Tomorrow morning the Senate will hear testimony on S. 1584 - the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. The legislation would provide employment protections for LGBT people. In a strategic move endorsed by the Human Rights Campaign and other prominent leaders and activists, transgender protections were stripped from the legislation to make it more palatable to squeemish Democrats. It didn't make it far in the legislative process since then-President Bush indicated he'd veto it - trans protections or not.
President Obama has indicated that the fully-inclusive legislation is a priority for his administration and that he would sign it into law immediately. So far, our slowdown has been in Congress as the economy and health care took top billing on the national agenda. ENDA, however, is slated to be the next major piece of legislation coming on the heels of the health care debate. The House has held hearings on ENDA already and tomorrow's hearings will be the first in the Senate this session.
The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, however, originally overlooked an integral part of our community. Us. All the witnesses testifying were straight people.
So the Committee added a gay man to the witness list. Tada! Problem solved.
If there's one thing most people learned out of 2007's ENDA debacle, it's that the majority of our community and supporters agree that no matter the order of letters, the LGBT community is just that - a community. We rise or fall together and the bulk of us won't tolerate leaving the trans community behind.
United ENDA sprang up quickly following the news that trans people would be stripped from last year's version. The loose group's membership consisted of almost every state equality group, several national orgs, and quite a few grassroots groups as well. The groundswell of support was enormous and the Human Rights Campaign took a lot of heat over their decision.
This year, all of our organizations are on the same page and fighting for our entire community.
Last week when the Committee put out a tentative list of witnesses, the lack of a single LGBT person stood out like a sore thumb. The Senators didn't want to listen to stories of discrimination since they already knew it existed but instead wanted to focus on the legal aspects. Several of our national orgs and Congressional allies raised holy hell over the decision.
The Committee reconsidered over the weekend and decided that the lack of LGBT people was understandably concerning and they added Springfield, Massachusetts police officer Mike Carney to the witness list. Carney is openly gay.
Here's the current line up for tomorrow morning:
- Tom Perez, Assistant Attorney General, Civil Rights Division, United States Department of Justice, Washington, DC
- Helen Norton, Associate Professor of Law, University of Colorado School of Law, Boulder, CO
- The Honorable Lisa Madigan, Attorney General, State of Illinois, Chicago, IL
- Virginia Nguyen, Diversity & Inclusion Team Member, Nike, Inc., Beaverton, OR
- Mike Carney, Police officer, City of Springfield Police Department, Springfield, MA
- Craig Parshall, Senior Vice President and General Counsel, National Religious Broadcasters Association, Manassas, VA
- Camille Olson, Partner, Seyfarth Shaw, LLP, Chicago, IL
Notice that there's still not a transgender, lesbian or bisexual person speaking - although several LGBT people and organizations have submitted written testimony. Senator Jeff Merkley, lead sponsor of ENDA, was quick to see the glaring omissions. Unfortunately, the Senator doesn't have control over the witnesses - the Committee picks them - although the Committee takes recommendations for witnesses under advisory.
So what do you do when you're an LGBT-friendly Senator who wants to make sure the entire community is heard from on such an important issue? You invite several LGBT people to speak at a pre-hearing press conference on Capital Hill and you make sure several trans people are there to speak directly to the media and the American public.
Kudos to Senator Merkley and the national orgs for making things right. It's heartening to hear from multiple sources that the exclusion of trans witnesses wasn't considered acceptable by anyone and we were united again.