Dear Senator Reid:
The other day, I questioned your commitment to the LGBT community on ENDA.
I could not understand why you are not a co-sponsor of ENDA, though I know you had privately assured some back at the beginning of August that you endorse it. This is a situation that many of your colleagues are in. Private support, but nothing public.
After an outpouring of comments supportive of you from our community, more information about your public position from your staff, and explanations from DC experts about the minutiae of Senate traditions, I realize that I misunderstood your unique situation as Majority Leader of the Senate.
I owe you an apology and thanks for supporting us on ENDA. Also, thanks are due to your gracious staff, who took much time and effort to explain the details to me, and who assured me that you would not take an honest mistake amiss. I would also like to ask that you encourage your colleagues who have offered private support to go on the record with their commitment to job equality, so we can avoid a Santayana moment of repeating history.
Let me explain. But first, my apology.
Your Public Statement of Support for ENDA
Yes, I must admit that I let something slip through the cracks, and I was misinformed when I sat down to write my post. While I picked up on your private commitment of support at the beginning of August, I missed the report in the beginning of September of your public statement of support for ENDA at a Human Rights Campaign fundraising dinner in Las Vegas. I apologize for this misstatement.
In fact, I will reproduce your words here so everyone can see what you said:
The Senate will soon outlaw discrimination in the workplace by making it illegal to fire, refuse to hire or refuse to promote anyone simply based on his or her sexual orientation or gender identity. It's called the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and I am committed to passing it out of the Senate and sending it to President Obama for his signature.
Thank you, Senator, for making such a strong public statement in support of ENDA.
Senate Traditions of Majority Leader Co-sponsorship
I also have to apologize for something else. I took you to task for not co-sponsoring the bill. What I did not know, however, was that there is a tradition in DC that the Majority Leader rarely co-sponsors bills. The able interventions of many DC experts, including members of your own staff, who so graciously took the time to explain it, helped me to understand that your lack of co-sponsorship does not mean you are lukewarm about the bill. Rather, you are abiding by the traditions of the Senate.
As I understand it now, the Majority Leader, by tradition, does not co-sponsor bills except in a few instances. In fact, as one of your staff explained, you were a co-sponsor of the hate crimes legislation, but removed yourself from co-sponsorship when you became Majority Leader because of this tradition. And this same tradition prevents you from co-sponsoring ENDA. I apologize for criticizing you on this issue, because you did not deserve it.
As you said in your speech, you are "committed to passing it out of the Senate and sending it to President Obama for his signature."
I thank you for making this commitment. My heart is gratified to know that we have such a staunch advocate in the Senate.
Please forgive my rash ebullience. Let me tell you a bit of personal history, if you don't mind, so you can understand where this comes from. I would also like to ask your help.
A Bitter Pill in 2007
In 2007, when the House was considering ENDA, many Representatives had privately indicated support for the bill, but many did not say so publicly. DC insiders promised that this was "the way DC worked," on the inside, on the sly, especially with a controversial subject, and that the bill would pass. But when crunch time came, the whip count failed. Many legislators became concerned at the last minute with going on the record with their support. In order to ensure a positive vote, House leaders separated it into two bills, which meant the transgender community would not be included in the bill that passed the House.
This caused terrible rifts within our community that are still healing. Community leaders and organizations that had promised not to support a bill without the transgender community went back on their word. Leaders even openly questioned whether transgender people were properly a part of the LGBT community. Over 400 LGBT organizations banded together into the United ENDA Coalition, opposing the split ENDA bill (SPLENDA). Some progressive Representatives, deeply supportive of our community, voted against SPLENDA. Nonetheless, SPLENDA went forward and was passed in the House. The transgender bill died an unquiet death.
I myself was devastated at the time, and there was a great personal cost to my own emotional health. I lost trust in many of our community organizations, and in many within our community. I was angry at Representatives, many of whom are the staunchest supporters of our community, but by whom I felt personally betrayed.
Most of all, I was deeply disappointed in myself, because I had stood by and done nothing while my transgender community was thrown under the bus. I remembered all of the pain of my own experiences: losing my job as an attorney, unable to find work, no place to live, unable to retain custody of my 4 year old, losing friends and relatives, settling for a secretarial job, people laughing at me on the street, threats of assault and worse. I vowed to myself "never again." Never again would I sit idly by and blandly accept vague promises in the place of firm public commitments.
Senator Reid, Can You Help Us?
Time marches on. 2009 is not 2007. Fears of the past should not necessarily dictate actions of the present, though they linger. The House is very supportive of ENDA. The Senate is more complex, but many good people there, including yourself, have pledged their support. Today, ENDA has 40 co-sponsors in the Senate. That's a good sign.
However, I privately wonder whether history will repeat itself. Here we are again with a legislative assembly where many of the good people with a will to do the right thing are not coming forward to publicly support the bill. I have received assurances from some DC insiders I know that this is the way Washington works, on the inside, on the sly, especially with a controversial subject, and that the bill will pass. It all sounds terribly, terribly familiar. My heart hurts a bit, and I think of my people bowed under the weight of discrimination and prejudice, hoping, and waiting, and hoping.
I have been following the politics of ENDA very closely, creating publicly available spreadsheets with vote counts for the House and the Senate for my Facebook group, Inclusive ENDA. We have about 5,000 people in the group, which is committed to educating Congress about ENDA.
Looking at our lists as of yesterday morning, there were eight Senators who had privately indicated that they will support ENDA, but had neither stated their support publicly, nor signed on as co-sponsors. With the 40 co-sponsors, plus your vote, that would be 49 of the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster.
These are not Senators who are undecided. These are not Senators who need convincing. So why the lack of public support?
Taking to heart the advice given to me by some of my DC colleagues, who said that "information is only a phone call away," I called, yesterday morning, all eight of the offices of the Senators who have privately indicated their support for the bill. I left detailed messages for their Communication Directors. I received two responses, from the offices of Senator Mark Begich of Alaska, and Senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota. Happily, their communication directors confirmed that both Senator Begich and Senator Dorgan support S1584 and will vote for the bill. I did not receive a return from Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri, but she has confirmed that she supports S1584 and will vote for it, to representatives of PROMO, a Missouri advocacy group.
However, I received no return calls from the others. Remember, these are Senators who have already privately confirmed that they will vote for ENDA. If we can't get our friends on board publicly, what's going to happen with the Senators on the fence? Here is the list of Senators who have privately indicated support in letters to or conversations with our group members:
1. Max Baucus (D-MT)
2. Jon Tester (D-MT)
3. Ben Nelson (D-NE)
4. Jim Webb (D-VA)
5. Mark Warner (D-VA)
If these Senators would co-sponsor the bill, or even state publicly that they will support it, that would bring us to 49 votes.
Having 49 public commitments would go a long way towards helping convince the Senators who are undecided. We calculate that there are another 9 who, based on a track record of co-sponsoring prior legislation using the language of sexual orientation and gender identity, are probably supportive of ENDA. That would bring us to 58. We also think there is a list of 9 others who could possibly, maybe, support ENDA. If we got two of those on board, that's our 60.
But the first step is getting those who are privately on board to make a public commitment. I and many others have called and asked for their public commitment, to no avail. We are left to wait, and wonder.
Senator, can you help us?
Please Call And Thank Senator Reid
Senator Reid, thank you for taking a public stand in favor of job equality. We consider it important to thank our allies who stand up on the difficult issues, so I will ask that people call your office to thank you for doing so.
Please, readers, call Senator Reid and let him know that we appreciate his stand for job equality. 202-224-3542 (click here for email)
You may also wish to call and thank the three Senators who have now publicly confirmed their commitment to ENDA at (202) 224-3121:
Senator Mark Begich of Alaska
Senator McCaskill of Missouri
Senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota