Note from Bil: The Bilerico Project is participating in a blogswarm today with Daily Kos, Open Left, Americablog, Towleroad, Pam's House Blend, Joe My God, Michelangelo Signorile, David Mixner, Daily Gotham, Culture Kitchen, Taylor Marsh, PageOneQ, Dan Savage, GoodAsYou, and many others. We're asking our readers to contact Speaker Nancy Pelosi and ask that she move the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (HR 3017) to a floor vote. Contact info at the end of the article.
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act, first introduced in 1994, would prohibit job discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. But LGBT people have never been able to achieve the enactment of the bill, known by the acronym of "ENDA".
Last year, the Administration's highest ranking gay official, Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry, indicated that ENDA was highest priority on the LGBT civil rights agenda.
"If we can get ENDA enacted and signed into law, it is only a matter of time before all the rest happens," he said. "It is the keystone that holds up the whole bunch, and so we need to focus our energies and attention there."
Hearings were held last Fall in the House and in the Senate to demonstrate the need for the bill, and testimony was heard on the severe unemployment, underemployment and harassment experienced by LGBT workers. Witnesses testified to the scientific studies demonstrating this.
But nothing has happened. Click here to find out why and join us in swarming Speaker Pelosi's office.
Why We Need ENDA And Why It's So Hard To Get
The reason that workers need this protection is that the LGBT community is a relatively small minority, probably around 5% of the U.S. population, and there are many people with prejudices against them. This is also one reason that the bill has had difficulties in Congress: the minority in need of protection from discrimination are drowned out by the many bigots.
Civil rights, by definition, are needed most by those against whom there is most prejudice.
Surveys over the last fifteen years show that 16% to 68% of LGBT people surveyed reported experiencing employment discrimination. Preliminary results from a major survey of transgender workers show 97% reported harassment on the job and 26% lost their jobs because of their gender identity.
What's the Holdup?
Various sponsors promised that the bill would move to a vote in August, September, October, and November of 2009. But in order to go to a vote, the bill had to pass through the House Committee on Education and Labor via a "markup" procedure. Markup was finally scheduled for November 18, 2009. But at the last minute, the markup was postponed, and has still not been rescheduled.
Initially, the Committee said that some technical language required tweaking, ostensibly to insure that plaintiffs could not recover too much money or attorney fees, and to prevent lawsuits based on inadvertent discrimination. But it has become increasingly clear that something else is at work.
A clue to the inaction: Speaker Nancy Pelosi publicly told Democrats that she would not move controversial bills. Meanwhile, the House Committee has stated its readiness to move, but is waiting for a signal from Speaker Pelosi.
Why We Need To Demand ENDA Now
We know that Speaker Pelosi is sympathetic to our cause. Clearly, she needs encouragement, because she won't commit to giving the signal to move forward. Meanwhile, LGBT Americans continue to suffer discrimination and harassment with no recourse. Why should we accept mere lip service?
President Obama famously said in a campaign speech that "Power concedes nothing without a fight."
The quote is from an oration Frederick Douglass gave on August 4, 1857 speaking about the emancipation of West India. The complete quote is very powerful in context, and is germane to the subject at hand (emphasis mine):
If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what a people will submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress. Men may not get all they pay for in this world; but they must pay for all they get. If we ever get free from all the oppressions and wrongs heaped upon us, we must pay for their removal. We must do this by labor, by suffering, by sacrifice, and, if needs be, by our lives, and the lives of others.
By the end of the Civil War, and by the end of the 1960's civil rights movement, Douglass's evaluation proved true time and time again.
We demand that LGBT people receive the same job rights as other people: to be able to get and keep a job based only on relevant factors, like job performance, and not on irrelevant criteria, like sexual orientation or gender identity.
There is a majority in both Houses of Congress in favor of ENDA. Now is the time to move it.
In 30 states across America, there is no law against firing someone based on his or her sexual orientation, and the same is true in 38 states for gender identity.
Will you join with us in asking that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people be protected from job discrimination?
Please call Speaker Nancy Pelosi at 202-225-4965. Ask that the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, HR 3017, move to a vote.
Please be polite, but firm.
After you call, please tell us how the call went by clicking here. If you get a busy signal or hang up, let us know that too.
If you want more information on Speaker Pelosi's position on ENDA as stated by her office, you can find it here
Let's work together to let Speaker Pelosi know that we want action now!
At the end of the day, we will post a round-up of how the day went. Stay tuned.