Bil Browning

Senate ENDA hearing: Where are the trans witnesses?

Filed By Bil Browning | November 04, 2009 7:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: Employment Non-Discrimination Act, employment protections, ENDA, Jeff Merkley, LGBT rights, Senate, transgender

Tomorrow morning the Senate will hear testimony on S. 1584 - the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. The legislation would provide employment protections for LGBT people. In a strategic move endorsed by the Human Rights Campaign and other prominent leaders and activists, transgender protections were stripped from the legislation to make it more palatable to squeemish Democrats. It didn't make it far in the legislative process since then-President Bush indicated he'd veto it - trans protections or not.

President Obama has indicated that the fully-inclusive legislation is a priority for his administration and that he would sign it into law immediately. So far, our slowdown has been in Congress as the economy and health care took top billing on the national agenda. question-mark3a.jpgENDA, however, is slated to be the next major piece of legislation coming on the heels of the health care debate. The House has held hearings on ENDA already and tomorrow's hearings will be the first in the Senate this session.

The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, however, originally overlooked an integral part of our community. Us. All the witnesses testifying were straight people.

So the Committee added a gay man to the witness list. Tada! Problem solved.

Hardly.

If there's one thing most people learned out of 2007's ENDA debacle, it's that the majority of our community and supporters agree that no matter the order of letters, the LGBT community is just that - a community. We rise or fall together and the bulk of us won't tolerate leaving the trans community behind.

United ENDA sprang up quickly following the news that trans people would be stripped from last year's version. The loose group's membership consisted of almost every state equality group, several national orgs, and quite a few grassroots groups as well. The groundswell of support was enormous and the Human Rights Campaign took a lot of heat over their decision.

This year, all of our organizations are on the same page and fighting for our entire community.

Last week when the Committee put out a tentative list of witnesses, the lack of a single LGBT person stood out like a sore thumb. The Senators didn't want to listen to stories of discrimination since they already knew it existed but instead wanted to focus on the legal aspects. Several of our national orgs and Congressional allies raised holy hell over the decision.

The Committee reconsidered over the weekend and decided that the lack of LGBT people was understandably concerning and they added Springfield, Massachusetts police officer Mike Carney to the witness list. Carney is openly gay.

Here's the current line up for tomorrow morning:

Witness Testimony

Panel I

  • Tom Perez, Assistant Attorney General, Civil Rights Division, United States Department of Justice, Washington, DC

Panel II

  • Helen Norton, Associate Professor of Law, University of Colorado School of Law, Boulder, CO
  • The Honorable Lisa Madigan, Attorney General, State of Illinois, Chicago, IL
  • Virginia Nguyen, Diversity & Inclusion Team Member, Nike, Inc., Beaverton, OR
  • Mike Carney, Police officer, City of Springfield Police Department, Springfield, MA
  • Craig Parshall, Senior Vice President and General Counsel, National Religious Broadcasters Association, Manassas, VA
  • Camille Olson, Partner, Seyfarth Shaw, LLP, Chicago, IL

Notice that there's still not a transgender, lesbian or bisexual person speaking - although several LGBT people and organizations have submitted written testimony. Senator Jeff Merkley, lead sponsor of ENDA, was quick to see the glaring omissions. Unfortunately, the senator_merkley.jpgSenator doesn't have control over the witnesses - the Committee picks them - although the Committee takes recommendations for witnesses under advisory.

So what do you do when you're an LGBT-friendly Senator who wants to make sure the entire community is heard from on such an important issue? You invite several LGBT people to speak at a pre-hearing press conference on Capital Hill and you make sure several trans people are there to speak directly to the media and the American public.

Kudos to Senator Merkley and the national orgs for making things right. It's heartening to hear from multiple sources that the exclusion of trans witnesses wasn't considered acceptable by anyone and we were united again.


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It's more evidence that while we're clearly making significant and even downright groundbreaking progress, we still have a lot more work to do.

I wonder: If the members of the Committee were taking on an issue that had direct impact on, say, African-Americans, would they consider it acceptable to hold a hearing on the issue with an all-white panel?

Clearly there are still some members of Congress who aren't making that correlation, though thankfully others obviously do.

Bil Browing gave me VD | November 4, 2009 8:03 PM

If I hear the cliche "we're making progress, but we've still got a lot of work to do" one more time, I will puke. We're not making progress if, 40 years after Stonewall, we're still don't have basic civil rights. That cliche is nothing more than an excuse to defend the Democrats shitty support for lgbt equality and GayInc's endless fundraising. They give great speeches, but they don't DO much.

Nonsense.

We certainly are making progress, we're just not making enough progress, nor is it happening quickly enough. If you take the long view and consider how things were for LGBT Americans socially, politically, and culturally 20, 10, or even just 5 years ago compared to how they are now, you know things are markedly better for us in this country than ever before.

And yes, there's still a lot of work to do. We just got hate crimes but we still need ENDA. I mean, damn dude, we just survived 8 years of Bush. Give the Dems at least a little time to pick up the pieces and sweep up the trash before you complain they're not rearranging the furniture fast enough.

OH! WHICH VD?!? HA!

But yes, you're way off.

You know, normally the anonymous "name" you gave yourself would get the comment TOSsed, but it's been a day short on laughs and that made me giggle. So I published it.

No need to e-mail me tons of warnings about it, folks. I laughed. And I needed a good chuckle today.

Hey, it ain't so bad. Don't beat up on yourselves! Those that practice beastiality and incest are in the same boat. Maybe you could add another few letters and be the LGBT-BI group. Yea!

I get dibs on the acronym payola -- ya hear?

I just don't understand why straight haters read gay blogs. Keep the f*ck out, moron - you ain't gettin' no free blowjobs here.

You know what? At this point I truly do not care at all whether any of the witnesses are gay, transgender or whatever. If it takes "hiding" these witnesses to get ENDA passed, so be it. I do not care what political trickery has to be used either. IOW, attach it to whatever bill it takes if necessary. What matters is getting this passed into law and now I'm no longer above using the tactics of our enemies to do it. I want results, not more showmanship.

That's just weird, since the biggest experts on ENDA are LGBT (surprise). I guess we'll see how this turns out.

This does not surprise me at all, but it certainly saddens me. I do not believe hiding transgender folk will do us ANY good. The Religious Right is going to focus right on the transgender community when lobbying our lawmakers, and they're going to lie about transgender folk. We need to put as many transgender people up in front of Congress so they see that these ARE IN FACT LIES!

I don't think we can get an effective ENDA passed without making transgender people very visible during this process. They're not scary monsters. Trans people are everyday people.

Bravo, Alex. And as you know, thanks to Congressman Barney Frank, one of us even WORKS on Capitol Hill, the first ever.

Anybody been reading my stuff from Kalamazoo? This is one of the undertones in it. Sure, lots of trans-folk in high places, they just didn't want to talk about us or see us. We might actually turn out to be fairly repectable :-)

The hearing by the senate committee to decide the fate of ENDA will hear the testimony of transHomohobic lie Craig Parshall of the NRB who's creditability at the House appearance was smashed against the rocks of honesty by other witness and nearly all of the Congressional representatives present.

WHY is this sorry excuse at this hearing?

Where strings pulled by the Catholic Church to have him present? Is he the sacrificial bigot offered by the republicans? If he is there to hate us, why do we not have a voice, and who is Mike Carney anyways?

This reeks of political cronyism. We all know there is no guarantees and we still can lose ENDA in Committee.

Parshall and one other witness were put on the list by the Republican members of the committee. They are entitled to name a fraction of those who will testify.

In the Senate, unlike, say, Maine, the minority still has some rights.

Edgar, are you trying to let people know that you've started dating again. Or is that a neigh?

I really think we do need a representative or two up to speak out for the masses. I would go but I have not had any problems with my job or anything else. I do know that some have, I don't know how many. There are bloggers who write for this column who have said they have had problems with jobs, why don't they get up there?
I really don't see why there should be an ENDA, I think that discrimination of any sorts is wrong. They should just write a bill saying no discrimination of any kind. Of course I could be wrong on this, I just think there are too many lawyers out there that want the wording just so.

That's easy to say Sheila, but not very realistic or practical. Remember that we're talking about people who have lost their jobs due to discrimination. Some of those people will have savings and/or will have been able to secure new sources of income, and others will not have those resources.

A trip to DC to lobby can get pretty expensive. Depending on where in the country you're coming from, just airfare can be close to $1000, and then there's still food, lodging, and transportation once you get there. For a lot of transfolks it's just not feasible to just pick up and run to DC when the call comes.

In addition, if you understood anything about how Congress works, you'd understand why it's impossible to create an all-encompassing anti-discrimination bill. Even if such a bill could be written, we'd all be old and grey before it ever saw an actual vote.