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ENDA gets House committee hearing
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ENDA gets House committee hearing

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

The US House of Representatives Education and Labor Committee began hearings on ENDA (the Employment Non-Discrimination Act) Wednesday, September 23.

ENDA's prime sponsor, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) testified in favor of the legislation, as did the other openly Gay members of the House, Reps Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.).

"I find it hard to argue for legislation that bans discrimination," Frank said. "It just seems to be so self-evident that an American who would like to work and support himself or herself ought to be allowed to be judged solely on his or her work ethic and talent that I don't know what more to say."

A version of ENDA which omitted protection for Transgender workers passed the House in 2007. The new ENDA bill - officially HR 3017 - includes all LGBT workers. While Frank also sponsored the 2007 bill, he argued forcefully for the new, inclusive ENDA.

"There is no more reason to discriminate against someone because he or she is Transgender than because he or she is Gay or Lesbian or any other category," he said.

Baldwin cited a 2007 study from the ACLU, finding that nearly 30% of LGBT workers reported that they experience workplace discrimination. One in four said they experience it on a weekly basis.

"There is a clear record demonstrating the need for these protections: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender employees are harassed, fired, not hired and passed over for advancement without regard to their merit," she said.

Polis added that discrimination harms the economy because it "means that somebody who is second-best, or third-best, fills the position rather than the best candidate because the employer discriminates based on criteria that do not affect that person's job in the workplace."

The Committee Chair, Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), also spoke in favor of the legislation.

"Fully qualified individuals are being denied employment or are being fired from their jobs for completely non-work-related reasons," Miller said. "This is profoundly unfair and, indeed, un-American. And, it is bad for business."

However, the Committee's ranking Republican member, Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), opposed the bill - the only Committee member to do so at the hearing.

"HR 3017 represents a significant departure from longstanding civil rights law," Kline said. "It creates an entirely new protected class that is vaguely defined and often subjective."

Kline especially objected to creating protections for "perceived" sexual orientation.

"Attempting to legislate individual perceptions is truly uncharted territory, and it does not take a legal scholar to recognize that such vaguely defined protections will lead to an explosion in litigation and inconsistent judicial decisions," he said.

The Obama administration delegated Equal Opportunity Commission Acting Chair Stewart Ishimaru to testify in support of ENDA. President Obama pledged his support for a fully inclusive ENDA during the 2008 campaign.

Transgender worker Vandy Beth Glenn also testified, describing how she was terminated from her job as an aide to the Georgia General Assembly in 2007, after announcing she was transitioning from male to female.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) introduced the Senate version of ENDA in August. LGBT activists hope that the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee will hold hearings on the legislation this fall.

While several states have enacted anti-discrimination legislation, discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is permitted in 29 states, and discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression is legal in 38 states.

ENDA would expand the protections of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act - which prohibits discrimination by employers based on race, gender and religion - by extending similar protections to sexual orientation and gender identity. The US armed services, veterans' service groups, religious organizations and groups with fewer than 15 employees are exempted from coverage.

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