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04/19/2007


FL Senator Bill Nelson Co-Sponsors ENDA; Advocates Pressure Final Two Dem Holdouts

6a00d8341c730253ef017c385d242b970b-800wiYesterday, after facing considerable pressure from both the LGBT rights movement nationally and advocates in his home state of Florida, Democratic Senator Bill Nelson announced his support for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, according to the Washington Blade:

The senator’s name is listed as among the sponsors of ENDA on “Thomas,” the website for the Library of Congress that monitors legislation. According to the website, Nelson signed on as a supporter Monday, the same day Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced that a Senate vote on ENDA would take place before Thanksgiving.

The news was first reported via Twitter by the New York Times’ Jeremy Peters.

The Florida Democrat’s office didn’t immediately respond to the Washington Blade’s request to comment on why the senator had come to support ENDA. In an interview with the Tampa Bay Times in July, Nelson had expressed concerns about the transgender protections in the bill.

ENDA, which would ban employers from making hiring and firing decisions based on sexual orientation or gender identity or expression, now has 54 sponsors in the Senate, and will gain a 55th when Senator-elect Cory Booker joins the chamber to represent New Jersey.

Nelson's announcement came just one day after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada promised that ENDA will receive a vote on the Senate floor before Thanksgiving, and possibly within the next week or so.

This summer, ENDA was reported out of the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee on a bipartisan 15-7 vote, with Republican Senators Mark Kirk of Illinois, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Orrin Hatch of Utah joining the committee's 12 Democrats to advance the bill.  If those three senators support ENDA on the Senate floor, it will be just three votes shy of overcoming a Republican filibuster.

6a00d8341c730253ef01630442fff6970d-800wiWith only two Democratic senators holding out on endorsing ENDA--which would put the bill just one vote away from a filibuster-proof majority--LGBT advocates are ramping up the political pressure directed at the reluctant lawmakers.  As Tico Almeida, founder and President of Freedom to Work put it in a statement following Nelson's announcement, proponents of ENDA expect a unified Democratic caucus to put its support behind the bill:

“Senators Manchin and Pryor are now the only two Democrats playing coy about whether they will stand on the right side of history. ENDA simply says a corporation can’t fire you just because of who you are or who you love, and Americans want a country where people are  judged for the job they do based on their skills and hard work, not  their sexual orientation or gender identity.  We urge Sen. Manchin and Sen. Pryor to stand with the majority of Americans, and the majority of people in their states and support the LGBT freedom to work.”

Despite the LGBT movement's push for the passage of ENDA, some in the community have expressed reservations about the bill's religious exemptions.  In a statement issued today, the LGBT organization GetEQUAL said that the exemptions written into ENDA could set a "dangerous, unnecessary, and un-American precedent":

“While we are glad that ENDA will receive a vote in the Senate for the first time in almost 20 years, we are dismayed that the bill continues to excuse religious bigotry as acceptable under the law. Broad religious exemptions in the bill actually make it possible that institutions such as schools, hospitals, and universities can continue discriminating against LGBT employees and prospective employees.

We’re calling on progressive champions in the Senate — including Senators Elizabeth Warren, Al Franken, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Sherrod Brown — to speak out against these exemptions, establishing a clear record that these exemptions are not necessary and are not acceptable in 2013.”


Republican Senators Burr and Portman Targeted On Eve Of ENDA Vote

Richard_BurrThe Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee is set to consider the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) tomorrow, July 10. While the bill already has the support of senate Democrats, LGBT activists today set their sights on GOP senators who have previously expressed support for LGBT rights, such as marriage equality or the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell". 

The group Freedom to Work targeted Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), a GOP member of the committee who previously voted for the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell". The group enlisted the help of LGBT activist Dan Gurley to assist with their efforts. Gurley believed that Sen. Burr's background as a former business owner should have allowed him to better understand the benefits of legislation like ENDA: 

“There’s a lot of transition still taking place in our economy here, but the growth areas, many of them are the creative fields of employment and white-collar growth...We strongly feel, and believes that there’s evidence to prove that having non-discrimination laws in place would serve as an important recruitment tool for business, and that’s why it’s an important thing to do for North Carolina and the country.”

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, also noted that many prominent North Carolina companies have already adopted non-discrimination policies.

“It’s long past time for our politicians to follow the good example set by companies with a strong North Carolina presence ranging from American Eagle Outfitters to BP gasoline to Coca-Cola, all of which have endorsed the proposed Employment Non-Discrimination Act.”

Unfortunately, in a statement released late today to the Washington Blade, Burr announced that he will be opposing ENDA:

“Like most Americans, I strongly oppose and condemn unjust discrimination,” Burr said. “It is my hope that our society can be tolerant of different people and ideas. That said, whenever we consider new legislation we must always consider the interplay of new laws with existing rights. I am concerned that the ENDA bill would go beyond our existing laws protecting individuals’ employment rights and would impose new burdens and legal uncertainties regarding the exercise of religious liberties. Therefore, I plan to oppose the bill.”

Rob_PortmanMeanwhile, in Ohio, GetEQUAL scheduled a news conference today with hopes of grabbing the attention of Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio). Towleroad readers may recognize Portman as the senator who came out in support of marriage equality after learning that his son is gay. GetEQUAL's press conference plans to appeal to those sentiments by showcasing the stories of two mothers, both of whom have children who have suffered at the hands of workplace discrimination. Heather Cronk, managing director for the group, had this to say:

“We’re calling on Senator Portman to ‘evolve’ on workplace discrimination in the same way that he ‘evolved’ on marriage equality — by seeing this issue as one of fundamental fairness and equal opportunity.” 

Jeffrey Sadosky, a spokesperson for Sen. Portman, did release a prior statement last month, which was less than committal. 

“Sen. Portman is strongly opposed to discrimination and is looking at proposals to address it,” Sadosky said. “He is concerned about excessive reliance on litigation as a tool for social change, and will continue to review the most recent version of ENDA.”

Since the bill is co-sponsored by all 12 Democratic members of the The Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee, it is expected to be advanced. If so, the legislation faces an uphill battle, especially in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. 


GetEQUAL Stages Sit-In at Senator Rubio's Florida Office

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The LGBT rights group GetEQUAL--best known for its sometimes confrontational protests of Don't Ask, Don't Tell--today staged a sit-in at Florida Senator Marco Rubio's office in Tampa.  From the organization's press release on the demonstration:

606px-Marco_Rubio,_Official_Portrait,_112th_CongressThe U.S. Supreme Court continues to deliberate over whether LGBT Americans have the constitutional right to marry via cases involving California's Proposition 8 and the federal Defense of Marriage Act. However, despite poll after poll indicating that a majority of Americans support marriage equality, politicians like Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) continue to stand in the way of LGBT equality.

Senator Rubio has recently attempted to hijack the Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill moving through the Senate (S. 744) in order to keep binational same-sex couples out of the bill, and has also recently come out against the common-sense Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) -- showing that he dead-set on taking the country backward, not forward. Activists with GetEQUAL are pushing back on these attempts by taking action in Rubio's office today.

2_getequalAfter the three activists were led out of the office in handcuffs and given notices to appear in court, a Rubio staffer attempted to have one of the protestors--an undocumented DREAMer--arrested by a police offer.  

A statement issued by GetEQUAL after the protest has more details:

As these activists were being led away from Sen. Rubio's office for drawing attention to these regressive views and to call on Sen. Rubio to "evolve" his views on immigration and employment discrimination, a Rubio staffer told the police officers in the room that one of the people in the room -- GetEQUAL Co-Director Felipe Sousa-Rodriguez -- "is here illegally."

Despite the fact that Felipe was serving in a support role and was not risking arrest or otherwise breaking any laws, the officer proceeded to ask Felipe whether he has papers, and asked to see his drivers license.

Under the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) program Secure Communities (S-COMM), law enforcement officers are not permitted to ask about an individual's immigration status unless a law has been broken (http://www.ice.gov/secure_communities/). Even if an undocumented immigrant breaks the law and is arrested, ICE policies still do not require the individual to answer questions about her or his immigration status.

Two weeks ago, Rubio told a conservative radio host that he would blow up the comprehensive immigration reform he has helped to fashion if it included protections for same-sex couples, saying, "If this bill has in it something that gives gay couples immigration rights and so forth, it kills the bill.  I'm gone, I'm off it."  That same week, when asked by ThinkProgress if he supported the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, Rubio said, "I’m not for any special protections based on orientation."


Arrests Made at John Boehner's Office as GetEQUAL Protests Lack of Movement on ENDA

Geidner_enda

Arrests are being made at a GetEQUAL protest over the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) at House Speaker John Boehner's office, according to Buzzfeed reporter Chris Geidner, who tweets these photos.

Watch videos, AFTER THE JUMP...

UPDATE: More from Geidner at Buzzfeed...

After several of the GetEqual activists told their stories of discrimination — or, in one case, a mother’s story about discrimination faced by her daughter — they then demanded that Boehner commit to holding a vote on ENDA in 2013. When told that their message would be taken to Boehner but no commitment was given, the activists began a sit-in in Boehner’s office.

After Capitol Police told the protesters that they could not yell or sit in Boehner’s office without the office’s permission, they went into the hallway. At that point, they sat down again and began chanting until officers began making arrests.

Those arrested included Watkins and Corey Phillips of Ohio and mother and daughter Cindy Candia and Kaya Candia-Almanza, Koby Ozias, Carey Dunn and Erin Jennings of Texas.

Geidner2_enda

Continue reading "Arrests Made at John Boehner's Office as GetEQUAL Protests Lack of Movement on ENDA" »


Melissa Harris-Perry Panel Mostly Thinks It Was Wrong for 'GetEQUAL' to Heckle Michelle Obama: VIDEO

Mhp

Melissa Harris-Perry and her panel took a look at the heckling of Michelle Obama last week by GetEQUAL activist Ellen Sturtz. The panelists, Anthea Butler, Maria Teresa Kumar, Edwina Rogers, and Ezra Klein mostly thought it was the wrong place and the wrong time to do so.

Watch, AFTER THE JUMP...

Ellen Sturtz, the activist who heckled FLOTUS, explained herself in a WaPo opinion piece on Saturday.

Continue reading "Melissa Harris-Perry Panel Mostly Thinks It Was Wrong for 'GetEQUAL' to Heckle Michelle Obama: VIDEO" »


Why Ellen Sturtz, the Lesbian Activist, Heckled Michelle Obama

Ellen Sturtz, the GetEQUAL activist who heckled Michelle Obama at a fundraiser early this week and made international headlines, defends her actions today in a WaPo opinion piece.

SturtzWrites Sturtz:

As a gray-haired, 56-year-old lesbian, I don’t have time to wait another generation for equality — it’s been almost 40 years since similar legislation to ENDA was first introduced in Congress. And being polite hasn’t gotten us any closer to it becoming a reality.

Sturtz says her comments were a spontaneous reaction to Obama's statement about standing up for kids because she thought about all the homeless LGBT youth on the streets who have nobody to speak for them.

Continues Sturtz:

For most of my life, I have been in one closet or another, as my “coming out” process took decades. I remained in the work closet the longest, as a public servant doing environmental and consumer protection work. In the mid-90s, in the final round of interviews for a position I was offered and accepted, I was asked why I was moving to the area. I lied and responded that I was moving to help take care of a “family member.” The interviewer seemed satisfied with the response, not wanting to pry further and assuming it was an elderly parent. In truth, it was my partner of seven years — who I felt I had to hide and whose humanity I felt ashamed to acknowledge. After years of these lonely, isolating and dehumanizing experiences, I’ve only recently been able to find the strength to advocate for myself and millions of others.

ObamahecklerSturtz praises the First Lady but stands by her statements:

Mrs. Obama has accomplished extraordinary things and is inarguably the conscience of the White House. She understands injustice at a deep level, and it was that political conscience I was hoping to stir at this week’s fundraiser. Some have said it was disrespectful for a white woman to interrupt an African American woman, or for an activist to interrupt the first lady. All I can say is that in that moment, I could no longer remain silent while standing in front of one of our country’s most powerful political figures. I spoke up for the millions of LGBT Americans who have to make small and excruciating choices each day about the extent to which they are able to live safe and honest lives.

Read the full editorial here.


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