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ENDA sit-ins target Speaker Pelosi
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ENDA sit-ins target Speaker Pelosi

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Less than three hours after Lt. Dan Choi, Capt. Jim Pietrangelo, and GetEqual founder Robin McGehee were arrested in front of the White House, GetEqual co-founder Kip Williams announced a sit-in at the offices of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in San Francisco.

A simultaneous sit-in also occupied the Speaker's office in D.C.

GetEqual demonstrators hoped to pressure Pelosi to move ENDA (the Employment Non-Discrimination Act) to a floor vote.

ENDA would expand Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act to prohibit workplace discrimination against LGBT workers.

The sit-ins began about 1:45 p.m. PDT. GetEqual demonstrators reported live on Twitter for the rest of the day.

At about 3:00 p.m. tweets from the DC demonstrators reported "Cops gathering outside. We love you all. Likely to be signing off shortly. Stay loud, and GetEQUAL!"

Just before 4:00 p.m. PDT, Kip Williams tweeted "SF activists released with citation n fine 4 disturbance charge after sit-in."

At the same time in D.C., GetEqual demonstrators told police "that the group won't leave until Pelosi commits to an ENDA floor vote."

Pelosi spokesperson Dan Bernal reportedly stated that the Speaker "has no commitment or timeframe" to pass the legislation.

At 4:15 p.m. PDT, a D.C. demonstrator tweeted "US Capitol police try and move in to arrest GetEqual occupants of Speaker Pelosi's office - but we lock the door from inside! *standoff*"

D.C. police reportedly entered Pelosi's office and arrested the demonstrators - now dubbed the "ENDA 8" - at about 4:45 p.m. PDT.

As SGN goes to press, at least four of the "ENDA 8" were reportedly taken to the D.C. Central Cell Block, where Choi and Pietrangelo are also being held.

Earlier in the day, Pelosi was also the target of a blog swarm, with a number of LGBT and progressive blogs participating.

Daily Kos, Open Left, Bilerico Project, Pam's House Blend, Joe My God, Michelangelo Signorile, Americablog, David Mixner, Daily Gotham, Culture Kitchen, Taylor Marsh, PageOneQ, Towleroad, and others urged their readers to phone the speaker's office and demand an immediate floor vote on ENDA.

The speaker's phone lines were busy all morning as SGN tried to call for comment.

FRUSTRATION WITH CONGRESS

ENDA prime sponsor Barney Frank (D-Mass.) said in February that Speaker Pelosi had promised him a floor vote on the measure in March. Frank's previous statements predicted ENDA votes in August, September, October, and November 2009.

A House Education and Labor Committee markup of ENDA scheduled for November last year was cancelled without explanation and has never been rescheduled.

As March draws to a close and yet another deadline seems to be passing, LGBT activists have grown increasingly frustrated with the lack of progress on issues like ENDA and DADT repeal.

Speaking on a video shot outside the San Francisco Federal Building, Williams said, "We've come to demand that ENDA come to the floor for a vote immediately. We're done talking about it. We're done with excuses and delays and compromises. Now we're taking action."

Another demonstrator, identifying himself as "Michael, from Dallas, Texas," said he was participating in the sit-in because "my friends, my family - my true family - need true equality."

"It is now time for us to stop asking for it," he continued. "Now it's time for us to reach our hands out and take what is rightfully ours - full equality for every one of my brothers and sisters."

Williams was accompanied by Michael and five others who appeared in the video indicating they would sit-in, and an unknown number of other supporters.

HEALTHCARE TRUMPS ENDA

Pelosi spokesperson Drew Hammill spoke with SGN by phone as the sit-ins were in progress.

Asked for comment on the demonstration, Hammill said, "We welcome anytime someone who comes to our office to express their views - especially constituents from San Francisco."

Hammill denied once again that Pelosi is holding up the bill, as he did in a previous conversation with SGN.

"The speaker believes that passing ENDA is a priority," Hammill emphasized.

"Her long-standing support for ENDA is quite clear," he added. "She supports the passage of ENDA."

Previous comments from the speaker's office indicated that on the scheduling issue, she was following the lead of Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), chair of the House Education and Labor Committee. Miller's committee has jurisdiction over the ENDA bill.

"The speaker has absolute confidence in Chairman Miller to determine the appropriate timing for his committee's work on ENDA," a spokesperson told activist blogger Jillian Weiss last week.

Miller's office says that the protracted healthcare debate has pushed ENDA into the background.

"Nothing is scheduled yet," Aaron Albright, spokesperson for Miller, told SGN. "He's speaking with groups. But he's in the middle of healthcare."

Asked whether an ENDA markup could still happen in March, Albright answered that it "depends on how things go with healthcare. He's one of two or three principals in healthcare legislation."

COUNTING VOTES

In previous comments, Pelosi's office has indicated that "the right time to bring the measure to the floor will be when we have the votes" - implying that passage of ENDA would be in doubt if it came to the floor immediately.

Activists disagree. Independent whip counts suggest between 222 and 256 likely Yes votes in the House, with 218 needed for passage.

Bilerico Project blogger Dr. Jillian Weiss, a supporter of the ENDA blog swarm, writes that "according to my whip count, we have a majority in the House and Senate."

Pelosi staffer Drew Hammill warns that no count can be accurate until the Health and Labor committee has marked up the final version of the bill.

"I would add anytime when asked about unofficial whip counts that it's important to have the Committee product because you cannot accurately whip a hypothetical bill. Whipping a hypothetical bill yields only hypothetical results," Hammill reportedly told Weiss in a conversation last week.

In Washington's Congressional delegation, all six Democrats are committed to vote Yes. Republicans Doc Hastings and Cathy McMorris-Rodgers have committed to vote No.

Republican Dave Reichert has not declared a position. He voted for ENDA the last time it came up for a vote in 2007, and he is thought to be persuadable.

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