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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
October 19, 2007

Democratic Party politics loom over ENDA fight

Washington, D.C.--As the non-transgender-inclusive version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act headed to the House Committee on Education and Labor for mark up on October 18, the battle raged between lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender activists in a united effort against Democratic Party pragmatists, with the Human Rights Campaign stuck in the middle.

The melee is re-exposing old mistrusts between LGBT groups long believed to be reconciled, causing others to take hypocritical positions, pitting openly gay and lesbian members of Congress against each other, and opening eyes to the reality of dealing with the new Democratic congressional majority.

The eruption started quietly after passage of the LGBT hate crime legislation in the House on May 3 and in the Senate on September 27. Those votes showed support for transgender-inclusive bills to be thin, and perhaps thinner than expected.

The hate crime bill survived a Republican procedural motion to recommit by only nine votes. The motion would have sent the bill back to committee for amendments had it been successful. In the Senate, the bill got only the exact number of votes needed to pass. The whip count showed that the bill would have gotten more votes in both chambers, both Democrat and Republican, had transgender protection been left out.

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act is seen as the more difficult of the two measures to pass. This is borne out by state legislatures which almost always find it easier to pass hate crime laws than protection against housing and employment discrimination.

According to Barney Frank, the openly gay Democratic representative from Massachusetts, incoming Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi met with him, Rep. Tammy Baldwin, the openly lesbian Democrat from Wisconsin, incoming Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, and HRC president Joe Solmonese in December, and committed to passing both pieces of legislation this session.

In April, Frank, Baldwin and Republicans Deborah Pryce of Ohio and Christopher Shays of Connecticut introduced H.R. 2015, the transgender-inclusive ENDA. It was assigned to the Committee on Education and Labor. It has 171 co-sponsors, including Ohio Democrats Stephanie Tubbs Jones, Dennis Kucinich, Tim Ryan and Betty Sutton, joining with Republican Pryce.

Depending on who is asked, a picture of evolving concern about the viability of a transgender-inclusive ENDA bill seems to have arisen, but was not publicized, between the two chambers’ votes on the hate crime legislation.

The continuing fracas erupted September 28 when the Washington Blade reported that Frank was planning a substitute bill, the biggest difference being that it protected gays and lesbians only. That bill became H.R. 3685.

The substitute legislation sent shock waves through the LGBT community, and advocacy groups lined up in opposition.

To date, nearly every national and state LGBT organization has come out in favor of the original, transgender-inclusive ENDA and against the new version except HRC, who supports the old one but remains ambiguous on the new version.

Ohio groups rejecting the non-inclusive ENDA include Equality Ohio, TransOhio, Kaleidescope Youth Center of Columbus, the Cleveland LGBT Center, SpeakOut of Columbus, Transcendence of Bowling Green, Stonewall Columbus, and the Crystal Club of Central Ohio.

A website, www.unitedenda.org has been set up to track opposition to the new proposal. At press time Tuesday, it listed 301 groups.

Responsible liberals

“This is the moment of truth for responsible liberals in the Democratic Party,” said Frank in an October 11 press conference. “Can we govern responsibly?”

During the presentation which lasted nearly an hour, Frank spent time charging a broad range of liberal interests, including those insistent on a transgender-inclusive ENDA, with “failure to understand reality.”

“It’s not just the gay and lesbian community. I think this is an issue that plagues American politics,” Frank said. He also noted pressure on the Democratic majority from groups demanding impeachment, an end to the Iraq war, repeal of the USA Patriot Act, and cutting immigrant children out of the health insurance program.

“What troubles me is people on the left insisting on impeachment, people who say ‘Why haven’t you stopped the war,’ Frank continued.

Frank’s comments confirmed ones circulated earlier by a congressional insider who wishes not to be named, that there is “no more room in front of Nancy Pelosi’s house to accommodate more protesters.”

Democratic leadership, which Frank joined when he became the chair of the House Financial Services Committee, has become increasingly annoyed by activists on the left demanding tougher stands by party leadership.

“Because they don’t pay a lot of attention to their opponents,” said Frank of all the liberal groups, “they think their friends can do whatever they want,” and go around denouncing people who understand reality as “morally flawed” if they don’t agree.

The congressional insider suggests that pushing the non-inclusive ENDA could be a reaction to the liberals annoying the House leadership.

“They wanted to move something no matter what. Protests by the LGBT community didn’t bother them,” said the insider.

HRC had to cut a deal

Frank said he supports the non-inclusive ENDA because there are not enough votes to pass the inclusive one.

“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.”

Frank has been cautious about adding transgender inclusion to ENDA for years because he feared it would not pass. He changed his mind in 2004, and has testified to include it in at least three congressional committees since 2005.

Frank said the Democratic majority has to protect its freshman members who beat Republicans in 2006 by thin margins in districts that voted for George W. Bush in 2004. One such district is Ohio’s 18th, now represented by Zack Space of Dover.

Frank opined that after these representatives win re-election in 2008, they may not be so vulnerable and may be able to vote for the inclusive version in 2009 when there is also likely to be a Democratic president.

“Bush isn’t going to sign this,” said Frank, adding that he doubts Bush will sign the hate crime bill, either.

HRC’s position on the matter has been ambiguous, and obviously cultivated to give room to maneuver without protesting the Democratic majority in the hope of having influence later.

This caused HRC’s only transgender board member, Donna Rose, to resign October 2. In an open letter, Rose said, “The relationship between HRC and the transgender community is one scarred by betrayal, distrust, and anger . . .”

Rose questioned HRC’s sincerity to passing a transgender-inclusive ENDA after HRC’s statement about “staying in the game in order to influence the outcome.”

The day before, Solmonese addressed the Southern Comfort convention in Atlanta, where he told nearly 900 transgender-identified people, “I am incredibly optimistic and confident about the prospects we have for ensuring that our entire community is included in the legislative fights that are ahead.”

“We try to walk a thin line in terms of keeping everything in play and making sure that we move forward,” Solmonese said, “but always being clear that we absolutely do not support, in fact, oppose any legislation that is not absolutely inclusive, and we have sent that message loud and clear to the Hill.”

As of October 13, however, HRC was telling members it would support the non-inclusive ENDA this time as an incremental step to get an inclusive one later.

“The Speaker’s and Rep. Frank’s legislative path for action on ENDA, while not ideal, follows the path of other civil rights and business regulatory legislation,” the statement says in support of the strategy.

HRC did not respond to calls for comment for this report.

Baldwin disagrees with Frank

At the same time Frank was explaining what he said were the advantages of his incremental strategy, Baldwin, who is not part of the Democratic leadership, restated her support for the original inclusive bill.

Almost refuting Frank, Baldwin said, “I am under no illusions about the challenges of achieving our goal. But, the quest for advancement of civil rights in our nation has never been easy. It is precisely because of the discrimination these groups experience that this legislation is needed.”

“As is the case with all legislation, there is no guarantee of success. Everyone pressing for this legislation knows that,” Baldwin said. “We know that opponents of workplace protections may offer any number of amendments designed to derail the bill, including, perhaps, an effort to remove protections based upon gender identity. I believe we must boldly face these challenges.”

“Perhaps some of these hostile efforts will be successful,” said Baldwin. “That should not deter our work. We must bring the strongest possible bill to the floor of the House for a vote. If our adversaries wish to erode protections in the bill, we must be prepared to face that challenge and make our case.”

Baldwin concluded, “I believe it is a mistake to concede defeat on any issue, before our opponents even raise it.”

 

 

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