The Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA) was voted on by the House of Representatives today. It passed by a vote of 235 to 184 with 14 not voting. It needed 212 to pass.*
It passed by the skin of its proverbial teeth. So, why are we not celebrating?
1. ENDA does not really protect gays, lesbians and bisexuals. Even though the debate about including or not including protection for gender identity or expression was framed in terms of protecting the transgendered, really those provisions would have protected gays, lesbians and bisexuals better than simply stating that, as the bill that passed the house does, that you can’t fire or refuse to hire someone because of his or her real or perceived sexual orientation.
That is like saying “Fine, so we can’t fire you for being a lesbian as long as you aren’t too butch.” If you’re “too butch” all bets are off.
HRC and its coaltion and Barney Frank and allies in the House have framed this as an issue of society becoming used to talk about GLB issues and being ready for civil rights legislation for lesbians and gays, but not quite being ready for legislation protecting transgendered folks because that issue is just newly in our consciousness as a society. That is naive and elitist. It presumes that most GLB folks are middle class and upper middle class professionals just looking to move up in the corporation. That simply isn’t the case.
2. ENDA does not consider the U.S. military an employer. All those troops in Iraq and Afghanistan? Not covered by ENDA. After all, we can’t let an important civil rights bill interfere with our “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy.
3. ENDA does nothing about housing discrimination which weights much more heavily on working class and poorer LGBT folks than on middle and upper class ones.
4. ENDA will likely be vetoed.
Here’s where I think the HRCs cynicism creeps in. I think they don’t like the eviscerated ENDA either but they recognize that a veto is likely and is counting on that opportunity to go out and say “See how bad the Republican party is to LGBT folks? Don’t vote for them.”
But the truth is that we already know that the Republican party is bad to LGBT folks. There is no better evidence of that than their own sex scandals. You don’t see nearly so many people falling out of the Democratic party closet partly because the Democratic party doesn’t force people to be so closeted.
I’ll be away at a union conference this weekend so won’t be blogging much, but in that spirit let me ask you a question:
How much value is a bill like ENDA when so much employment in the US is “at will” employment, meaning that your employer can simply fire you because he feels like it anyway. So long as he doesn’t give an unfair reason for firing you he can simply say “you know, this just isn’t working out. I’m sorry. We have to let you go,” or “No, we have so many people I don’t have any hours for you next week, sorry! Check back in on Thursday.”
We need strong legislation that moves us toward economic and social justice for all of us. Not “civil rights” bills that say, essentially, that you can’t refuse to promote the clean cut guy in the business suit just because his partner is a man.
ENDA-as-is? It makes for weak symbolic politics and ineffective workplace protections.
It certainly isn’t the bill we need.
Note: This was published first on SexInThePublicSquare.org, our community site. Drop by!
*I first reported that the bill passed with a vote of 218-205 and 10 not voting. That was a mistake. That vote was actually a vote on procedure (a vote to consider the measure.) The vote on the bill itself is now correctly reported above.