Joe Solmonese

We can win this one, with enough effort

Filed By Joe Solmonese | September 14, 2007 11:35 AM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: ENDA, gay rights, HRC, labor, LGBT civil rights, LGBT community, protections, workplace protections

For the first time since it was introduced 13 years ago, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) received a hearing before the key committee of jurisdiction in the U.S. House of Representatives last week. The Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions Subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Robert Andrews (D-NJ), heard compelling and poignant testimony from academics, workers, business leaders and the bill’s sponsors urging passage of this long overdue piece of legislation.

The version of ENDA currently before Congress—which has been promised a full vote by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi—is inclusive of not only gay, lesbian and bisexual workers, but transgender ones as well. This milestone follows the success of a hate crimes bill, which was passed by the House as a stand-alone bill for the first time ever in May. Congress and the nation it represents continue to move forward, and the Human Rights Campaign continues to be there every step of the way. Our lobbyists are on Capitol Hill every day fighting to make sure the concerns of the GLBT community are heard by our elected officials, most recently helping our Congressional allies put together a slate of powerful witnesses, which visibly moved many of the Representatives during the ENDA hearing.

But ENDA’s progress was not achieved by lobbyists alone. We’ve seen the signs of a population ready for change across the country. National surveys continually show that the vast majority of Americans want to protect workers from being fired simply for being gay. Newspapers from rural Indiana to Washington, D.C., have published editorials supporting ENDA’s passage. Christine Chavez has called for ENDA’s enactment, noting that her grandfather, legendary activist Cesar Chavez, “recognized that discrimination, in any form, undermines the struggle for dignity, liberty and humanity.”

And ENDA is crucial not just for the workers it protects. As Springfield, Mass., police officer Michael Carney expressed in his testimony describing his experience with on-the-job anti-gay discrimination, “Discrimination impacts the lives of everyone. It not only deprives people of livelihoods and safe working conditions, it also robs the public of vital services they would have otherwise received from talented and dedicated workers.” ENDA promises to be good for business as well. “Economists and businesses have long argued that businesses will be most successful when they recruit, hire, and retain employees on the basis of talent, not personal characteristics that have no impact on an employee’s ability to perform a job well,” said Professor Lee Badgett of the University of California – Los Angeles’ Williams Institute. Kelly Baker, Vice President of Diversity for industry giant General Mills, testified that an inclusive employment policy has contributed to her company’s huge success. “People with diverse experiences and backgrounds bring different and uniquely valuable perspectives and solutions. This diversity drives innovation. That’s why we support any practice or public policy that encourages bringing diversity to the table,” she said.

But the battle is far from over. As we saw from the hate crimes fight, the radical right will stop at nothing to spread misinformation about the bill and defeat ENDA. A few well-placed lies can activate their base in a matter of days. I've seen it happen. Even as the legislation goes further than it ever has before both in political process and scope, anti-gay groups were on hand, and they've been rapidly increasing their messaging on ENDA. Opponents of equality will claim that ENDA creates “special rights” for GLBT workers. Nothing could be further from the truth. ENDA is modeled after Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the landmark legislation which protects individuals against employment discrimination on the basis of race and color, as well as national origin, sex, and religion. And, as bill sponsor Rep. Tammy Baldwin testified last week, “[ENDA] simply affords to all Americans basic employment protection from discrimination based on irrational prejudice.”

HRC will continue to work tirelessly to counter these insidious efforts. Our blog, HRC Back Story, keeps our community informed with frequent updates on Congressional action and calls for action that ensures we use our voices to keep our momentum going. To read the most up-to-date information on ENDA and other major concerns of the GLBT community, visit the blog at Already we’re seeing the backlash against ENDA from groups like the Traditional Values Coalition, which posted on its website claims that “ENDA Protects Mental Disorders and Seeks to Silence People of Faith” (despite ENDA’s religious exemption) and “ENDA will force businesses with 15 or more employees to bow to the demands of homosexuals, cross-dressers, drag queens, transsexuals and she-males.” To fight back against this hateful ignorance and persist in advocating for fairness in the workplace, go to and find out what you can do to encourage lawmakers to put ENDA on the president’s desk.

Together, we can make our ENDA campaign as strong as possible over the coming weeks. We can win this one, with enough effort. Let's make sure we do.

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Thanks for all you're doing to help pass ENDA, Joe. It's not easy working inside the system, that's for sure. I don't envy you your position or responsibilities.