The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) passed the House of Representatives yesterday, by a largely partisan vote of 235-184. The Act, which protects workers from job discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, passed without the transgender inclusive language which would have protected American workers on the basis of their gender identity or expression.
I have mixed emotions about this bill. On the one hand, I am terribly proud of the US House of Representatives for finally passing this law which could protect millions of people from unwarranted discrimination in the workplace. This bill was first introduced (sans transgender protections then, as well) in the 1970s. Passage of it has been a long time in the making. Given the shift to the right we have witnessed in this country in the past several years (or perhaps just the shift in rhetoric), it took some courage on the part of these legislators to vote for a "Pro-gay" bill.
On the other hand, I am deeply disappointed that these same legislators decided to bring this bill to the floor at this time. I believe them when they say they did not have the votes to pass a transgender inclusive bill. I also believe the pundits who say that this bill, now passed in one house, will not make it into law during this session of Congress. Either it will not get past the Senate, or the President will veto it. So, why introduce a bill that only protects a part of the LGBT population? Why not wait until after the elections next year when it is more likely we'll have a President who is more compassionate toward Americans?
I am very proud to have been among the very first transgender Americans to have walked the halls of Congress to help educate our Senators and Representatives about what it means to be transgender. I attended the very first "National Lobby Day" and each of the 5 succeeding ones and have met with literally dozens of congress people and their staffs over the years. Most of them had never heard the word "transgender" before meeting me or my fellow lobbyists. To hear our rights debated on the floor of the House of Representatives was a stirring moment for me. I only wish it had been a debate about including us in the family of Americans, instead of reinforcing our exclusion.