January 04, 2008
Learning from the mistakes of 2007
Posted by: Chris
Ted Kennedy says he will be introducing a version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in the Senate that includes "sexual orientation" and not "gender identity" and plans for a vote soon. A report by Lou Chibbaro in today's Washington Blade explains why:
Until this week, Kennedy’s office had not stated publicly where Kennedy stood on the demands by many gay and transgender organizations that Congress should withhold any action on ENDA unless it includes protection for transgender persons.
“Although Sen. Kennedy strongly supports protections against job discrimination for transgender workers, inaction won’t advance justice for anyone, and will just make it harder to pass any version of ENDA in 2009,” said Kennedy spokesperson Melissa Wagoner.
“We will most likely work to move the House-passed bill, rather than introducing a separate Senate bill,” Wagoner told the Blade by e-mail. “Because the same legislation must pass both the House and Senate, now that the House has acted, the only realistic way to get a bill to the president’s desk this Congress is to have the Senate pass the House bill.”
There's no joy to be had in the decision to leave out "gender identity" from the bill, but it is the right decision to bypass the incredibly divisive battle over ENDA in the House. Fellow Bay Stater Barney Frank originally introduced ENDA in the House with gender identity included and was excoriated by transgender activists when he reintroduced it as a gay-only measure because the votes weren't there for trans protections, Who can blame Kennedy for avoiding that kind of backdraft? Trans activists and their "United ENDA" allies have only themselves to blame.
Expect similar recriminations of Kennedy despite the fact that he, like Barney, successfully pushed through the first-ever transgender rights bill -- the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act -- though the strategy of attaching it to a controversial Defense Department bill proved flawed.
Not surprisingly, Chibbaro reports that United ENDA's coalition leader, Matt Foreman of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, is actually opposed to any action on ENDA until 2009, when he imagines the Congress will be ready to enact protections for transsexual and cross-dressing workers. An internal Human Rights Campaign memo leaked last month by trans activists similarly anticipated nothing until '09.
Fortunately (in this case), gay and trans rights are largely ineffective on Capitol Hil -- even with our allies -- and Kennedy's spokesman told the Blade that passage in 2008, even in an election year, is doable:
Asked if Kennedy thought ENDA could pass the Senate in an election year, Wagoner said, “Yes, if enough Republicans support the bill to give us a realistic chance of breaking a filibuster.” …
Jim Manley, a spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), said this week that Reid strongly supports ENDA and favors holding a Senate vote on the measure in 2008. Manley said Reid would defer to Kennedy on the “strategy and timing” of such a vote.
Democrats took back the Congress in 2006 promising to enact basic gay rights legislation. To date, they haven't succeeded in doing so, despite bipartisan support on both ENDA and hate crimes. Today's news lends hope that they might just succeed after all.
(Photo via Washington Blade by Lauren Victoria Burke/ABC News/AP)
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