Pressure mounts to pass ENDA
It’s been 16 years since the Employment Non-Discrimination Act was first introduced in Congress, and according to organizers of a Tuesday rally at Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s San Francisco office, it’s closer than ever to being finally passed.
Braving wind and a light rain, a crowd of about 100 gathered to call for a vote on ENDA. According to media reports this week, Pelosi promised LGBT leaders on Monday that a House vote on ENDA would come before the end of the year. [See story online at http://www.ebar.com.]
Currently, the bill is vulnerable to attempts by opponents to halt its passage by adding undesirable modifications, a process called motion to recommit. It also faces an unsure fate in the Senate.
"The Senate has no plans for taking up ENDA," Pelosi press secretary Drew Hammill told the Bay Area Reporter . "It would be very helpful for people to encourage the Senate to outline a plan for considering the bill."
But, he added, "passing ENDA in the House is a top priority for the speaker."
Organizers of Tuesday’s rally were eager to acknowledge Pelosi’s dedication.
"We know she supports ENDA, and we want her to know that she has our support to do whatever she needs to do to get it to a vote," said National Center for Lesbian Rights Executive Director Kate Kendell, as a boisterous crowd chanted slogans, made signs at a makeshift craft table, and sang a version of "YMCA" with the lyrics changed to refer to ENDA.
"We’ll be there for her and other members of Congress who understand the importance of this bill," Kendell added.
"We want to give her the support she needs to bring this to the floor," said Toni Broaddus, executive director of Equality Federation. "I’m hopeful that we’ll see something in the next month."
ENDA’s backers have organized in-district visits and nightly phone banks to pressure Congress to act. Supporters are also advised to visit http://www.endanow.org to find resources for pressuring their representatives to act.
Prior to the rally, John Dennis, a Republican challenger for Pelosi’s seat, approached onlookers to express his support for ENDA and to criticize Pelosi.
"This is a pattern for Nancy Pelosi," he said. "She says she supports these things, and then she does nothing about them. ... You have to agree, Nancy is a hypocrite."
But rally organizers avoided criticizing Pelosi, focusing instead on rallying the enthusiastic crowd to action. Equality activist Robin McGehee of GetEqual led the crowd in song, and Berkeley Councilmember Darryl Moore initiated a chant of "What do we want? ENDA now!"
Speakers also described the high stakes of an ENDA vote, pointing out that it’s legal to fire a person on the basis of their sexual orientation in 29 states, and on the basis of gender expression in 38 states.
Cecilia Chung, chair of the San Francisco Human Rights Commission and a transgender woman, related her story of transitioning in 1992. She was fired and became homeless, she said, and while living on the street suffered sexual assault and contracted HIV.
"Those three and a half years were the darkest time in my life," she said. "We have to educate our leaders that ENDA is not just about protecting peoples’ employment. It’s about preventing tragedies from happening."