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April 4, 2008

Solmonese: HRC may let
TGs be dropped from ENDA again


Organization will back either Democrat for president in the fall

Cleveland--Transgender inclusion will again be negotiable when the Employment Non-Discrimination Act hits Congress next year, said Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese.

“It depends on who the president is and their intentions,” Solmonese told the Gay People’s Chronicle before the HRC’s Cleveland fundraising dinner March 29. He added that it is unclear if 48 questionable votes on the matter can be counted on to favor transgender inclusion after the November election.

“In 2009, [transgender inclusion] depends on the degree we move those votes and who the president is,” Solmonese said.

The decision last year to remove protections for gender identity and expression from the House bill was met with a fusillade of protest from nearly every state and local LGBT group in the nation, as they formed an ad hoc group called United ENDA.

The move to drop the clause was supported by HRC and gay Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts, who said the measure didn’t have the votes to pass if transgender rights were included. It was opposed by lesbian Rep. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin.

The controversy re-opened a divide between the gay equal rights lobby and advocates of transgender rights that was thought to have been settled in 2004 when HRC took the position that only an ENDA with transgender protection would be endorsed.

In late September, Solmonese told 900 transgender people at the Southern Comfort convention in Atlanta, “We try to walk within line in terms of keeping everything in play and making sure that we move forward, 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.”

A few days later, the transgender inclusive bill was switched to one that isn’t, with HRC’s blessing, to avoid a possible Republican parliamentary move to send the transgender part back to committee. Donna Rose, the only transgender HRC board member, resigned over it.

In an open letter, Rose wrote, “The relationship between HRC and the transgender community is one scarred by betrayal, distrust, and anger . . .”

The House passed the gay-only bill in November, the first time either chamber had ever done so. The Senate has yet to act on a companion measure.

Solmonese said last weekend that the belief that HRC would only support a transgender-inclusive bill was “widely understood.” He also agrees that what happened factionalized the community and opened old wounds.

However, he maintains that the incremental strategy is correct and should be supported.

“We have always been committed to the transgender-inclusive ENDA,” Solmonese said. “The differences are in how best to get there.”

“One of the ways to unify the community is around working on going forward,” Solmonese said. “There were transgender people walking the halls of Congress with us two weeks ago.”

“What will unite [the community] most is the success of doing the work to move Congress,” Solmonese said.

Solmonese said the transgender-inclusive bill was pulled because “if there would have been a motion to recommit and a vote, there would have been more of a problem with the public showing,” Solmonese said, “and members of the transgender community agree with that.”

He added that if John McCain becomes the next president and promises to veto any ENDA bill, it won’t matter if what gets proposed is transgender inclusive or not.

“I want people to be prepared to vote on it four or five more times if that happens,” Solmonese said.

“With or without transgender inclusion?” he was asked. Solmonese said that would be too much speculation.

“Can’t answer until you know all the facts,” he said.

Solmonese pointed to a group of House members who voted to pass ENDA last year, but probably wouldn’t back TG protections.

“What matters to HRC today is that in all 48 districts there is a plan and a strategy to motivate the member in that district” to support a transgender-inclusive ENDA, he said.

Show me 220 members

Two hundred eighteen votes are required to pass any bill in the 435-member House of Representatives.

LGBT bloggers and message boards are speculating that HRC and Frank will introduce, and work to pass, a transgender-inclusive ENDA in 2009 if there are 220 votes for it. Short of that number, it will not be inclusive.

Solmonese neither confirms nor denies this. Instead, he says, “It takes 218 votes to pass anything in the House.”

“We understand that we have a responsibility to close the [48-vote] gap,” Solmonese said.

Solmonese said the blowup between HRC and the LGBT people siding with United ENDA wasn’t all bad.

“One of the great things was that people on Capitol Hill heard from state groups more than ever before,” Solmonese said.

HRC will back either Dem for president

Solmonese said that HRC will endorse whichever Democrat, Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, is nominated to run for the White House.

Further, HRC will provide resources, money and people, as well as policy expertise to the Democratic campaign.

“LGBT issues are not the political wedge that they were in 2004,” Solmonese said, but he suggested that LGBT issues will still come up and be part of the political conversation.

He added that the current candidates are “a better field than the field before it.”

HRC is also working on turning back “a whole range of discriminatory practices that Bush instituted,” Solmonese said. The new president will be given a list of HRC priorities that can be done by executive order, without requiring an act of Congress.

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