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North Texas activists push for ENDA passage

by Michelle  Parsons
Contributor
Wednesday Feb 24, 2010
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In an effort to keep the the federal Employee Non-Discrimination Act fresh in the minds of local and national politicians, activists in North Texas continue to make their voices heard.

Lorie Burch, a local attorney who co-chairs the Human Rights Campaign’s Dallas/Fort Worth Steering Committee and is also the chair-elect of the North Texas GLBT Chamber of Commerce, recently partnered with Equality Texas and other organizations to train volunteers on how to lobby their elected officials.

"We matched them with their local reps on the state and federal level, to make appointments to go in and talk not just on ENDA, but a number of different issues that effect our community in general," she said.

And lobbying isn’t the only way Dallas-area activists are reaching out. Kelli Busey, founder of Dallas Transgender Advocates and Allies, and others remain heavily involved in letter writing campaigns. Busey continues to post updates on the DTAA Web site and on her blog, Planettransgender.

"He [Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank] has become more sensitive to transgender issues because we’ve been more vocal and you can’t deny that we are involved in the process now," Busey said.

A strategy session that had been originally scheduled to take place at Texas Instruments on Tuesday, Feb. 23, was postponed. Busey said ENDA-related efforts, however, aren’t without concern.

"I just have a terrible feeling that Frank is going to try to divide us like he did last time," Busey said, referring to a 2007 version of ENDA that excluded gender identity and expression. "He blindsided the transgender community. Well, he blindsided everybody."

That version subsequently died in the U.S. Senate a year later. For the current bill, which includes trans-specific provisions, there are 194 co-sponsors in the House and 44 co-sponsors in the Senate.

Burch is more concerned about morale.

"One thing that can get a little discouraging for some people, especially in Dallas, is that there aren’t a lot of out and out advocates that are in political power or in political positions," she said before she quickly offered a reassurance. "...What’s important is establishing a presence and establishing that we are a part of their constituency and there is support, not just with us, but among straight allies."

Burch further pointed out she feels businesses benefit from supporting ENDA; and enacting their own non-discrimination policies.

"All the evidence from states that have their own individual non-discrimination act has shown that it actually increases productivity and employee morale to have this," she said. "It’s just making the law catch up to the corporations..."

As of 2009, there are currently 260 companies with a perfect score on HRC’s Corporate Equality Index, a report card that tracks LGBT-specific efforts in America’s corporations. This figure includes 65 more businesses than it did in 2008. And it includes Apple, Intel, Nike and Xerox.

"I work for a company right now that has a company policy ... to respect the individual," Busey said. "Because of that I got hired; and because of that they stood behind me 100 percent."

Burch remains confident ENDA will continue to gain momentum.

"We’re more motivated to go for full equality than just taking bits and pieces ... even if it takes longer to achieve them," she said. "In the grand scheme of social progress it will take some time, but we will get there."

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