shock + awe

Get Equal’s ENDA Storm on Nancy Pelosi: Is This a Coordinated Bicoastal Activist Thriller?

It’s unclear whether today’s Dan Choi handcuffing was the lieutenant acting alone, or in tandem with Robin McGehee and Kip Williams’ new group Get Equal, but something tells us we’re seeing a coordinated effort to shock activists and lawmakers alike: The just-formed Get Equal says its members have stormed the San Francisco and D.C. offices of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi demanding she bring ENDA to a vote, and won’t leave until she does. Or she has them arrested.

While the ineffective Human Rights Campaign sits idly by and plays with celebrities, we’re witnessing a more renegade approach to securing equality going on this minute.

According to en email blast from Get Equality, members “won’t leave until Speaker Pelosi commits to bring the Employment Non-Discrimination Act to the floor for a vote this month – or until they are arrested.” Sound familiar? It should. That’s just what Choi did in D.C. today with Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, refusing to budge from the White House fence until forcibly taken away by the Secret Service.

It’s clear Choi is backing what Get Equal is doing; he tweeted support for the group three days ago. And Choi worked with McGeHee and Williams on the National Equality March, at which he spoke. Today, then, he turned an invitation from HRC to speak at its DADT rally after Kathy Griffin into an opportunity to pursue his own path. And while it may have had a script, it certainly wasn’t HRC’s.

And now we’re hearing Paul Yandura — who was involved in the Dallas Principles and has been a vocal critic of the do-nothing Democratic National Committee, and organized in the “secret” activist meeting with Richard Socarides that McGehee attended — is bailing out McGeHee, Choi, and Capt. Jim Pietrangelo. (Update: Or not. We’re hearing they’re being held overnight and will appear before a judge tomorrow morning.)

This doesn’t seem like a happy coincidence. It appears to be a new legion of gay activists taking over while Joe Solmonese is pushed further into irrelevance.

Whether either of the moves proves effective — getting votes on DADT and ENDA — remains to be seen. If Obama and Pelosi “cave” to the demands, they’ll be seen as being at the mercy of a bunch of civilians, which isn’t a great message power brokers like to send. But if they don’t meet their demands? There will be more uproar. More disruptions. And, we can all agree, much less cash toward their political careers.

UPDATE: Almost certainly a coordinated effort on both coasts. The same publicist that sent out a release earlier about Choi sends out this one:

LGBTQ Activists Call for Action at Speaker Pelosi’s Doorstep

GetEQUAL storms Speaker’s San Francisco and Washington, D.C. offices calling for leadership on Employment Non-Discrimination Act

SAN FRANCISCO – Activists for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights today simultaneously stormed the Washington, D.C. and San Francisco offices of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to demand that the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) be brought to a vote on the House floor this month. The action was led by Robin McGehee and Kip Williams, co-founders of GetEQUAL, a new lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer activist community.

“We understand that Speaker Pelosi and the rest of Congress are in the midst of passing health care reform legislation,” said McGehee. “However, health care for many LGBTQ families is intimately connected to employment protections and we cannot wait a minute longer for those protections. We’ve already waited far too long.”

“We demand that Nancy Pelosi show the same passion and leadership on ENDA as she has on health care reform” added Williams. “At least with the passage of a health care bill, those who are unjustly fired because of her inaction on ENDA will have access to affordable health care. Failure to swiftly push ENDA through Congress after the health care vote, however, is not acceptable.”

ENDA legislation has been stuck in the House Committee on Education and Labor since last year. Contrary to what has been told to many LGBTQ allies in Congress, “The Hill” reported in December that Pelosi assured Democrats she would not bring any controversial bills to the floor for a vote this year.

“Nancy Pelosi seems more intent on getting Democrats re-elected to Congress this year and protecting her Speakership than protecting LGBTQ people from job discrimination,” said Shannon Cuttle from Detroit, Michigan. Cuttle was recently affected by a lack of employment discrimination protection and participated in today’s action in Washington, D.C. “I know firsthand how silence by our legislators affects my livelihood, as well as my dignity.”

In addition to concern that ENDA continues to be delayed, the LGBTQ community fears that gender protections currently contained in the legislation may be removed. Accordingly, activists seek a commitment from Pelosi that those protections will remain intact and only an all-inclusive ENDA will be pushed forward.

“A recent study on discrimination found that 97 percent of transgender people who responded had experienced some level of harassment and 26 percent had been fired simply for being transgender,” said David McElhatton, a transgender activist who participated in the San Francisco action today. “We thought we had an ally in Nancy Pelosi but she has taken our equality for granted. We are not going to let up on her until she takes action to insure that we are all protected in the workplace.”

Today is GetEQUAL’s first action since the group launched earlier this week. The effort against Pelosi is central to GetEQUAL’s mission to build and nurture a grassroots action network in key cities across the country when needed to fight for and protect LGBTQ rights.

To view a video of those participating in today’s San Francisco action as well as images from today’s action in Speaker Pelosi’s offices go to www.getequal.org/getenda/