by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Staff Writer
On March 2, Seattle OUTProtest - a coalition of organizations and individuals committed to fighting for equality for the LGBT community - and LGBT labor organization Pride At Work, held an Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) forum at the Seattle Labor Temple. Upwards of 70 people participated in the event titled "ENDA Now: An Interactive Forum Fighting for LGBT Justice in the Workplace Nationally."
The two-hour forum, endorsed by the Martin Luther King County Labor Council, Pride at Work, UW Students Organizing for LGBT Equality (SOLE), and the International Socialist Organization, was attended by a broad spectrum of the Seattle LGBT community which spanned all age groups.
ENDA Now consisted of a four-person panel of subject matter experts in organizing, labor, and ENDA categories, a question-and-answer session, a small group action item planning, and a final presentation where each group presented their action ideas to the rest of the forum.
ENDA expands the protections of Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act to prohibit discrimination in the workplace on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
ENDA Now participants learned that federal employees currently have no statutory protections against sexual orientation or gender identity discrimination; only 12 states have laws forbidding both sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination on the job; it is legal to be fired or not hired for being Gay or Lesbian in 29 states; and in 38 states it is legal to be fired or not hired for being Transgender.
Even in states like Washington that have such laws, ENDA would benefit LGBT workers because it would allow the federal Justice Department to investigate and prosecute cases of discrimination.
The forum began with a short presentation on the history of anti-discrimination acts in the U.S. by Sarah Henderson, a member of SOLE.
Mara Keisling, executive director for National Center of Transgender Equality, an LGBT advocacy organization working closely with legislators on ENDA, joined the forum by teleconference from Washington, D.C.
Keisling, who is currently in the nation's capital working to get ENDA passed, told the forum that ENDA is advancing. According to Keisling, the bill has 197 sponsors in the House and 44 in the Senate - more sponsors than any other LGBT bill in history. She also informed the group that the bill has stalled in the House because of the health care reform debate.
Still, Keisling warned that the House is not considered a problem; it is the Senate that worries her. "The Senate has become a dysfunctional mess," she said. "They are backed up by 290 bills."
Keisling encouraged everyone to "do what you do best and do what makes sense." She encouraged everyone to hit the streets, educate people about ENDA, and lobby local politicians.
ENDA panelist Mike Andrew, secretary-treasurer of Pride at Work, educated ENDA Now attendees about the importance of the LGBT community engaging their allies in the labor movement. Andrew pointed out that "ENDA is important to the Gay community because a majority of our community works."
According to Andrew, Gay men earn 10-32% less than their straight counterparts and are unemployed more than their straight counterparts. In some areas of the country, Andrew said Transgender unemployment is as bad as 60%. In addition, 64% of employed Transgender individuals in the workforce earn less than $25,000 a year.
Marcy Johnsen, a board member and former co-chair of the national Service Employees International Union Lavender Caucus, said she was happy to see so many attend the forum. "The movement has picked up momentum," she said. "It's nice to see that we are able to fill a room with people who want to see ENDA passed."
In contrast, Johnsen says that she is disappointed that we are still fighting for out rights, albeit "with a lot more people and a lot more voices."
The last panelist to speak, Su Docekal, a Seattle OUTProtest member, gave a brief history lesson about the LGBT employment equality struggle in Seattle since the 1970s.
In a particularly poignant moment, Docekal said the issue surrounding locker room and bathroom usage by Transgender individuals is a "phony argument." She also expressed her opinion around giving money to the Democratic party. "Time and time again, we've given Democratic politicians LGBT money and they have sold us down the river," Docekal said. "Instead, we need more civil disobedience and marches in the street."
Docekal also warned the ENDA Now participants of picking one LGBT issue over another. Each issue, from ENDA and Don't Ask, Don't Tell to same-sex marriage equality, is equally important, she said.
After the panel and a brief question-and-answer session, participants broke into small groups, round-table style, and were asked to brainstorm and come up with a local ENDA action plan. The 30-minute discussions produced a number of ideas, with a few themes that seemed to stand out from the rest.
In particular, there seemed to be a unanimous decision that lobbying local politicians who were "on the fence" about ENDA or decidedly against ENDA would be beneficial in the long run. Other ideas included making this year's 2010 Seattle Gay Pride Parade a political march in favor of passing ENDA, writing letters to the editor of local newspapers, educating the public (including our own community) about ENDA, and leafleting high foot-traffic areas of the city with ENDA literature.
If you are interested in tracking ENDA, visit the national interactive website at www.endanow.com.
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