BY Advocate Contributors
January 05 2010 2:25 PM ET
COMMENTARY: When a version of the long-standing federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act failed to move out of a House committee last year (in fact it has yet to pass), many of the bill’s proponents grew worried. But after The Hill reported in December that Speaker Nancy Pelosi privately assured skittish first-term Democrats that the House wouldn’t bring controversial bills to the floor this year unless the Senate acted first, worry turned into panic. Is ENDA dead for this congressional session? Will gender identity protections be cut from the bill again, as they were in 2007? Are our leaders selling us out?
The answers are far from simple. But ENDA isn't dead. Not yet. In my recent interviews for The Bilerico Project, Colorado representative Jared Polis and Wisconsin representative Tammy Baldwin confirmed that ENDA’s delay was attributable to the health care reform debate and that later this month the legislation will undergo markup (the process where a committee makes changes to existing bill language before voting on whether to send to the floor for final approval). Both said they'd spoken with Speaker Pelosi and Education and Labor Committee chairman George Miller and were confident that the bill would receive a vote. Polis and Baldwin further asserted that removing gender identity language from the bill wasn't on the table.
The Senate, however, is another beast. As we've seen with the health care fiasco, the filibuster has become standard operating procedure for obstructionist Republicans. ENDA supporters need 60 votes in the Senate — a number they’ve yet to reach. Several activist groups, including United ENDA and transgender advocate Jillian Weiss's Facebook group, Inclusive ENDA, have been tracking the votes and show the absence of usually supportive Democrats like Indiana senator Evan Bayh.
If you don't think ENDA is as important as the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, the end of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” or other vital LGBT legislation, you may be missing the point. No state has won marriage equality without first passing an employment nondiscrimination law covering sexual orientation. What do marriage rights mean if you could be conceivably fired in a majority of states for having a photograph of your partner on your desk? Why would the military embrace a repeal of DADT if workplace discrimination is still permitted in many states?
While the health care debate swallowed most other political considerations late last year, we can't forget that the politicians arguing over abortion funding, “death panels,” and the public option are the same ones deciding the fate of ENDA.
These politicians who've botched, bungled, and obstructed something as basic as health care for all Americans are the same authorities the LGBT community has to rely on to pass ENDA. Politicians are never your friends; they are your employees. If we don’t keep pressure on them, we’ll see the antigay status quo hold firm.