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Senate Committee hearing on ENDA just wrapped up

ENDA

By Scottie Thomaston

Today, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) committee held its hearing on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). The latest version of the bill is transgender-inclusive and has 165 cosponsors. Notably, Congress held its first-ever hearing on ENDA that included someone who is transgender. In a place not known for its forward-looking views, this is truly exciting progress. The panelists testifying in favor of ENDA included Ken Charles, who is Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion at General Mills, Kylar Broadus, who is the founder of the Trans People of Color Coalition, Lee Badgett of the Williams Institute/UCLA (who also testified in the Prop 8 trial), and law professor Samuel Bagenstos. The opposing witness was Craig Parshal of the National Religious Broadcasters Association.

The opposing witness primarily argued that ENDA would violate religious freedom by forcing religious schools and corporations to hire people with whom their religious views are in conflict. A few of the other witnesses and some of the Senators on the panel pointed out that there’s a very broad section in the bill geared toward religious protections and that it’s in fact so broad that it earned complaints from even groups like the ACLU.

Aside from those complaints, there was a strong show of support for the legislation from across the panel and even the Senators seemed all in favor. Republican Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) was given permission to send in a letter of support for ENDA as well. She is not a member of the Senate HELP committee.

Kylar Broadus’ testimony was a historic moment in the Senate – the first time someone who is transgender has testified before Congress. And especially having a non-white person who is transgender provide insight to Congress on the subject of legislation pertaining to LGBT rights is incredibly useful and important. We often only hear from certain segments of the LGBT community and others are shut out of the discussion, even if unintentionally. It was incredible to see so much diversity among the witnesses and hear their perspectives on ENDA and LGBT rights.

Pam Spaulding has statements and reactions from the hearing including this one from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force:

“Too many of us still head to work each day terrified it may be our last, simply because of who we are or who we love. The stories are painful, and the statistics are startling. But this is the reality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people all across America. To be open and honest about who we are, about our families, often means taking a huge risk in the workplace. Something as simple as sharing with a co-worker what you and your spouse did over the weekend could place your livelihood in peril.

“America prides itself on giving everyone a fair shake and allowing them to fully and freely contribute their skills and talents. ENDA reflects these core values. It is why the public overwhelmingly supports job protections for qualified and competent LGBT workers. Many people think these protections already exist, but that’s not the case. There is no clear federal law, and there are no such laws in over half the states. This jeopardizes our ability to have or keep employment, housing and feed our families. ENDA will level the playing field once and for all.”

Whether or not the bill can pass – and it has at least a shot in the Senate whereas in the Republican-led House there’s no chance – isn’t even the most important issue. It’s time to start having these conversations and going to people and to Senators and Congresspeople and telling them our stories. Maybe it won’t pass, but just talking about it will influence the trajectory of LGBT rights legislation and even perhaps progress in the courts. Today’s hearing was a step toward that.

5 Comments

  • 1. Seth from Maryland  |  June 12, 2012 at 10:27 am

    Good News in Maine:
    Maine Marriage Equality Group Hits $100,000 Fundraising Mark, Gets Matching Donation from Facebook Co-Founder

    The Mainers United for Marriage campaign raised $121,197 as of Friday but topped $100,000 on Thursday, the deadline for raising the matching funds, David Farmer, spokesman for the campaign, said Monday…

    …Farmer said Monday that more than 1,000 people contributed to the matching fund, with 470 of them donating for the first time. The average contribution was $115, he said.

    “We’re happy with the results,” Farmer, who writes a column for the Bangor Daily News, said in a telephone interview. “It exceeded our expectations.”

    Information about who contributed how much to the matching grant will be available in the next campaign finance repor

    Read more: http://www.towleroad.com/2012/06/maine-marriage-e

  • 2. Richard Lyon  |  June 12, 2012 at 10:30 am

    Broadus' appearance alone would represent some kind of progress. We cannot move forward in separation. We can only do it in unity. Let us also hope that the Obama administration will expand their support for marriage equality to a more vigorous support for employment equality.

  • 3. Sagesse  |  June 12, 2012 at 11:51 am

    @

  • 4. Jyo  |  June 12, 2012 at 12:20 pm

    A correction:

    Scottie writes that “Kylar Broadus’ testimony was a historic moment in the Senate – the first time someone who is transgender has testified before Congress.”

    Diane Schroer testified before Congress in 2008: http://www.aclu.org/hiv-aids_lgbt-rights/annual-update-2009-transgender

  • 5. Kathleen  |  June 12, 2012 at 3:31 pm

    The notice from the Court in Perry is just the clerk's office removing from the docket the mistaken filing from yesterday – the brief NOM mistakenly filed in Perry that was meant for Golinski.

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