Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Now is the Time for Congress to Pass an Inclusive ENDA

This guest post is from Mara Keisling, Exec Director, National Center for Transgender Equality; Kate Kendell, Exec Director, National Center for Lesbian Rights; Jody Huckaby, Exec Director, Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) National; Michael Mitchell, Exec Director, Stonewall Democrats; Selisse Berry, Exec Director, Out & Equal Workplace Advocates; and Rea Carey, Exec Director, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

Because the Employment Non Discrimination Act is desperately needed by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people to combat employment discrimination and is also ripe legislatively, our organizations call on the members of the House Committee on Education and Labor and Congress to take immediate action and pass ENDA without further delay.

Passing a bill of far reaching impact such as ENDA requires considerable labor. Written in large part almost fifteen years ago, with even older roots, tens of thousands of people and organizations have formed and advocated for ENDA. Simply from the perspective of LGBT organizations, our lawyers have helped craft language, our field staff members have mobilized supporters, our communications teams have told our stories, and our lobbyists have logged countless thousands of hours on Capitol Hill and in coalition meetings.

Outside of Washington DC, state, local and some national organizations have worked hard to move ENDA and secure employment protections. They have passed state and local laws, developed relationships with their members of Congress, and leveraged those relationships to educate Congress and push for passage of ENDA. Many individual activists and allies have undertaken considerable time and effort to meet with members of Congress and press for their support.

So many people have worked so hard. All the while, though, people across our country wait, desperate to keep the jobs they have and to work in the jobs they seek. They are the ones who matter and they are the ones who cannot afford to wait if they are to overcome discrimination and have the jobs that they need to feed their families, pay the rent, and contribute to their communities. They need to know that they can get work and keep it without being fired for who they are. They cannot wait any longer nor should they have to.

It is time for Congress to take action and pass ENDA now.

It is important for LGBT people to understand as well that many in Congress have already done so much. A bill simply cannot get this close to passing without the support of hardworking members of Congress. Whether it be the bill's lead champions, Representatives Barney Frank and Tammy Baldwin, the late Senator Ted Kennedy and now Senator Jeff Merkley, or so many others in leadership and the rank and file, ENDA is clearly important to many members of Congress as a key part of their work for greater equality in the United States. In fact, ENDA now has 192 co-sponsors, more than any other LGBT bill in history.

It is time for Congress to take action and pass ENDA now.

In recent past years, a large obstacle to passage has been a President who was unwilling to sign ENDA into law. That obstacle is gone. President Obama has promised to sign ENDA if passed by Congress and his administration has worked to advance ENDA in significant ways, including providing witnesses who testified with strong statements of support at both House and Senate hearings this year. A large majority of Americans agree that employment should be based on the ability to do the job--this measure isn't even controversial with the general public.

It is time for Congress to take action and pass ENDA now.

So what needs to happen next?

Work is happening in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, but the most immediate action needed is for the House Education and Labor Committee to take up ENDA in what is called a markup, in which the bill is debated and "marked up" with changes before being voted on in committee and sent on to the full House. As many people know, the Committee had a markup scheduled on November 18, but it was postponed. As requested, many of our organizations have provided direct technical assistance to the Committee to move things forward. We have also expressed very clearly and repeatedly to the Committee the need for immediate action on ENDA. We are deeply concerned that any delay in passing this much needed bill can have only negative consequences on the Hill and for the employment prospects of LGBT people all over the United States.

It is time for Congress to take action and pass ENDA now.

While our organizations and others have worked tirelessly on advancing ENDA for years, and we have proudly worked side by side with grassroots organizers and concerned people across the country, we are heartened by the clear rising tide of ever more people willing to step up and do their part. We urge all LGBT people and allies who want to join this important work--regardless of what else you do or whatever other action feels right to you--that you make sure you take the single most important and effective action: contact your own members of Congress. With few exceptions, everyone in the U.S. has one Representative and two Senators. Whether you believe them to be supportive, hostile or unsure, they need to hear from all of us that ENDA is vitally important and that the LGBT community needs and wants ENDA now. Please, before you do anything else, please call. And if you want to take additional action, then mobilize others to call. Visit www.unitedENDA.org for tools to take action and www.endanow.com for the latest news on ENDA. Feel free to use these tools, and also to speak from the heart about why ENDA is important to you.

Our voices must be heard on Capitol Hill, loudly and clearly, that employment equality is a principle whose time is come. ENDA must pass now. Let's rally our community and our allies alike to stand up for the rights we deserve and the equality we need. We are so close--please help this bill take the final steps towards becoming law.

It is time for Congress to take action and pass ENDA now.

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