by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
US Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) announced the introduction of new ENDA (Employment Non-Discrimination Act) legislation at a press conference Wednesday. ENDA would prohibit discrimination by employers, employment agencies, or labor organizations on the basis of an 'individual's actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.'
'We can now take for granted that there will be a vote on the floor of the House of Representatives, almost certainly this calendar year, on a fully inclusive ENDA,' Frank said at the press conference. 'We are on track to pass this bill in the House this year.'
A version of ENDA which omitted protections for Transgender workers passed the US House of Representatives in 2007 by a margin of 235-184, but failed to come up for a vote in the US Senate. Then-President George W Bush had promised to veto the bill if it passed. President Obama has promised to sign ENDA into law.
A companion Senate bill has not yet been introduced, but one is expected shortly. In 2007, Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) sponsored ENDA in the Senate.
Federal law currently protects workers from discrimination on the basis of race, gender, religion, national origin, and disability, but not sexual orientation or gender identity. State laws vary widely. Only 20 states and the District of Columbia ban workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation, and only 13 states and DC expressly ban discrimination based on gender identity.
'Typically, workplace discrimination is the number one complaint among people seeking assistance from our Legal Help Desk,' Lambda Legal noted in a statement following Frank's press conference. 'Workplace equality has been a top priority for all of Lambda Legal's 36-year history.'
In Washington State, the Anderson-Murray Civil Rights Act of 2006 prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, which was defined in the legislation to include gender identity and expression. Anderson-Murray covers discrimination in housing and credit as well as the workplace.
Frank was joined on Wednesday by Reps Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Jared Polis (D-CO) - the other openly Gay members of the House - and Rep Mike Quigley (D-IL). Labor union officials, business leaders, and representatives of mainstream LGBT organizations were also featured.
Baldwin believes ENDA will be a wedge issue that can open the door to full equality for the LGBT community. 'It will be the first piece of major LGBT civil rights legislation ever enacted by this Congress,' she said, 'and once that is in the statute, we don't have any justification for all the other types of discrimination that exists.'
'This piece of legislation is incredibly powerful. It's saying once and for all we know that this discrimination and this bigotry exists, we see it, there's clear evidence, it is wrong, and now, with our work, it will become illegal.'
While no Republicans attended Frank's press conference, six are among the118 Representatives signing on to ENDA as co-sponsors. Rep Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) is expected to be the lead Republican on ENDA. She represents Florida's 18th Congressional District, which includes concentrations of LGBT voters in Miami and Miami Beach.
Besides Ros-Lehtinen, Republican Reps Michael Castle (R-DE.), Mark Kirk (R-IL), Leonard Lance (R-NJ), Todd Platts (R-PA) and Judy Biggert (R-IL) are listed as co-sponsors of the legislation.
In the Washington state congressional delegation, Reps Jay Inslee (D-1), Jim McDermott (D-7), and Adam Smith (D-9) have all signed on as original co-sponsors. Democrats Rick Larsen (D-2), Brian Baird (D-3), and Norm Dicks (D-6) voted for ENDA in 2007 and are expected to vote Yes again.
Republicans Doc Hastings (R-4) and Cathy McMorris (R-5) are likely to vote No, as they did in 2007. Republican Dave Reichert (R-8) voted Yes in 2007, but he did not return SGN's calls for comment this week.
The decision of the House Democratic leadership to exclude Transgender workers from the 2007 version of ENDA was controversial, with almost every major LGBT organization condemning it. Frank said at the time that he believed he simply lacked the votes to protect Transgender workers.
'If we can pick up 15 Democratic seats,' Frank said before the 2008 election, 'then I think we are in a good position to pass a transgender-inclusive ENDA.'
Democrats gained 20 House seats - and the White House - in 2008. Frank now believes the inclusive ENDA he introduced this week will pass. 'Now, 20 more Democrats replacing 20 Republicans isn't a net gain of 20 for LGBT issues,' he cautioned. 'But it's a net gain of about 14 or 15. There are a couple of Republicans who are with us and a couple of Democrats who are against us.'
Frank also believes intense lobbying by Transgender advocates in the intervening two years has helped swing the political balance of power in favor of an inclusive bill.
'I just need to remind people that when we have trouble doing something in New York, Maryland and Massachusetts, it doesn't get easier when you have South Carolina, Utah and Nebraska,' he said, referring to socially conservative states whose congressional representatives will be voting on the new Transgender-inclusive ENDA.
'But I am encouraged,' he added. 'I think the Transgender community and others have been doing this in a very good way. This time they have been doing the lobbying.'
National LGBT and labor leaders hailed the new legislation.
HRC President Joe Solmonese said, 'We all share the challenges of today's economic downturn, but our community also faces arbitrary discrimination in the workplace, simply because of who we are and who we love. Congress must pass ENDA and ensure that all Americans, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity, get a fair chance to succeed at work.'
'Workplace protections for LGBT people are urgently needed and long overdue,' said NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell. 'The president has said he is ready to sign this bill. All we need now is for Congress to act.'
NGLTF Action Fund Executive Director Rea Carey echoed Kendall, and called on President Obama to press for passage of the bill. 'We are pleased that President Obama has expressed support for this legislation and expect the administration to play a role in assisting with its passage in both the House and Senate.'
'The AFL-CIO strongly supports ENDA, which Rep Barney Frank introduced today in the 111th Congress,' AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said Wednesday. 'Discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity is inconsistent with the principles of equal opportunity and equal employment that our movement has fought for.'
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