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Cheryl Jacques is the executive director of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest gay rights group; she can be reached at c.jacques@hrc.org.

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OPINION

Putting the ‘T’ into ENDA
HRC’s board has decided not to support ENDA without transgender protections. It’s the right and pragmatic thing to do.
Friday, August 13, 2004

IMAGINE YOU’RE A gay man working in a computer factory in Wisconsin. Year after year, you’ve been the star employee. Your exceptional productivity earned you promotion after promotion and raise after raise.

Now, there’s a new boss. He doesn’t like the way you gesture and the way you walk. You simply act too much like a woman, he tells your co-workers. And he says as much when he fires you and has security guards escort you out of the building.

Your lawyer is anxious to take him to court. Indeed, Wisconsin law protects an employee from being fired because of his or her sexual orientation. However, in court, the company’s lawyers parade a line of lesbian and gay employees before the jury. And in each and every case, the men “act like men” and the women “act like women.”

You were fired not simply because you were gay but because you didn’t conform to “norms” of your gender.

The court decides in favor of your boss because Wisconsin offers no protections based on gender identity or expression. Only California, Minnesota, New Mexico, Rhode Island and the District of Columbia have laws that explicitly prohibit discrimination based on gender identity, gender expression as well as sexual orientation.

TRANSGENDER AMERICANS FACE horrific discrimination every day, just as devastating as the example of the Wisconsin factory worker. Frequently, an employee who goes through an important and life-altering gender transition is fired.

And sometimes, the harassment of transgender employees is tolerated by the boss while other forms of harassment are handled swiftly.

The bottom line is simply that neither today’s employment discrimination laws nor ENDA as currently written meet the needs of protecting everyone in our community whether we’re transgender, gay, lesbian or bisexual.

That’s why the Human Rights Campaign has for years supported the inclusion of gender identity and gender expression in the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a crown jewel of our community’s legislative goals.

At a time when President Bush is trying to divide Americans over gay marriage, we know that unity is one of our greatest strengths.

Since joining HRC in January 2004, I’ve met with dozens of our community’s leaders, including transgender leaders, members of Congress and other advocates in Washington and around the country to talk about ENDA.

With reintroduction expected in January 2005, I wanted to do one thing: listen.

There is broad agreement on the goal: passage of ENDA that includes sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. The question has always been about how we get there as quickly as possible and there is understandably some concern that adding gender identity or expression could delay passage of the bill.

But in this case, it’s about ensuring we pass a bill with the sharpest teeth possible. Congress moves very slowly on legislation and we need to make sure the bill our allies introduce in January is as fresh and inclusive upon enactment as it was at introduction.

PASSING ENDA WITHOUT gender identity and expression is like passing a copyright law that covers books and television shows but doesn’t cover digital music or videos.

But ENDA is about people’s lives, not MP3s or DVDs. That’s why it’s so important that we have the strongest and most comprehensive bill possible.

In early August, HRC’s Board of Directors took the historic step of adopting a policy that HRC would not support a version of ENDA that doesn’t include gender identity or expression.

This isn’t only the right thing to do; it’s the pragmatic thing to do. We’re supporting a modernized and comprehensive bill that gives full protection to all of our community.

Yes, they’ll be more education to do and our lobbying team has been working on that for years. In fact, recent polling shows 61 percent of registered voters and 85 percent of registered GLBT voters support workplace protections for transgender people.

This is a moment of great pride not only for HRC but for our entire community. In speeches around the country, I’ve said that we’re living in the best of times and the worst of times: historic victories and unprecedented challenges.

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