Historic Senate vote
moves equal protection
for LGBT people closer
Sen. Dean Heller, (R-Nev.) is the 60th Senator to come out in favor of ENDA.
IN A DEVELOPMENT that seemed to come out of nowhere, a federal ban on discrimination in employment against LGBT folk suddenly gathered momentum on Monday.
The history of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act goes back almost two decades. The latest version, introduced by former Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank in 2011, has languished in obscurity until this week.
An unexpected 61-30 vote in the U.S. Senate late on Monday moved the bill to the Senate floor. The prospect of a vote in the House of Representatives this year seems remote, at best.
But history is not on the side of Republican Speaker John Boehner, who immediately said he opposes the law.
BOEHNER WILL FACE enormous pressure to bring ENDA to a vote, not the least from his own party. More than a few Republicans voted with all the Democrats in 2010 to repeal the military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. History could repeat itself.
The vote was reported by Politico in Gay rights advances in Senate in which Seung Min Kim described a dramatic cloakroom lobbying effort that took place while the vote was held open for an hour. Seven Republicans voted with all the Democrats to overcome the filibuster.
Earlier the breakthrough came in an announcement by a Republican senator – the 60th – of his support for the long-overdue legislation.
The web site of Roll Call magazine on Monday afternoon, showing the pressure on House Speaker John Boehner. Click image to enlarge.
It was reported in The New York Times online in Bill on Workplace Bias Clears Senate Hurdle.
“A measure that would outlaw workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity overcame a significant obstacle in the Senate on Monday as seven Republicans crossed party lines and voted to begin debate on the bill,” wrote Jeremy W. Peters.
“Senator Dean Heller of Nevada, one of the Republicans who voted to open debate, had announced Monday that he would vote yes on the bill, known as the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, saying that after conversations with voters at home and colleagues in the Senate, he had come to the determination that “supporting this legislation is the right thing to do.”
“It is the first time that the full Senate has considered a measure that includes protection for transgender people,” Peters wrote.
The inclusion of protection for transgenders is of crucial importance, as one can discover from an authoritative history of the legislation at the Center for American Progress.
An earlier version of the law, introduced in 1994, did not include such protections.
In A History of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act published July 19, 2011, Jerome Hunt writes:
“The Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA, would make it illegal under federal law to discriminate in any aspect of employment based on someone’s actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity.
“It also protects workers from discrimination because of associating with other workers who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender, and protects all workers from retaliation if they complain about sexual orientation or gender identity discrimination.
“These protections would extend to all federal, state, and local government agencies; employment agencies; unions; and private employers with 15 or more employees.”
There are exemptions for religious organizations and religiously affiliated entities, but almost all employers of any significance would be covered.
The history of ENDA is detailed in this story by the Center for American Progress. Click image to enlarge.
Digging a little deeper one can find a detailed history of the law in its various iterations at The Employment Non-Discrimination Act: What You Need to Know by Seth Althauser and Sarah Greenberg
“ENDA was first introduced in 1994 in the 103rd Congress as H.R. 4636 and S. 2238. A version of the bill has been introduced in every session of Congress since then except for the 109th Congress, which ran from January 2005 to January 2007.
“The original version only prohibited discrimination on the basis of an employee’s actual or perceived sexual orientation. But after 2007 the proposed bill contained gender identity discrimination language as well.”
According to the authors, the bill has been voted on once in the Senate – in 1995 – when it narrowly failed by a vote of 49-50.
A 2007 version passed the House 235-184 but did not come up for a vote in the Senate. Both of these bills included sexual orientation but not gender identity.
This deficiency was corrected in the 2009 version of the law, and is contained in the 2011 version currently before the Senate.
THE NEED FOR federal protection for LGBT persons is further documented in the June 2011 report Gay and Transgender People Face High Rates of Workplace Discrimination and Harassment by Crosby Burns and Jeff Krehely.
“Gay and transgender individuals continue to face widespread discrimination in the workplace. Studies show that anywhere from 15 percent to 43 percent of gay people have experienced some form of discrimination and harassment at the workplace.
“Moreover, a staggering 90 percent of transgender workers report some form of harassment or mistreatment on the job. These workplace abuses pose a real and immediate threat to the economic security of gay and transgender workers.”
If anyone doubts that history is on the side of passage of ENDA this time, just consider recent progress made on equality issues nationwide.
The historic twin Supreme Court decisions of June – one throwing out the federal Defense of Marriage Act, the other legalizing gay marriage in California – actually reflect dramatic changes in public opinion on the issue.
Poll after poll has shown increasing majorities in favor of equal rights under the law for all in the LGBT community. Gay marriage is now legal in 14 states, with Hawaii likely to be the 15th.
The House of Representatives may be like a troglodyte, but John Boehner is unlikely to be successful if he tries to challenge history.
History is on the side of equal protection for all. It may have to wait until 2015, but it will inevitably arrive.
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