. And also, being under Gavin Newson’s governorship, I would literally vote for a triple-amputee frog over Gavin Newsom, so she already has that going for her.”

Jenner’s campaign couldn’t be reached for comment for this article on the repudiation of her campaign from LGBTQ advocacy groups.

Gina Roberts, who’s the first transgender Republican elected to public office in California and a member of the San Diego GOP Central Committee, said she’s neutral for the time being as an elected Republican Party leader, but nonetheless had good things to say about Jenner’s candidacy.

“I think it’s awesome,” Roberts said. “It’s kind of indicative of how cool the Republican Party in California is because nobody really cares or it makes any difference. I mean, I was the first elected GOP transgender person in California and I think we’re ready for No. 2.”

Asked whether Jenner’s comments about allowing transgender kids in sports was troubling, Roberts said that wasn’t the case because she has her own reservations.

“I have pretty much the same opinion because … there’s so many nuances in that,” Roberts said. “If somebody transitions after they’ve gone through puberty, there is a big difference, especially in high school. If they transition beforehand, it’s not a big deal.”

A gun enthusiast and supporter of gun owner’s rights, Roberts said she competes in women’s events in shooting sports, but there’s a difference because she doesn’t “really have any advantages all those young, small ladies can pull a lot faster than I do and shoot faster than I do.”

Roberts concluded she’ll personally make a decision about whom she’ll support in the California recall election after Grenell announces whether or not he’ll enter the race, but can’t say anything until the San Diego GOP Central Committee issues an endorsement.

“He’s a good friend of mine, too,” Roberts said. “I know both of them. I think they’d both be certainly better than Gavin Newsom, I have to stay neutral until the county party decides who they’re going to endorse. I will support somebody or another in the endorsement process, but I can’t publicly announce it.”

Although LGBTQ groups want nothing to do with her campaign, Jenner’s approach has garnered the attention of prominent conservatives, who are taking her seriously as a candidate. One of Jenner’s first interviews was on Fox News’ Sean Hannity, a Trump ally with considerable sway among his viewers. Hannity was able to find common ground with Jenner, including agreement on seeing California wildfires as a problem with forest management as opposed to climate change.

Kayleigh McEnany, who served as White House press secretary in Trump’s final year in the White House and defended in the media his efforts to challenge his 2020 election loss in court, signaled her openness to Jenner’s candidacy after the Hannity interview.

“I really enjoyed watching @Caitlyn_Jenner’s interview with @seanhannity,” McEnany tweeted. “I found Caitlyn to be well-informed, sincere, and laser-focused on undoing the socialist, radical, a-scientific policies of Biden & the left. Very good.”

In theory, that support combined with Jenner’s visibility might be enough to propel Jenner to victory. In the recall election, California will answer two questions, whether California Gov. Gavin Newsom should be recalled, and if so, which candidate should replace him. The contender with the plurality of votes would win the election, even if that’s less than a majority vote, and become the next governor. There isn’t a run-off if no candidate fails to obtain a majority.

With Jenner’s name recognition as a celebrity, that achievement could be in her reach. After all, Arnold Schwarzenegger won the 2004 recall election in California as a Republican based on his celebrity status, and ended up becoming a popular governor.

But the modest inroads Jenner has made with the acceptance of conservatives and potential to win isn’t enough for other transgender Republicans.

Evans, for example, said Jenner’s candidacy is not only a disappointment, but threatening the potential candidacies of transgender hopefuls in the future.

“It’s difficult to be in electoral politics, and that’s even more true when you’re a member of a marginalized community,” Evans said. “Caitlyn’s behavior is making it even more challenging for the trans community to be visible in a field where we desperately need to be seen. She’s casting a tall shadow on our ability to have a voice and is giving credibility to lawmakers and local leaders simply unwilling to view us with decency and respect.”

Williams said Jenner should avoid talking about transgender issues over the course of her gubernatorial run “and instead focus on the hard, critical policy issues facing California.”

“It is a state in crisis and she has to run a very serious campaign and not rely on her celebrity or LGBTQ status to win over voters’ hearts and minds — just like all other LGBTQ candidates around the country need to do when they run for public office,” Williams said.

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100th anniversary celebration of Dupont Circle fountain set for May 17

GWU student creates tribute video

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The iconic Dupont Circle fountain turns 100 this month. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

LGBTQ residents and longtime visitors to D.C.’s Dupont Circle neighborhood are expected to be among the participants in the 100th anniversary celebration of the installation of the Dupont Circle fountain scheduled to be held at the circle on Monday, May 17.

Aaron DeNu, president of Dupont Festival, a nonprofit arts and cultural programming group that’s organizing the celebration, says it will take place from noon to at least sunset inside Dupont Circle.

The celebration will take place one week after the May 10 release of a YouTube video, “How Dupont Circle Evolved as a Hub for LGBTQ+ Life in the District,” produced by George Washington University student Dante Schulz. Schulz is the video editor for the G.W. student newspaper The Hatchet.

Among those appearing in the documentary video are veteran LGBTQ rights activists Deacon Maccubbin and his husband Jim Bennett, who owned and operated the Dupont Circle LGBTQ bookstore Lambda Rising beginning in the 1970s, which is credited with contributing to Dupont Circle’s reputation as the epicenter of D.C.’s LGBTQ community for many years.

Also appearing in the video is longtime D.C. gay activist and Dupont Circle area resident Craig Howell, a former president of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance.

“At this point in time due to COVID restrictions we’re not going to be doing any particular formal gathering of folks,” DeNu told the Washington Blade in describing the May 17 celebration. “But we’ll have a soundtrack that’s playing throughout the day from that original ceremony – the same songs they used in the original dedication a hundred years ago,” he said.

DeNu said the event will also feature “historic imagery” related to Dupont Circle and the people who have gathered there over the years.

“So, we’re really just inviting people to come and have lunch, stop by the park after work, and just stop and reflect on 100 years of Dupont Circle fountain, take a look at the imagery and see some old friends and hopefully stop by and see the Dupont businesses that are around the area,” DeNu said.

The LGBTQ video produced by Dante Schultz can be accessed here.

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