This marks the first time a full Congressional committee heard testimony on ENDA; an Education and Labor subcommittee held a hearing on the bill last session.
Seven witnesses came before the House Education and Labor Committee Sept. 23 to express their support for ENDA: openly gay U.S. Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), the prime sponsor of the bill, and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.); Stuart Ishimaru, acting commissioner of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission; William Eskridge, Yale Law School professor; Vandy Beth Glenn, a transgender woman who experienced workplace discrimination; Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center; and Bradley Sears, executive director of the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law.
Several of the witnesses spoke about their own experiences of being targeted in the workplace because of their sexual orientation or gender identity; Eskridge detailed how he was denied tenure at the University of Virginia School of Law because of, he believes, his sexual orientation, while Glenn addressed her termination as an editor with the Georgia General Assembly after she revealed her decision to transition.
Just 21 states and Washington, D.C., offer employment protections based on sexual orientation, and only 12 of those, as well as D.C., extend those protections to transgender employees; Pennsylvania is not on either of those lists.
Ishimaru noted that since the “current patchwork of state laws leaves big gaps in coverage, federal government action is necessary to provide protection against employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Protecting valued members of our workforce from discrimination should not be left solely to the states — discrimination in Washington state is just as wrong as discrimination in Florida.”
Saperstein focused his testimony on the religious exemption in the bill, which allows faith-based organizations to operate under their own employment policies.
“ENDA simply ensures that workers are judged and rewarded based on their qualifications and performance, rather than on irrelevant and prejudicial factors,” he said. “At the same time, it protects the right of religious communities to make their own employment decisions in this sensitive area.”
Craig Parshall, senior vice president of the National Religious Broadcasters Association testified against the bill and said the religious exemption was not broad or defined enough. Camille Olson, an employment attorney with Seyfarth Shaw, LLP, also offered testimony against the bill, agreeing with Parshall that the legislation does not go far enough to define such terms as gender identity and lacks proper guidance for employers.
A version of ENDA has been introduced in every session but one since 1994.
Last session was the first time that a transgender-inclusive version of ENDA surfaced in the House, but Frank later dropped the gender-identity provision because of a lack of votes and the bill eventually passed that chamber; a companion bill was not introduced in the Senate in that session.
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) introduced a version of ENDA last month that does offer protections based on gender identity, marking the first time the Senate version of the bill was inclusive of transgender individuals.
The House version currently has 175 cosponsors, and the Senate cosponsorship list stands at 39.
Jen Colletta can be reached at email@example.com.