"Fifteen years or more at least" Mara Keisling was saying in response to the question I had just asked. Ms. Keisling is the Executive Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) and a partner with United ENDA, an organization dedicated to seeing an inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) passed at the federal level. The question I had asked was "How long has ENDA, in one form or another, been kicking around the halls of Congress?"
Frankly, I was a bit surprised. "Fifteen years." My familiarity with ENDA legislation stems primarily from the 2007 attempt to push the bill through Congress. The 2007 effort was so poorly orchestrated and agenda-filled it became a political debacle that threatened to pull our movement for equality completely apart.
Whatever our movement's past self-inflicted shortcomings may be, they must be set aside. ENDA is way past due and the clock may have just wound down. If we don't organize again while momentum is high, it could easily be another several years before we see unqualified support materialize in earnest.
A bit over two weeks ago, while not a done deal, ENDA looked as if it would pass handily in the House and prospects in the Senate were firming up. The bill had 189 co-sponsors in the House - more than any other LGBT bill. Ever. Instead of humbly petitioning key Representatives and Senators, a new ethos was revealing itself. "It has been interesting," said Mara Keisling, "to find key legislators or staffers asking to come and see YOU, instead of needing to hound them for time."
Suddenly, it has all changed.
ENDA has been taken off the list of bills to be marked-up for vote, which means it will be February at the earliest before anyone in Congress even glances at it again. By then it will most likely be too late, prospects for support in the Senate will dissolve rapidly the closer we get to 2010 elections. If ENDA is pushed past those - forget it until we have a Senate majority again.
I have never understood our community obsession with bright shiny things: DOMA, SSM, DADT - all bright and shiny - and all unlikely to happen. ENDA is the keystone in the arch behind which greater freedoms for all LGBT folk reside.
Arguments that ENDA constitutes "special rights" are easily thwarted. I know. I was Director of Operations for the One Kalamazoo campaign, which upheld an inclusive Non-Discrimination Ordinance on November 3 with a vote of 63%. When you begin talking about marriage and the military, other ignorant perceptions come into play that are not as easily dismissed. You can, however, successfully make the case for equality and fairness for everyone, including LGBT people, in employment and housing.
We still have time to flood Rep. Miller's and Rep. Frank's offices with calls. We still have time to flood Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann with e-mails. You still have time to call your state Representative and demand to know why ENDA was postponed.
I think I will spend the afternoon doing some local organizing. I don't have any special powers, but,just little old me can probably muster a few people to help and while I am doing that I can still admire those bright shiny things from where they belong for now: on the shelf.