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Jamie Tyroler - A Transgender-Inclusive ENDA Would Give the Law Some Teeth
October 22, 2007
by Jamie Tyroler

This is a column that I would prefer not to write, but I feel that I must. The House of Representatives is considering the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). Representatives who are in favor of having legal protections in the workforce are deciding whether this should include the transgender community. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) and U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D., Mass.) have claimed that there isn?t enough support for the transgender-inclusive version of ENDA.

The version of ENDA that Frank believes could pass only covers sexual orientation. Frank did introduce the version of the legislation (H.R. 2015) that covers both sexual orientation and gender identity. It has 171 cosponsors. Missouri representatives who are listed as cosponsors include: Russ Carnahan, William Lacy Clay, and Emanuel Cleaver. U.S. Reps. Dennis Moore and Nancy Boyda of Kansas are also cosponsors. Clay, Cleaver, and Moore signed on to the bill on the day it was introduced ? April 24.

If your congressional representative has cosponsored the bill, please thank him or her for taking this stand. I feel that any elected official who is willing to stand up for LGBT rights should be thanked. If your representative hasn?t signed on to this legislation, please contact them as soon as possible.

There are many national, regional, state and local organizations that have stated that they oppose a version of ENDA that does not cover gender identity. On Oct. 1, more than 90 organizations signed a letter asking for the original trans-inclusive version of ENDA. This letter was delivered to Congress.

Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, stated in a MySpace bulletin that, ?The freedom to express ourselves and be ourselves is at stake when any one of us is punished and persecuted for stepping outside the rigid rules of gender conformity. Lesbians, gay men and bisexual people historically engage a whole range of dress and behaviors that challenge the traditional gender code. Women who are too masculine and men who are too feminine often suffer job discrimination and harassment at work, just as our transgender sisters and brothers do.?

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) appears to be struggling with supporting ENDA. The group?s one transgender board member, Donna Rose, resigned from HRC?s board of directors on Oct. 3. Rose was quoted in Edge of Boston, ?My point of contention was, and is, that this entire experience isn?t simply about the political discussion or the pragmatism of passing a piece of legislation ? it?s about the way this has galvanized and united the community in ways we?ve never seen before.?

Continued Rose, ?And if we perceived ourselves as leaders in that community, it was our responsibility to align ourselves as a united community, rather than to be the only organization to choose a position of neutrality on something so important.?

HRC executive director Joe Solmonese recently stated in an e-mail that the last ?two weeks have been the most heartbreaking and gut-wrenching? of his life. Although HRC has stated that it wants an inclusive version of ENDA, they won?t oppose a version of ENDA that does not include protections for gender identity.

Laws or policies that only cover sexual orientation don?t offer all that much protection. Employers don?t tend to ask what someone?s sexual orientation is ? if they do, they could be setting themselves up for hostile workplace lawsuits. A version of ENDA that only covers sexual orientation would be an impotent law. People tend to make assumptions about someone?s sexual orientation based on how one dresses and acts ? is this person acting like most men or women? This is why gender identity and expression is important ? it is what gives these laws and policies some teeth.

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, stated in an Oct. 10 e-mail that Frank ?reminded us that we have not yet finished the important education of Congress and the public that we diligently set about doing a decade or more ago. Mr. Frank?s words are a call to action, and we must step up our educational efforts with newfound focus and intensity.?

According to Foreman?s MySpace bulletin, ?Discrimination at work hits transgender people particularly hard. A survey conducted in Washington, D.C., shows that 60 percent of transgender respondents report either no source of income or incomes of less than $10,000 per year, a clear indication of the desperate need for employment protections for transgender people. Employment discrimination undeniably erodes the freedoms of transgender people, and all the rest of us, to live as we know we must.?
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