Massachusetts Representative Barney Frank says he won't give in to pressure to exclude transgender people from a federal gay protections bill that has stalled out in committee.

Passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), a bill that would ban workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity (transgender protections), has been elusive. The measure remains bottled up in the House Education & Labor Committee, despite strong support from committee members.

The main sticking point appears to be the inclusion of transgender protections. Frank, the bill's sponsor in the House, has vowed to keep transgender rights in his bill.

“No,” Frank spokesman Harry Gural told On Top Magazine in an email, “he's not considering any changes.”

Yet three years ago, that's exactly what the openly gay Newton Democrat did in order to ensure passage of the measure through the House. The move divided the gay community. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation's largest gay advocate, backed the move, while other gay groups refused. The measure fizzled in the Senate.

This year's version adds back transgender people, a move that has drawn some serious heat. Republicans appear united against inclusion and even several moderate Democrats are speaking out as well.

“If you include transgender rights, I think that just pushes the envelope too far,” Representative John Campbell, a California Republican who voted for the measure in 2007, told the Boston Globe.

The chief whip of the moderate Democratic political block – known as the Blue Dogs – Representative Heath Shuler of North Carolina, agreed, saying that asking House members to vote on a trans-inclusive bill during an election year would be “a mistake.”

Social conservatives throughout the country are fighting local and state level legislative efforts to outlaw transgender discrimination. In some states – including Massachusetts, Florida, New Hampshire and North Dakota – opponents have labeled such measures “bathroom bills,” warning that the laws invite sex offenders to lurk in public restrooms, endangering public safety.

“This is an invitation, it seems to me, for people with predatory tendencies to come out and hide behind the fact that they are having a transgender experience,” state Rep. Peyton Hinkle, a Republican, said on the New Hampshire House floor during debate on a similar bill that was ultimately approved by the Legislature.

Leading transgender rights activists appear to be in a catch 22; they do not want to be held responsible for holding back the entire gay community, but also recognize that they may not get another shot at federal transgender rights for a long time, maybe decades.

Still, they say, their support hinges on proposed language around bathroom usage.

Denise Leclair, executive director of the International Foundation for Gender Education, a transgender advocacy group, warned that the inclusion of bathroom rules could trickle down to the state level, setting a precedent that could last generations.

It's a “serious concern,” Leclair said in a telephone interview.

“On the surface, it seems like a reasonable compromise,” she said. “It's not a given that the language is actually necessary. It might get more votes for ENDA, but in a practical sense it's not strictly necessary.”

“I think if it gets in there, that we'll see that future state laws will include very similar language, because state laws typically model federal legislation.”

Complicating the issue for transgender people is the fact that many see themselves as gay, lesbian or bisexual – groups that would be included under the bill's sexual orientation clause.

Half-a-year after the bill was scheduled to be voted out of committee, gay rights groups are becoming increasingly vocal over the delay. Last month, a group of seven gay activists disrupted a House committee hearing demanding action on ENDA.

“We've waited too long already,” Robin McGehee of the group GetEQUAL told gay weekly Metro Weekly after she was briefly detained. “We have been promised since last year and, since the '90s, that we were going to have employment protections put in place. And yet, we still don't have it on the House floor.”

Frank, however, says progress is being made and urged greater lobbying for the bill.

“Congressman Frank encourages people to continue calling their own representatives,” Gural said. “He says that the phone calls have been very effective but the work isn't over yet.”