ENDA: The Day After

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It’s a bittersweet morning for millions of gay Americans.

Just yesterday the House of Representatives passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, an historic piece of legislation that could protect America’s homos from anti-gay discrimination. As many of you know, however, that bill does not include our trans allies, who have been left out in the legislative cold.

The truth of the matter is that we don’t know what happens next. We can’t be sure that the Senate will vote on this bill – it’s yet to be introduced by Ted Kennedy. And, what’s more, if the Senate does pass ENDA, President Bush promised to veto the measure. Gay City News‘ Doug Ireland writes:

The course of Senate action on the bill is unclear; Massachusetts Democrat Ted Kennedy, the lead sponsor, has not yet formally introduced it. And in a written statement several weeks ago outlining both policy and constitutional objections to ENDA, including the assertion that it would threaten the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act, the Bush administration made clear the president will veto the measure if it makes its way to his desk.

Given the near certainty that ENDA will not become law until a new president is in office, gender rights advocates hope to press the Democratic leadership to reconsider the exclusion of transgender protections when the bill is taken up again in 2009.

Many organizations took yesterday’s passage to mean one thing: it’s back to the drawing board. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, which fought tirelessly for trans inclusion, released a statement expressing sadness over the discriminatory decision, but vowed to continue the fight. Says president Matt Foreman:

We are deeply disappointed that House leadership decided to ignore the position of a vast majority of LGBT organizations, ignore the legal assessment that this bill may not even provide adequate protections for gays, lesbians and bisexuals, and ignore the fact that this vote might make it more difficult to persuade members of Congress to support a fully inclusive bill in the future.

We are relieved this episode is behind us, and starting right now we are going to pick up where we were six weeks ago – namely, working to pass into law in 2009 the ENDA our entire community wants and deserves.

Human Rights Campaign – the massively powerful and wealthy non-profit whose lobbying helped pass this non-inclusive piece of legislation – sent out a similar statement, although president Joe Solmonese leaves the future notably blank:

Today, we witnessed the making of civil rights history in the U.S. House of Representatives by the passing of ENDA. This vote by Congress is an important step at ensuring that millions of gay and lesbian Americans will never again have to go to work in fear of losing their jobs because of who they are.

Our fight for equality will not be won overnight. It will be won one step at a time, and we will not give up until we reach the finish line. This is a critical piece of legislation and a major step toward the finish line for all Americans.

Though Solmonese himself doesn’t mention the lack of trans rights, HRC’s press folk did express “disappointment” that HR 3685 neglects countless American citizens.

Though we can’t know where this vote will take our queer nation, it’s clear that the wounds will take weeks – if not years – to heel. The past six week have been decidedly decisive, with people taking sides on who deserves rights and which path best suits our current cultural climate. It’s sparked infighting and no doubt many, many tears. It’s pitted smaller organizations, activists and journalists against HRC, an organization we undoubtedly need. But, we also need organizations like the National Center For Transgender Equality, whose leader, Mara Keisling, voiced her aggravation against HRC yesterday:

…They totally abandoned us, but even worse was all the lies. I can tell you that HRC has aggressively been pushing for passage of the non-inclusive ENDA since the end of September. We got an e-mail yesterday from one congressional office describing their letter as HRC’s new new position. They went from, ‘We don’t support the bill,’ to ‘We don’t support the bill but we support you if you support the bill,’ to ‘Forget trans people, we need a win.’

We cannot let this win destroy our communities. We cannot let it destroy our solidarity. Must we support this bill? Yes. Must we continue to push for trans inclusion? Yes. The next months and years won’t come easily, readers, but if we can keep our wits, wiles and wisdom, we’ll succeed. When, where and how remains to be seen, but we must not let these wounds fester. Now that we have a legislative leg to stand on, we must use it to walk into a democratic and civil future.

Click here for the entire roll call of ENDA votes.