Activists Arraigned for Protesting Speaker Pelosi
A March 18 act of civil disobedience by Lt. Dan Choi, who faces discharge under the provisions of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT), the military’s anti-gay policy, had generated headlines, provoked controversy, and sparked recollections of the days of gay activism when civil disobedience was more typically part of the program.
But that same day saw another act of civil disobedience carried out by activists pressing for passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), a bill that has been debated, promoted, and promised for years.
Tired of waiting for promises about ENDA to be honored, equality organization GetEQUAL organized two simultaneous protests on March 18. Whereas Lt. Choi drew the eyes of the world to the plight of gay and lesbian soldiers forced to lie about their sexuality in order to stay in the service by handcuffing himself to the fence outside the White House, GetEQUAL activists staged sit-ins at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s Washington, D.C. and San Francisco offices, and demanded that Pelosi agree to bring a version of ENDA that includes trans protections to a vote by month’s end. Four female activists were arrested.
A press release sent out by GetEQUAL April 6 announced that activists would gather outside the District of Columbia Superior Courthouse that same day, which was the date the four arrested activists were expected to be arraigned on misdemeanor charges.
"Tired of false promises to pass ENDA, which would provide basic employment protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans, the four women refused to leave the office without a guarantee that the bill would be brought to a vote," the release recounted. "They were ultimately arrested for unlawful entry and face arraignment today on misdemeanor charges."
In 2007, a version of ENDA that did not extend protections to transgendered workers was approved by the House of Representatives. The bill, which was sponsored by openly gay Massachusetts congressman Barney Frank, was deeply divisive in the GLBT community, with transgendered individuals--and many gays and lesbians--decrying the politically expedient tactic of leaving trans Americans out in the cold with a promise that their concerns would be addressed later on.
The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation’s largest GLBT equality lobbying organization, promoted that version of ENDA and spoke favorably of it when the House passed it on Nov. 8, 2007. The president of HRC, Joe Solmonese, hailed the vote as "an important step at ensuring that millions of gay and lesbian Americans will never again have to go to work in fear of losing their jobs because of who they are."
But Matt Foreman, executive director of The Task Force, spoke for another segment of the GLBT community, saying, "We are deeply disappointed that House leadership decided to ignore the position of a vast majority of LGBT organizations, ignore the legal assessment that this bill may not even provide adequate protections for gays, lesbians and bisexuals, and ignore the fact that this vote might make it more difficult to persuade members of Congress to support a fully inclusive bill in the future.
""We are also disappointed that House leadership forced many members of its own caucus to choose between voting for a bill not supported by most in the LGBT community, or voting against a civil rights bill. This entire process has been painful, divisive and unnecessary," Foreman added. Then-President Bush had vowed to veto the bill, but the Senate did not take it up.
Solmonese continued to defend his support for the trans-exclusive version of ENDA. In an Aug. 13, 2008 interview with EDGE, the HRC president declared that, "Our community needs to understand... nothing gets done in a one- shot deal. That’s never been a way we’ve built complex and sweeping legislation in this country."
Even so, in the wake of the controversy, Frank introduced a trans-inclusive version of ENDA into the House in 2009.