I am posting today as part of a blogswarm (more information here) for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, organized by The Bilerico Project. We are trying to get the message out to as many blogs as possible with a simple message:
Please call Speaker Nancy Pelosi at 202-225-4965. Ask that the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, HR 3017, move to a vote. Please be polite, but firm.
After you call, please use this form to let us know you called, so we can tally up results. I'll update this post at the end of the day with the results from the swarm organizers.
More detail on what's happening and why this is needed after the jump.
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act would prohibit employers from firing people based on sexual orientation or gender variance, the way they are currently prohibited from firing people based on religion, race or sex. This bill has been put off again and again since it was first introduced in 1994, and last year it appeared the bill was finally set to become law. Barack Obama had made it part of his platform for election. A version (lacking transgender protections) had passed the House by a respectable margin in the previous Congress in 2007. And Congressional leaders from Nancy Pelosi on down laid out and repeatedly stressed a plan where 2009 would be spent passing the Hate Crimes bill followed by ENDA, and then 2010 would be spent focusing on a repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.
This plan was followed precisely to a point-- until in November, just days before the scheduled "committee markup" that would allow ENDA to move forward for a vote, ENDA was abruptly pulled off the schedule. At first it was claimed this was to make small technical adjustments to language before the markup began; but then suddenly Barney Frank started talking about ENDA, something that all year had been discussed on a 2009 timeline and which previously was a week or two away from passage, as something that Congress would be picking up in February. February passed. March is almost over. Congress has moved on to working on the DADT repeal, but there is no longer even an attempt being made at explaining to the community what happened to ENDA or when it will get picked up again.
Pelosi's office says that ENDA will move forward "when we have the votes", but there is a fairly reliable whip count on ENDA and it is known better than in most cases that ENDA has the votes for passage-- in the Senate it even has two Republican cosponsors. Pelosi further said (see same link) that whip counts cannot be trusted until the bill comes out of committee markup. But Chairman George Miller of the House Committee on Education and Labor says he is ready to go ahead with the markup anytime and is waiting only for Pelosi to give him the go ahead.
While Pelosi only dodges the question of why we don't move forward, Miller gives a more straightforward answer to what we are waiting for: He says Pelosi told him to hold off the ENDA markup until the health care bill is done with in the House. Actually, I think that's a pretty reasonable reason to hold things off a little while. And it will cease being at all reasonable next Monday morning at 9:00 AM, when the House of Representatives will come in to work with its portion of the health care bill finally, permanently done with and handed off to the Senate.
This is why now is the time to act. You may be wondering why we are holding this "blogswarm" event on this particular day, when everyone's focused on the Health Care Reform bill. Okay, to be honest it's because this event was scheduled weeks and weeks ago to coincide with the ENDA lobbying day events this week organized by the National Center for Transgender Equality and other LGBT rights groups. But I think the timing wound up perfect. In a few days the House will have a lot more time freed up-- and will suddenly be making decisions about what to do with all its time. Now is the perfect time to be convincing Congress ENDA is something to be spending time on.
Personally, what I think the real reason is that we have seen ENDA put off and neglected-- the underlying reason for why we find things happening like the timeline jumping from November to February without even an acknowledgement anything changed, or Pelosi's office trying to handwave that we cannot move forward to the markup until we know we have the votes and we cannot count the votes until we have a markup-- is because Congress does not feel like we the people are treating ENDA as a priority, and therefore Congress feels like it does not need to treat ENDA as a priority either. We as a broader community have not made it clear this is something we care about.
Maybe we just assumed ENDA would be easy, and took it for granted. Maybe too many of us live in the 12 blue states that have ENDA-like protections already, or the 20 states with protections for sexual orientation, or work in the part of the private sector where extremely progressive nondiscrimination policies have become the norm for businesses concerned about their public image. Maybe we didn't stop to think about cases like the employees of the Brentwood, TN hotel whose employees discovered any one of them would be instantly fired if the HR department learned they were gay, and that a small privately owned hotel in Brentwood, TN apparently doesn't have to care how its actions look to the public; or the City Manager in Largo, FL who, upon beginning to look into the gender reassignment process, was promptly fired by a city council that currently has no state or federal regulations to stop it and no particular reason to care about boycotts. For whatever reason, ENDA simply has not been the flashpoint of activism and attention within the LGBT community that some other issues have.
Well, maybe we can change this. The community seems to be starting to come together on this-- the list of blogs that will be writing about this issue today, if you look at it, reads more like just a list of every LGBT blog I can think of. Maybe things are turning around. Maybe we can make it clear this is important, something we care about. Maybe we can get Congress to focus on this again. But we need you to help.
Again, Nancy Pelosi can be reached at 202-225-4965. We need as many people reading this as possible to call and ask that the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, HR 3017, move forward to markup and a vote. Again, it is clear at this point that Pelosi's "go ahead" or "wait" is the bottleneck that determines whether the bill goes ahead or stalls forever. And we can't expect Pelosi to do the right thing here unless she has people telling her it's what is expected of her. If people aren't asking her to, then why would she?
That's all. Thanks for all you do.
Update [2010-3-18 22:57:4 by mcc111]: A wrap-up for the blogswarm was posted here.