Following six weeks of rancorous debate, the House of Representatives voted today on a version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) that does not include protections on the basis of gender identity. It passed by a vote of 235 to 184.
When confronted with the possibility of Congress moving forward with a bill that stripped out protections for transgender people, the activist and grassroots backbone of our movement responded almost instantaneously in unprecedented numbers with conviction, passion and political savvy. We are frustrated with this course of action, but it will not stop us from pressing forward toward our ultimate goal: nondiscrimination protections for everyone in our community.
When congressional leadership announced late last month that it planned to advance a version of ENDA that only contained protections on the basis of sexual orientation to the House floor, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Inc., took a leading role in moving to block that strategy and move forward on the fully inclusive bill. A coalition called United ENDA was created with more than 360 national, state and local organizations joining the struggle.
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 also disappointed that House leadership forced many members of its own caucus to choose between voting for a bill not supported by most in the LGBT community, or voting against a civil rights bill. This entire process has been painful, divisive and unnecessary. And worst of all, we went through all of this on behalf of a bill that the president has already said he would veto.
The past six weeks have been among the most difficult and challenging our community has ever faced. When confronted with the possibility of Congress moving forward on a bill that stripped out protections for transgender people, the activist and grassroots backbone of our movement responded almost instantaneously in unprecedented numbers with conviction, passion and political savvy. United ENDA — a broad coalition of more than 360 national, statewide and local LGBT organizations, community centers and health clinics — fueled the effort. All of this has shaken the long-established order to its core and things will never be the same. While we are frustrated with the course of action that has been taken so far, we will not stop pressing forward toward our ultimate goal: nondiscrimination protections for everyone in our community.
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.
We also applaud our champions in Congress who courageously fought in committee, in their caucus and on the floor to guarantee protections for all LGBT individuals. Many members of Congress took significant risks to buck their leadership and speak out in favor of an inclusive bill. Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) fought to bring an amendment to the floor to add gender identity protections. Reps. Rush Holt (D-N.J.), Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.), Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) and Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) voted against the non-inclusive bill in the House Education and Labor Committee. Seven members voted against the bill on the floor today on the principle that the bill should have provided protections on the basis of gender identity: Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.), Rush Holt (D-N.J.), Michael Michaud (D-Maine), Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.), Nydia Velazquez (D-N.Y.) and Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.). The LGBT community will be forever grateful for their passionate support.