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ENDA reintroduced to U.S. House of Representatives
Equality bill expected to pass, but Bush could veto

by Roberta Sklar, Scott Tucker and Donald Miller

Reps. Barney Frank (D-MA) and Deborah Pryce (R-OH), at the press conference announcing the introduction of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in the House of Representatives.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — First introduced in 1994 and then again in 1996, April 24 saw the reintroduction of the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would protect against workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The measure is a bipartisan effort, introduced by Reps. Barney Frank (D-MA), Deborah Pryce (R-OH), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Chris Shays (R-CT).

ENDA would provide legal recourse to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the 33 states that don’t currently have employment non-discrimination laws that cover sexual orientation and to transgender people in the 42 states that do not provide protection on the basis of gender identity or expression.

The legislation is expected to pass easily, but the question remains — will President George W. Bush veto what many in his party’s base of support vehemently oppose?

Given that Bush is not running for reelection, it is possible that he could sign off on the bill. If he vetoed ENDA, he would be the first president ever to deny workplace protections to a group of employees.

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force has been at the forefront of advocacy for federal non-discrimination protections since it worked with then-U.S. Reps. Bella Abzug and Ed Koch, both New York Democrats, to introduce a sweeping bill in 1974. The Task Force has also played a leading role in ensuring ENDA is explicitly inclusive of transgender people. Eight years ago, the Task Force vowed to oppose the legislation if it were not inclusive.

“We vowed we would not support an Employment Non-Discrimination Act that left behind our transgender sisters and brothers,” said Matt Foreman, executive director of The Task Force. “We were willing to go to the mat on this, and the measure introduced … is the direct result of that perseverance and our profound belief that equality is not to be divvied out to a select few; it is a fundamental human right for all.”

Other LGBT political action groups were quickly forthcoming with support for the measure.
Lambda Legal’s Executive Director, Kevin Cathcart, submitted an open letter to Congress also supporting the legislation and highlighting evidence from Lambda Legal’s 34 years of work on behalf of LGBT people and those with HIV.

“For more than three decades, workplace fairness has been a top priority for Lambda Legal,” wrote Cathcart. “The stories of our plaintiffs through the years illustrate the discrimination LGBT people and those with HIV face. Two of the many examples of the need for the passage of ENDA are the lives of Kevin Dunbar and Izza Lopez. As an employee at Footlocker, an athletic footwear and apparel chain, Kevin Dunbar suffered severe anti-gay harassment and discrimination at the hands of his coworkers, supervisors and a customer at two different South Carolina locations. But when Kevin formally complained, the discrimination intensified and he was eventually fired. Izza Lopez, a 26-year-old transgender woman, accepted a job as a scheduler with River Oaks, a medical imaging company in Houston. After resigning from her position with her then-current employer, Izza received a call from River Oaks rescinding the job offer because of her “misrepresentation” of herself as a woman. ENDA’s passage would send a powerful message nationwide that discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity — like that faced by Kevin, Izza and countless others — will not be tolerated under the law.”

Public support for ENDA is strong. A May 2006 Gallup Poll found that 89 percent of Americans believe gays and lesbians should have equal rights in the workplace. “Americans know that ENDA represents a measured and pragmatic response to prejudice and discrimination,” said Sammon. “Job discrimination, for any reason, is un-American, unfair, and unwise.”

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