ENDA: Long Overdue

Today, Wednesday, June 24, 2009 is an important day. It is a day when we witness a commitment to full equality and inclusion. A day when the most senior openly gay elected official in the nation affirms that discrimination against any segment of our community will not be tolerated. This is the day when Congressman Barney Frank introduces the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which includes protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity, in the 111th Congress.

Yet in the midst of the history and hope sits the bitter reality that this legislation is long overdue. During the years of inaction by Congress and 2007’s stalling of the bill due to protest against stripping protections based on gender identity from ENDA, LGBT Americans have lost jobs or lived in fear of losing their jobs based on who they are. Regardless of qualifications or skill, irrespective of commitment or seniority, countless of our sisters and brothers have been fired, harassed, taunted, and ignored because there was no law to stop their persecutors and no legal recourse to vindicate their right to simply do their job.

In the past weeks, our community has unloaded a boatload of frustration, disappointment, and anger at the Obama Administration. The specific trigger was the filing of a legal brief by the Department of Justice in a challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). We disagree with many of the administration’s arguments—for example that DOMA is a valid exercise of Congress’s power, is consistent with Equal Protection or Due Process principles, and does not impinge upon rights that are recognized as fundamental.

We were also appalled by a new and nonsensical argument the administration advanced suggesting that the federal government needs to be “neutral” with regard to its treatment of married same-sex couples in order to ensure that federal tax money collected from across the country not be used to assist same-sex couples duly married by their home states. Excuse me? First, we pay our share of taxes and second, cost is not an appropriate justification for unconstitutional discrimination.

The brief unleashed a firestorm of criticism, much of which had been simmering for months. The Obama Administration has not done nearly enough on any LGBT issues, President Obama himself had said nothing in the wake of historic marriage victories around the country, and again remained silent after the California Supreme Court upheld Prop 8—a measure he said he opposed. The Administration has been backtracking on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and even the White House website had been scrubbed of some of its early language aggressively supporting full equality for our community.

In the midst of this unrelenting criticism, ENDA is re-introduced. Reminding all of us, in stark terms, of how little we have gained at the Federal level over the decades. Well guess what—we are done waiting. Yes, we know the President has extraordinarily weighty issues on his plate. Yes, we know that there is much suffering and crisis to attend to. Yes, we fully understand that as members of the human family there are many social and international justice issues which this administration must address.

But, at the same time, our community has long-suffered personal and public attacks. We have lost family, lost jobs, and lost community because of who we are and who we love. Our most personal and profound relationships are diminished and rejected by law. Our brothers and sisters are assaulted or murdered without meaningful legal recourse and little public outcry. Our soldiers are summarily dismissed from the armed services even as our military strains under the burden of two wars and innumerable skirmishes around the globe. Our youth are isolated and brutalized with impunity. Enough is enough.

The introduction of ENDA is the beginning of the end of inaction and mollifying baby steps. We have begun to see some positive steps, signals and movement. It is beginning to feel, finally, that we are being taken seriously. It is time to work with our friends and allies to make real and sustained change. And to assure that our “fierce advocates” walk that talk. Yes, there are pressing issues which our government must address—and LGBT equality under the law is one of them.

In Solidarity,

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