Today provided a historic moment for the gay, lesbian and bisexual members of the GLBT community - after more than 30 years of advocacy promoting inclusion of sexual orientation in the civil rights laws that prohibit employment discrimination based on immutable characteristics such as race and gender, the United States House of Representatives passed the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA). Democrats and Republicans passionately represented their views and those of their constituents for more than 4 hours during a debate broadcast on CSPAN, and finally voted on an amended version. The United States Senate must now pass legislation as well before it has the chance to be signed into law.
This has been an issue that the Speaker of the House, Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), indicated many months ago would be brought to the floor for a vote, and it has become quite a divisive issue since then. A previous post on the Allies Program blog had a link to an opinion article stemming from the decision of the Speaker and a leader in the ENDA fight for so many years, Representative Barney Frank (D-MA), to remove gender identity and expression from the original bill that could have been voted on and postponed this matter until today. While one Representative, Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), seemed to be making an effort to restore the gender identity language before the final vote, she withdrew her amendment before it could be voted on. During the past two months, many equality organizations at the national, state and local levels have formed a coalition supporting ENDA legislation that is inclusive of gender identity while one of the most prominent GLBT civil rights advocacy groups, the Human Rights Campaign, became a black sheep among some of the community as its leadership refused to take the same aggressive position.
The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) released this statement that likely represents the disappointment of many of the organizations that formed the coalition. At the same time, the Human Rights Campaign acknowledged the vote with this statement, and this story was available on the New York Times website. It can be recognized as a bittersweet moment, but no one should deny the progress that this represents just as Speaker Pelosi points out in her comments - “History teaches us that progress on civil rights is never easy,” she said. “It is often marked by small and difficult steps.”