Tuesday, November 10, 2009

ENDA Hearings - Recap of Monday's meeting in the US House of Representatives

A House of Representatives committee held hearings Monday on the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, which would make it illegal to discriminate against LGBTs in employment and hiring.

“For more than three decades, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Americans have waged a courageous campaign for their workplace rights. I regret that they had to wait so long for us to respond,” said Rep. George Miller, chair of the House Education and Labor Committee.

A report from The Advocate:

The 3.5-hour hearing was mostly dominated by the testimony of pro-LGBT witnesses and questions from lawmakers who generally favor the bill. Those who opposed the legislation were few and even their arguments mostly lacked the incendiary rhetoric that sometimes accompanies LGBT issues.

“The questions that we heard, even from members who may not be thrilled with ENDA, were actually very technical issues,” said Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. “They were not the arguments that we have heard over the past 20 years that have been degrading, insulting and inhumane. I think that bodes well for the passage of ENDA.”

Representative Barney Frank of Massachusetts, lead sponsor the bill, kicked off the testimony with his usual flair.

“I find it hard to argue for legislation that bans discrimination,” he said. “It just seems to me so self evident that an American who would like to work and support himself or herself ought to be allowed to do that judged solely on his or her work ethic and talents … Sometimes, we’ve been accused — those of us who are gay and lesbian — of having a radical agenda. As I look at radicalism through history, trying to get a job or trying to join the military have not been the hallmarks of radicalism.”

Those who testified in favor of the bill also included Representative Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin; The Honorable Stuart Ishimaru, chairman of the U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission; Professor William Eskridge of Yale Law School; Rabbi David Sapperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism; Brad Sears, executive director of The Williams Institute; and Vandy Beth Glenn, a former Georgia state legislative aide who had been fired due to her gender identity.

The main opposition came from GOP Representative John Kline of Minnesota and Craig Parshall, senior vice president and general counsel for the National Religious Broadcasters Association.

In his opening statement, Kline said the legislation “creates an entirely new protected class that is vaguely defined and often subjective. For instance, the legislation extends protections bas on – quote – ‘perceived’ sexual orientation.” These “vaguely defined” terms would result in an “explosion of litigation,” he added.

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