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ENDA Hearing Marks a Momentum-Boosting Turning Point

Ian S. Thompson,
Senior Legislative Advocate,
ACLU
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September 25, 2009

Earlier this week, the House Education and Labor Committee held a hearing on the recently introduced Employment Non-Discrimination Act (H.R. 3017). This legislation, which now has the bipartisan support of 178 members of the House of Representatives, would prohibit employment discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation (which remains legal in 29 states) and gender identity (which remains legal in 38 states). This patchwork quilt of protections simply will not suffice when it comes to protecting peoples’ basic civil rights. There is a clear and compelling need for a federal ENDA.

If the huge line of people attempting to get into the hearing was any indication, this legislation has certainly generated a lot of interest on the Hill. From the outset, it was apparent just how far the momentum had swung to those who support the passage of this critical legislation. Acting Head of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Stuart Ishimaru, testified on behalf of the Obama administration and stated that —

It is a privilege to represent the Obama Administration and the EEOC at the first hearing this Congress to consider ENDA, to voice the Administration’s strong support for legislation that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. This legislation will provide sorely needed and long overdue federal protection for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals, who unfortunately still face widespread employment discrimination.

Representative Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin), one of just three openly gay Members of Congress, spoke with pride about how Wisconsin was the first state, in 1982, to ban employment discrimination based on sexual orientation. Additionally, in her testimony in support of ENDA, she specifically cited the ACLU’s 2007 report entitled “Working in the Shadows: Ending Employment Discrimination for LGBT Americans.”

With the introduction of the Respect for Marriage Act last week and the ENDA hearing this week, it has been a busy few weeks in Congress for LGBT issues. There is a very strong possibility that the full House of Representatives will soon be voting on ENDA (and then it’s off to the Senate). If you have yet to do so, please contact your representatives and urge them to support this common sense legislation. Fundamental fairness demands nothing less!