Dr. Jillian T. Weiss

Scholarships Available: ENDA Lobby Day in DC March 16

Filed By Dr. Jillian T. Weiss | March 04, 2010 2:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics, Politics
Tags: employment discrimination, Employment Non-Discrimination Act, ENDA, lobby day

On Tuesday, March 16, there will be a lobby day specifically for ENDA in Washington, D.C.. LGBT people and allies from around the country who support ENDA will be there. I will be there. Will you?

It is particularly important to ENDA that people attend from the eight states in which Senators are on the fence. If you live in one of these states, you hold the fate of ENDA in your hands. If you are from one of these eight states, and you are a currently-unemployed LGBT person who is unemployed because of job discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, the Bilerico Project would like to help you get there.

  • Alaska
  • Arkansas
  • Florida
  • Indiana
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota>
  • Ohio
  • West Virginia

This is too important to be limited to only middle or upper class people who can afford a ticket. Bilerico is excited to be partnering with PFLAG National to support PFLAG's policy work in order to bring people with stories of discrimination to Capitol Hill.

If you would like to donate to help this effort, we would welcome your assistance. More info after the jump.

You can register here for the lobby day and conference. If you are unemployed because of sexual orientation or gender identity discrimination, and you are from one of these crucial states, send an email to me at jillian@bilerico.com describing your situation and how your presence in DC for the lobby day would make a difference for your US Senator.

I cannot guarantee that we will be able to accommodate you, but I will make every effort to accommodate all those whose presence would make a difference. Please be as specific as possible in your email about how your presence would make a difference. Include your name, email address and telephone number. The subject line should read "DC LOBBY DAY ASSISTANCE REQUEST." The deadline is tomorrow, March 5, 2010 at midnight Pacific.

To make a donation to this effort please make your checks payable to PFLAG National with a memo line that reads for PFLAG's policy work. Checks may be mailed to 1828 L St., NW, Suite 660, Washington, DC 20036. You can also donate online but be sure to mark it in honor of PFLAG's "policy work" (in the "Honoree/Memorial" section under first or last name) so we know where to apply the funds.

There is no deadline for this, but we will need to have the funds in hand shortly in order to use it for the ENDA DC lobby day. Please also send me an email to let me know that you have done so at jillian@bilerico.com so that we can keep apprised of progress.

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Why we're fighting for ENDA

Gary Lapon looks at the importance of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

March 4, 2010

WITH UNEMPLOYMENT and underemployment a devastating reality for millions and millions of people in the U.S., federal protection from job discrimination for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people is more important than ever.

But the inaction and broken promises of the Obama administration and Democrats in Congress shows that winning equality on the job will require more than overwhelming popular sentiment opposed to any form of workplace discrimination. It will require pressure from the grassroots.

Official unemployment was 9.7 percent in January (16.5 percent for Blacks and 12.6 percent for Latinos)--16.5 percent if you count people working part time because they couldn't find full-time employment. Economists estimate that there are approximately six people looking for work for every new job opening.

This bleak jobs landscape amplifies the destruction caused by employment discrimination on the lives of LGBT people.

In 38 states, it's legal to fire or not hire someone because they're transgender, and in 29 states if they're gay, lesbian or bisexual. Every day, millions of LGBT workers face a horrible choice: remain in the closet on the job, or come out and face legal harassment, discrimination or termination.

In 2007, Kenneth Roswell, a gay man working at a Hess gas station in Lee County, Florida, complained after a training manager told him that "gays are sick" and "should all be taken out and shot." He was transferred to a store in a dangerous neighborhood, and eventually fired [1] a few months later, according to the Naples News.

When Roswell went to the Lee County Equal Opportunity Office to file a complaint, he said he was told that "gays are not a protected group"--so that even if Hess had fired him for being gay, there is no law making it illegal. Roswell continued to face harassment from Hess after his termination. "Any place I apply, they give me a bad reference," he told the News. "I'm about to lose my home [and] my car."

Nor are LGBT workers safe from discrimination after they punch out. In 2000, Peter Oiler says he was fired [2] after 20 years on the job as a truck driver for the Winn-Dixie grocery store chain when managers found out that he sometimes cross-dressed when not at work, and identified as transgender.

Sue Kirchofer wasn't allowed to name her partner as a beneficiary on a life insurance policy in 1994, and was "told to remain invisible" about her sexuality by her Seattle employer, she told Newsweek [3]. She was fired months later after her employer found out she had played soccer in the Gay Games in New York City.

Then there's the largest employer in the U.S.--the Department of Defense. The Pentagon discriminates against its LGBT employees with its "don't ask, don't tell" policy--over 13,000 people have been discharged under don't ask, don't tell since 1994, and partners of LGBT people killed or wounded receive no benefits.

Without federal protection from employment discrimination, LGBT people are forced to rely on a shoddy patchwork of state and local laws and company policies against discrimination--and plenty of states, counties, cities and towns where discrimination is perfectly legal.

What protections do exist are easily rolled back. In September, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer eliminated state domestic partner benefits [4]. In Virginia, within his first month of taking office in January, Gov. Bob McDonnell signed an executive order eliminating protection from discrimination [5] for lesbian and gay state employees.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

A 2008 Gallup poll [6] showed that 89 percent of Americans support equal rights for gays and lesbians on the job. Support for workplace equality has been running at 80 percent or higher since 1993, and was at 56 percent as far back as 1977. Public opinion on this issue is far in advance of politicians.

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) was first introduced in Congress in 1994, but never made it out of committee.

ENDA, which at the time included protection from employment discrimination for gays and lesbians, but not transgender people, represented a narrowing of demands from efforts stretching back to the "Gay Rights Bill" of 1974--which would have added lesbians and gays to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Since then, ENDA has been introduced in every session of Congress but one, only to die in committee, fail to pass or be put off. In 2009, ENDA didn't even come up for a vote--despite the Democrats overwhelming majorities in both houses of Congress and the promises of Barack Obama as a candidate to be a "fierce advocate" for the LGBT community. In fact, in an open letter published during his campaign [7], Obama promised that he would "place the weight of my administration behind the enactment of...a fully inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act."

This month, Rep. Barney Frank, the first openly gay member of Congress and a sponsor of ENDA, said that the bill is "on track in the House," [8] but that "some provisions protecting transgender people were hot topics," and that he's "less certain the bill will pass in the Senate."

So ENDA has yet to be passed despite the fact that: (1) The Democrats, who claim to support LGBT civil rights, control Washington; (2) Equal rights on the job have been supported by a majority of Americans for over 30 years; and (3) the working class faces a jobs crisis that greatly amplifies the impact of employment discrimination.

Frank and the mainstream gay rights organization, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) took a lot of heat in 2007 when Frank introduced, with HRC support, a version of ENDA that dropped protections for transgender people--just months after they were first added to the bill.

This move was especially disturbing given that transgender people are disproportionately impacted by employment discrimination, poverty and unemployment.

The National Transgender Discrimination Survey [9], conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality and National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, found that transgender people "experience unemployment [and poverty] at twice the rate of the population as a whole." Some 97 percent faced "harassment or mistreatment on the job," including one in three respondents who reported having to "present in the wrong gender to keep [their] job."

Now, Frank seems to be threatening to drop transgender protections again.

The argument that ENDA would be "easier" to pass without protection for transgender people--and that this should be acceptable to us--boils down to the idea that lawmakers will act based on concessions and moderation from our side, rather than firm demands and pressure, that the road to equality must be slow and gradual, and that if we ask for "too much, too soon," we will only scare people away.

The claim that ENDA is being held up because of trans-inclusion is dubious, since a non-inclusive ENDA failed to pass for 13 years following its introduction in 1994. Secondly, social movements historically have made gains precisely when they have stuck to their principles and confidently confronted those in power from the grassroots.

Labor won the right to organize through militant struggle, including mass strike waves and factory occupations. The African American civil rights movement abolished Jim Crow segregation by firmly rejecting ideas of Black inferiority and by directly taking on structures of white supremacy. Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion in the U.S. in 1973, was decided in the context of a militant women's rights movement unapologetically demanding the right to choose.

Our movement, in order to build the unity and solidarity necessary to win full equality, should stick to our principles of equal rights for all and reject any attempt to divide us. We must build grassroots organizations such as Equality Across America [10] to pressure Congress to pass a trans-inclusive ENDA as part of our demand for full LGBT civil rights. And we should offer no apologies and accept no delays: civil rights are not negotiable.

By demanding equal rights now--acting as equal people have the right to act--the LGBT movement will gain confidence, draw in new people looking to struggle for a better world and spur masses of people to question their transphobia and homophobia.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

THE STRUGGLE for LGBT equality on the job is one that impacts all working-class people, not just those in the LGBT community. Whenever one section of the working class is subject to discrimination and oppression, it's a threat to all workers.

Like undocumented immigrants, LGBT workers in states and localities where discrimination is legal can be targeted by employers if they protest abuses at work, try to join or organize a union, or otherwise stand up for the rights of themselves and their co-workers.

In her book Sexuality and Socialism, Sherry Wolf chronicles an inspiring example of solidarity between LGBT activists and the Republic Windows & Doors workers in Chicago, largely immigrant and Latino, who carried out a factory occupation in December 2008 took on their employer and Bank of America to win a severance deal owed to them:

The day before the Republic victory, according to Wolf, hundreds of activists "rallying for equal marriage rights as part of the national Day Without a Gay initiative...linked their march with the Republic protest outside Bank of America."

Soon after, Raúl Flores, representing the Republic workers, attended a gay marriage forum, where he said, "Our victory is yours...now we must join with you in your battle for rights and return the solidarity you showed us."

The connection between the Republic occupation and the upsurge for LGBT civil rights is no coincidence, nor is it anything new, as Wolf points out.

In 1977, Harvey Milk and other gay activists joined the Teamsters in boycotting Coors--and the next year, they had labor support that was key to defeating the Briggs Initiative, which sought to ban gay and lesbian teachers and their allies from California schools. Unions such as the Marine Cooks and Stewards Union took on homophobia, racism and red-baiting as far back as the 1930s.

Developing these links and standing in solidarity with one another as we struggle for our shared interests is the key to winning LGBT equality on the job, full civil equality, rights for immigrants, and social and economic justice for all workers.

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What you can do
Equality Across America--which was formed in the wake of October's 200,000-strong National Equality March--and allied organizations are holding conferences across the country this spring [11]. Anyone involved or interested in the struggle for LGBT equality are welcome, as are those engaged in other struggles for social and economic justice.

Jay Davis | March 4, 2010 2:59 PM

This post is giving me chills. I love that you're focusing in on the right kind of stories from the districts where votes are needed. Way to focus in on what makes the most difference!

I don't fit the bill for stories, but I am donating. Hope others will give if they can, too!

Thanks for taking this on, Jill. I'm so proud that we can partner with PFLAG on this project.

I hope everyone will help to share the word about this - put it on Facebook and send it out to Twitter. Blog about it. Get the word out there - there's not much time left before the deadline.

Can we get other organizations to support this and not just pflag?

Keep in mind that winning ENDA is not just about one day of lobbying - it will require constant advocacy to keep the focus on in DC. I think one way that we can fail is to have too many items on our agenda that are separate and do not build on one another. That way, do-nothings can re-focus us over and over again -- now on DADT, then on marriage, then on adoption, then on ENDA again, no, wait, let's do immigration reform, but quick, let's all pull together for LGBT health care....

We need to get more targeted as a community.

That's true. John Aravosis calls Lobbying "Political Masturbation," from AmericaBLOG.com today:

Lobby Days are here! Sigh.

Over the next few weeks, a number of gay groups, and individuals, are organizing "lobby days." These are opportunities for the groups' members, and others, to visit congressional offices and lobby congressional staff on the issues of the day.

While I'm loathe to criticize what I'm sure is a worthwhile experience in civics and the benefits of participatory democracy, ,b>the dirty little secret in Washington is that lobby days don't really work. At least at the national level they never have. You'd be hard pressed to find an example of a group of citizens coming to town and lobbying congress, and it having any significant effect whatsoever. It's just not the way the system works, unfortunately.

Remarkably, John is now admitting that lobbying in ineffective. When I made that observation on his website I was blocked. Just two weeks ago John was adamant that "lobbying was very effective." Did he change his mind on his own, or did somebody LOBBY him?

In the comments after this was posted, John actually said:

"I think, some of us would rather fix HRC than destroy it."

HRC is a lobbying organization. Now John wants to FIX a group that is engaged in something that "doesn't work." Huh?