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
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
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
“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
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
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
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