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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
November 2, 2007

ENDA is on hold again

Rookie Dems move to kill
Baldwin’s transgender amendment

Washington, D.C.--The Employment Non-Discrimination Act is on hold, probably until just before the Thanksgiving recess, after a move by the 30 Democratic House freshmen to jettison Rep. Tammy Baldwin’s amendment to add transgender people to the bill.

The development is the latest in the month-long saga that has exposed the weakness of the new Democratic House majority, split the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community into two sparring camps, and put the Human Rights Campaign in an untenable position.

The latest fracas erupted October 24 when the Capitol newspaper The Hill reported that Reps. Tim Waltz of Minnesota and Ron Klein of Florida said that their colleagues did not want to have a vote on Baldwin’s amendment. The two are leaders of the Democrats seated in 2007.

Baldwin, an openly lesbian Wisconsin Democrat, planned to offer an amendment to the bill when it hit the House floor that would restore transgender protection. The original bill’s gender identity clauses had been stripped out in a version introduced in October by gay Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts.

Frank, chair of the House Financial Services Committee and an adviser to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, is part of the body’s Democratic leadership. He substituted the non-TG bill after leaders feared that including gender identity would make it too hard for more conservative members to support.

The House Education and Labor Committee passed the non-inclusive version October 18 by a vote of 27 to 21.

The committee’s chair George Miller of California, according to The Hill, announced to the freshman lawmakers at their breakfast with Pelosi on October 24 that the Baldwin amendment would not be allowed to come up.

Meanwhile, the ENDA bill, which was initially scheduled for a vote last week was pulled off the calendar without explanation.

The Democratic leadership decided to protect its members while shunning the wishes of nearly every LGBT advocacy organization in the nation. At press time,, a website set up to track opposition to removing TG protection from the bill, had 359 groups listed. HRC is not among them.

New Dems are more conservative

Most of the 30 Democratic newcomers were elected by beating Republicans in districts that voted for George W. Bush in 2004.

They were recruited to run by then-Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chair Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois because he thought they were electable, but without regard to their positions on issues. Some are more conservative than the Republicans they defeated.

Alter the 2006 election, HRC president Joe Solmonese told the Gay People’s Chronicle that even though the Democrats control the agenda, it is not a more LGBT-affirming Congress.

During an October 11 press conference, Frank said the Democratic leadership has to protect its freshman members.

“Some of my colleagues are uneasy about dealing with transgender issues,” said Frank. “People in the transgender community have been given an unduly optimistic view of where we were by people in my line of work who are good at smiling, winking, and nodding.”

At that press conference, Frank was clear that failure to pass an ENDA bill--any ENDA bill--would weaken the Democratic majority, which had promised to pass one in December of last year, and make it harder to ever bring the bill up again.

That was the reason why Speaker Pelosi didn’t simply delay the vote until more support for gender identity could be won.

Pelosi also does not want the vote to occur next year, which is an election year.

Her decision rekindled the debate within the LGBT community that was previously thought to have been settled in 2004, when, after years of infighting, the community, including HRC and Frank, united around supporting only a transgender-inclusive bill.

Before then, Frank was skeptical of the ability to pass an inclusive bill and favored a more incremental approach, as did HRC.

House LGBT allies in a tough spot

The latest fracas has divided the LGBT community, some of it bitter.

The incrementalists on one side argue that a Democratic majority needs to be protected because it keeps a federal marriage ban amendment from coming up. They say that another bill could be passed later to include transgender protection.

Hilary Rosen, an LGBT activist and Democratic lobbyist whose partner is former HRC president Elizabeth Birch, is a committed voice for incrementalism. She wrote in the Huffington Post:

“Even if we lose the Baldwin amendment, this bill is a long way to presidential signature. We still have a chance to get an inclusive bill out of Congress and onto the president’s desk. Which president, I don’t know. But let’s save the slaughter of a critical piece of legislation for the time when it may really deserve it. Now is not that time.”

Rosen criticizes the directors of LGBT organizations for lining up with the Republicans to kill a gay equal rights bill.

“We might not like the hand we’ve been dealt,” wrote Rosen, “but walking away from the table is not an option in my book.”

However, the community’s failure to support the non-inclusive bill and the lobbying against it has put LGBT allies in the House in a tough spot.

If they vote for the non-inclusive bill, they will be criticized by the LGBT community and the anti-LGBT forces.

If they vote to kill an LGBT rights bill, even a bad one, they will also be criticized.

National Gay and Lesbian Task Force director Matt Foreman is an advocate of supporting only a TG-inclusive bill.

He wrote that LGBT allies in Congress should not be put in that position.

“When the [trans-inclusive] ENDA is the only major gay rights bill on the table, those who are truly our community’s friends will either stay on or come back,” wrote Foreman.

Foreman’s three New York lessons

Foreman led the passage of a similar bill--without TG provisions--in New York State in 2002, before assuming his current post. He backed it for many of the same reasons Frank and the incrementalists are giving for the federal one.

“I want to talk about the mistakes I made in the years leading up to the passing of New York’s law,” Foreman wrote on his blog, “so they would not be repeated with ENDA.”

Foreman wrote that three mistakes were “seared into my mind and heart.”

The first mistake is “to accept what legislators have to say on the subject, which is invariably that trans-inclusion will kill the legislation.”

“We accepted that because we had thought we had to,” wrote Foreman. “We thought that making a stink about this would derail other legislative priorities.”

The second lesson learned, according to Foreman, is: “you have to make the bill trans-inclusive early on so that when it finally starts moving, the issue is behind you and it cannot be used as an excuse for inaction.”

Foreman said the third mistake is not easy for him to admit.

“I failed to recognize my own anti-trans ignorances and prejudices,” Foreman wrote. “Legislators essentially said, ‘You gays in suits are okay, but them, there’s no way.’ ”

“I realize now that I bought that I was a “good gay” and from that point there’s no escaping the unspoken corollaries, I am better and I am not one of them,” Foreman continued.

“From there, it’s easy to start spinning out the differences between anti-gay and anti-transgender discrimination and why the remedies to it are different,” Foreman wrote.

Foreman said those pushing for the non-inclusive ENDA are not prejudiced, but many do not recognize how “trans issues are ‘gay’ issues--and how ‘gay’ issues are trans issues--and don’t see reason to spend time or political capital on them.”

“That needs to change now,” Foreman concluded.



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