Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy
introduced a federal gay protections bill in the Senate Wednesday
that includes transgender protections.
Kennedy was joined by three senators –
one Democratic, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, and two Republicans, Olympia
Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine – in sponsoring the legislation
that would ban employment discrimination on the basis of sexual
orientation and gender identity (transgender protections).
Massachusetts Representative Barney Frank introduced the House
version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) last month.
The bill has attracted thirty four co-sponsors in the Senate.
“The promise of America will never be
fulfilled as long as justice is denied to even one among us,”
Senator Kennedy said in a statement. “The Employment
Non-Discrimination Act brings us closer to fulfilling that promise
for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender citizens. I'm proud to
join Senators Merkley, Collins and Snowe in introducing this
Both versions of the bill have been
reworked, adding back transgender protections removed from last
year's bill. Gay rights groups warned politicos last year that they
would not support a gay-only protections bill.
“I am encouraged,” Frank told gay
weekly the Washington Blade about the inclusion of transgender
protections in this year's House bill. “I think the transgender
community and others have been doing this in a very good way. This
time they have been doing the lobbying.”
“Transgender people face tremendous
discrimination in the workplace,” said Michael Silverman, executive
director of Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund, a
transgender rights group, in a statement. “In these difficult
times, it is imperative that Congress pass the Employment
Non-Discrimination Act to ensure that transgender people, like all
Americans, have an equal opportunity to participate in the
Proponents dropped transgender
protections from last year's bill only to have the legislation fizzle
in the Senate after House approval.
A large majority of Fortune 500
companies protect gay and lesbian workers but only a third include
transgender provisions. Transgender people are protected from
workplace discrimination in only 12 states.
“This bill will ensure that
protections against workplace discrimination are extended to all
Americans including the transgender community,” said Mara Keisling,
executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality,
in a statement. “There is no reason why people should lose their
livelihood because of who they are.”
Transgender protections bills have
sparked heated debates in statehouses throughout the country as
opponents argue that such laws invite sex offenders to lurk in public
restrooms, endangering public safety.
“This is a bill that begins to
confuse the gender differences between men and women to the point of
trying to allow men to use women's restrooms, and, of course, that
means sexual predators going after young children,” Tom Minnery,
senior vice president of public policy at Focus on the Family Action,
said in a radio message urging North Dakota voters to oppose a
transgender protections bill.
Proponents call the argument seriously
flawed: “Anyone that uses a facility to commit a crime or does
something indecent can be prosecuted under current laws and this bill
does nothing to change that,” Massachusetts Representative Carl
Sciortino, who is sponsoring a transgender protections bill, told the
Opponents of ENDA argue that the
legislation impinges on religious freedoms.
“This bill will mean that employers
will be forced to make employment decisions against their religious
beliefs, and that is unacceptable in a country that was founded on
the freedom of religious expression,” Ashley Home, federal policy
analyst for Focus on the Family Action, told Citizen Link.
National civil rights organizations
have endorsed the bill, including the Human Rights Campaign, the
Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, and the ACLU, as have over 50
Fortune 500 companies.