By Kerry Eleveld
Originally published on Advocate.com January 13 2010 5:50 PM ET
Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts said Tuesday he expected a committee vote on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act next month but that House members were continuing to rework the language of as it relates to certain considerations, including transgender issues.
“There continues to be concerns on the part of many members about the transgender issue, particularly about the question of places where people are without their clothes — showers, bathrooms, locker rooms, etc.,” said Frank. “We still have this issue about what happens when people who present themselves as one sex but have the physical characteristics of the other sex, what rules govern what happens in locker rooms, showers, etc.”
Although language about locker rooms and showers are already included in the bill, Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said she did not believe it was necessary to address bathroom situations in the legislation. “But if members say we need bathroom language, we are prepared to talk about how you do that in ways that are fair and reasonable,” she said.
Keisling added that most of the issues being discussed are more technical in nature, such as who pays for attorneys' fees, how to notify an employer when someone is transitioning to another gender, and blocking plaintiffs from recovering damages under two different statutes (ENDA and Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, in this case).
“We have no reason to think that anyone is doing anything to hurt trans people, but we are always vigilant about that,” she said.
Frank remained optimistic about the bill’s chance for passage in the House. “I expect the committee to vote on it in February and I think it will pass the House in March,” he said.
A spokesperson for the House Education and Labor Committee said he
expected the committee vote to happen early this year, but would not be
“Health care is the 800-lb. gorilla in the room
and Chairman [George] Miller is deeply involved in those discussions,”
said Aaron Albright. “But the Chairman said it is a priority and he’s
committed to doing it early this year.”
Once out of committee,
Frank said the legislation had enough support in the House to survive a
procedural move -- known as a “motion to recommit” -- that might be
targeted at stripping out the transgender protections. If such a motion
were to pass, the bill would most likely be voted on in its amended form unless Speaker Nancy Pelosi chose to pull the bill, which is very rare.
Frank reiterated, as he has said all along, that the biggest hurdle would be the Senate.
“Getting 60 votes for it is going to be tough,” he said, “so people need to focus on lobbying Senators.”
Keisling expressed cautious optimism about prospects for passage in the Senate.
“Could I name you 60 for the senate right now, that would be a stretch,” she said. “But the most important way we can put pressure on the Senate is by passing this in the House.”