Written by Bennett Guess
UCC advocates are responding angrily to attempts by leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives to separate protections for "sexual orientation" from "gender identity" in a watered-down version of the proposed federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).
On Sept. 27, the House divided ENDA into two pieces of legislation, with one that would provide legal protections based on sexual orientation and a second that would offer the same based on gender identity. The move was largely perceived as an effort by House leaders to make it easier for Representatives to pass the first piece of legislation at the expense of the second.
"The proposal to drop transgender persons from the original proposed legislation is a very disappointing development," said the Rev. Michael Schuenemeyer, the UCC's minister for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender concerns. "Our commitment in the UCC is strong in its support for full inclusion of gender identity and expression in both employment non-discrimination and the hate crimes legislation."
ENDA, as passed in the Senate earlier this year and as originally introduced in the House, would have made it illegal to fire, refuse to hire, or refuse to promote an employee simply based on his or her sexual orientation or gender identity.
"We can appreciate the concern and disappointment of our transgender brothers and sisters as they watch their lives and their rights being decided by others for political reasons. Our prayers are with them at this troublesome time," said Schuenemeyer.
In 2003, the UCC's General Synod 24 passed a resolution "affirming the participation and ministry of transgender people within the United Church of Christ and supporting their civil and human rights."
The Rev. Malcolm Himschoot, interim coordinator of the UCC Coalition for LGBT Concerns' Open and Affirming Program, said the real issue is job security for transgender persons.
"Non-discrimination laws send a signal about fairness as one of our national values. That's the least we can do," said Himschoot, a UCC minister who is transgender. "Regarding employment, I would like to see more job creation in this country at self-sufficiency wages, so that people across the board have access to a decent livelihood."
This proposed legislation comes at a time when it is still legal to fire someone based on their gender identity in 39 states, even though thirty-seven percent of the country, including eleven states and more than 90 cities and counties, have passed protections for the transgender community.
Read the history of the UCC's commitment to LGBT equality.