The Employment Non-Discrimination Act juggernaut is slowly moving forward, set to be introduced, so I hear, on Wednesday. I call it a "juggernaut" because the size and number of pieces to be managed is truly daunting.
Almost hardly noticeable among the many items on the jam-packed "gay agenda," it is also one of the most important and the one most likely to have the greatest effect on the lives of most ordinary LGBT Americans.
The workplace is a place where most of us participate on a daily basis. It is a cornerstone of our capitalist society. Unemployment and underemployment due to discrimination are more effective at marginalizing our lives and our voices than any other form of institutional discrimination. While I have acknowledged that it is certainly no panacea, I have no hesitation in stating that its passage will create the greatest good for the most people of all the issues currently on the table.
Is it going to be enacted by the House and the Senate? If a vote were to be taken today, I do not believe it would pass. But we have about 90 days before it comes up for a vote in the House. The Senate vote will come sometime later. If we take action to meet with our legislators, I believe strongly that it will pass the House and the Senate. Here's why I believe that, and what actions I believe need to be taken in order for it to pass.
Why I Believe ENDA Will Pass
There are 434 Representatives in the House. 218 are needed for a majority. As Co-Chair of the "Inclusive ENDA" campaign (along with Bil Browning, Waymon Hudson and Pam Spaulding), with over 2500 members, we created a publicly available spreadsheet showing the position of every U.S. Representative on an inclusive ENDA, along with the source of our information. The information we have suggests there are 188 yes or probably yes, and 101 unconfirmed. That means we need at least 30 more yes votes at a bare minimum. Other groups have different, more optimistic counts, but I, as a lawyer, tend to be evidence-based, and I just haven't seen the evidence for larger numbers yet.
There are 45 Democrats whose positions are simply unknown to us. That is grounds for optimism, in that they are not necessarily against, or even undecided. We just don't know. I encourage any of you who are in their districts to call them and let me know (at ENDAcampaign@gmail.com). Knowing that they are undecided would be an upstat. Here's the telephone number to call to get their offices and ask them about an inclusive ENDA (one that includes both sexual orientation and gender identity): (202) 224-3121.
Here are the names:
Dennis Cardoza (CA), James Himes (CT), Allen Boyd, (FL), Alan Grayson (FL), Sanford Bishop (GA), David Scott (GA), Walt Minnick (ID), Bobby Rush (IL), Daniel Lipinksi (IL), Deborah Halvorson (IL), Jerry Costello (IL), Peter Visclosky (IN), Joe Donnelly (IN), Brad Ellsworth (IN), Ben Chandler (KY), Chellie Pingree (ME), Frank Kratovil (MD), Donna Edwards (MD), Bart Stupak (MI), Mark Schauer (MI), Travis Childers (MI), Bennie Thompson (MI), Dina Titus (NV), Scott Murphy (NY), Paul Tonki (NY), Daniel Maffei (NY), Eric Massa (NY), Larry Kissel (NC), Brad Pomeroy (ND), Dan Boren (OK), Jason Altmire (PA), Christopher Carney (PA), John Murtha (PA), John Spratt (SC), Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (SD), Al Green (TX), Solomon Ortiz (TX), Glenn Nye (VA), Bobby Scott (VA), Thomas Perriello (VA), Rick Boucher (VA), Gerald Connolly (VA), Alan Mollohan (WV), Ron Kind (WI), David Obey (WI).
The Senate is going to be a harder nut to crack. While there are 58 Democrats in the Senate (59 if you count Joe Lieberman, an Independent who caucuses with the Democrats, and 60 if and when Al Franken is sworn in), the statewide constituencies of the Senate mean that Senators have more interest groups to appease. While most Representatives' Districts are either mostly liberal or mostly conservative, a lot of states have a large number of liberal voters, a large number of conservative voters and a large number of swing voters. It's going to be harder to herd the cats who inhabit the Senate.
However, the first job is getting the House to vote on and pass an inclusive ENDA. If the House leaders aren't convinced there are enough votes to pass an inclusive ENDA, I have no doubt they will strip gender identity out again. They are not interested in a losing battle. (I think there is value to a symbolic fight, but I am not a leader of the House, so my opinion is not of much importance in this calculus.) So, I am not happy when GLBT leaders say that they are confident the House is in favor of an inclusive ENDA, but won't release the list of Representatives they are counting on. I played right into that confidence game the last time around. I'm no Charlie Brown, who can be fooled into trusting in that political football, only to give Lucy the last laugh again.
Necessary Action Steps
Action step one is calling the Representatives whose positions are unknown, and finding out whether they are for, against, or undecided about an inclusive ENDA. If you want to help fill in our spreadsheet, you can do so by clicking here to join our Facebook "Inclusive ENDA" campaign. Or, if you don't want to join anything, just call them and send me an email. I'm not choosy.
The "Inclusive ENDA" Facebook campaign is dedicated to educating Members of Congress who are undecided about an inclusive ENDA. It has been in operation since May 29. We now have over 2500 members. So far, we have been concentrating on moving the numbers of undecided/unknowns. We have done so, going from 140 undecided/unknowns down to 101. That's a good start, I think, and we will continue to work on that, but it is time to move to Phase II of our educational campaign.
Phase II: The Educational Meetings
The next step is meeting with legislators in their local districts over the summer, when they are at home. There are a number of groups working on this project, and the Inclusive ENDA group is no exception. Our plan is to contact legislators with a letter, signed by constituents in their district, requesting a meeting in August in the local district. These letters will include your stories in your own words of how sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination affect you, along with three meeting dates (of which they will hopefully choose one).
If you are interested in participating in our meeting efforts, you can register by going to our sign-up form at http://bit.ly/xQo3a. You'll need to know your Representative's name, which you can find at votesmart.org. We'll also ask you for a short story about how sexual orientation/gender identity discrimination has affected you personally. You don't need to be gay, nor is it necessary that you personally have been discriminated against. We are all affected by discrimination in our society against family, friends and fellow citizens. It is important that legislators be met on a human level with a story they can relate to, and not just abstract principles or mindless advocacy. The meetings will occur in August. Please sign up now!
The ENDA Action Steps
To summarize, it is important that legislators in the unknown/undecided category receive phone calls. Above I listed the unknown Democrats, but there are other legislators who are undecided, and they need phone calls too. If you want to find out where your legislator stands, see our spreadsheet. (Email us at ENDAcampaign@gmail.com when you get some info.)
Secondly, meetings in local districts must occur this summer. While letters, emails and phone calls are good, legislators are much more impressed by meeting on a human level with real people from their district who have stories that create a human connection. In addition, even those who have indicated they support an inclusive ENDA will be petitioned by conservatives with arguments of their own. Legislators need to know that this is important to you. Please sign up to meet with your legislators in your district with other like-minded constituents.
Enough talking to ourselves. Let's get the ball rolling with the people who have the votes to make this happen in Congress!