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HRC wants ENDA to include transgender protections

HRC wants ENDA to include transgender protections

In a strong reversal for the country's largest gay rights group, the Human Rights Campaign will support only a version of the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act that includes protections for gender identity and expression, a source close to the group told on Friday. The group's board of directors is expected to approve the change on Saturday at its annual meeting. The HRC's announcement is a win for transgender activists who were angry at the organization because it has been lobbying lawmakers on Capitol Hill to support the current version of ENDA, which does not include protections based on gender identity and expression. As currently written, ENDA would extend federal employment discrimination protections--already provided on the basis of race, religion, gender, national origin, age, and disability--to employees on the basis of their sexual orientation. It was defeated in the Senate by one vote in 1996 and is set to be reintroduced by lawmakers this January. "Certainly [HRC executive director] Cheryl Jacques led the effort," the source told "She has been listening to everyone in the community during the past few months, and the senior staff has been moving in this direction." A handful of groups, led by the Transexual Menace, had announced plans to demonstrate outside HRC's headquarters Saturday morning. Ethan St. Pierre, an organizer of the event, said the rally will go ahead as planned. He had not heard about HRC's announcement as of Friday afternoon but said he remained cautiously optimistic. "We want to hear it straight from them," he said. "If that's the case, then I would be very, very happy. None of us wants people to be excluded from this bill. We can't afford to be a divided community." Added Vanessa Edwards Foster, chair and cofounder of the National Transgender Advocacy Coalition: "What has occurred sounds optimistic at face value. This is the first I've heard of it. We've heard promises before from HRC, and we want to see actual action before we weigh in with comment." The change in HRC's stance comes at a time when a good number of the court cases involving workplace discrimination revolve around questions of gender identity and expression--an individual's manifestation of a fundamental sense of being masculine or feminine through clothing, behavior, and grooming. Fourteen states have passed laws prohibiting sexual orientation discrimination without explicit protections for gender expression and identity. Most of these laws are broader in scope than ENDA, covering discrimination not only in employment but also in housing and public accommodations. In 21 states, through a combination of state laws and state and federal court rulings, workplace discrimination based on gender expression or identity is illegal, according to the Gender Public Advocacy Coalition in Washington. "We believe that every American should be judged on the quality of their work, and it's good to see that the HRC is coming down so firmly on the side of a fair-minded and inclusive bill," said Riki Wilchins, executive director of GenderPAC. The group was not a part of Saturday's planned protest. "Adding language that would ban gender stereotyping in the workplace protects transgendered people as well as other Americans targeted because of their gender identity and expression."

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