Written by Bennett Guess
The U.S. House of Representatives passed its own version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act on Nov. 7, moving forward legislation that would prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, but not gender identity and expression.
The vote, 235 to 184, marks the first time ever that either chamber of Congress has passed employment protections based on sexual orientation, but the removal of transgender persons from protections has angered many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender activists, including LGBT leaders in the UCC.
The Rev. Mike Schuenemeyer, the UCC's minister for LGBT concerns, expressed "profound disappointment" that the House chose not to pass a transgender-inclusive version of ENDA.
"There is a slight glimmer of a silver lining, knowing that an antidiscrimination bill concerning sexual orientation was passed by the House today. In a small way, there is sense of consolation in this movement towards fairness." Schuenemeyer said. "But it is simply not enough. Should there be, and hopefully there will be, an opportunity in the future to pass a bill including transgender rights, that must happen."
Schuenemeyer said he hopes that the U.S. Senate will include transgender rights when it considers the anti-discrimination legislation.
"The LGBT ministries of the United Church of Christ will work very hard to make sure that the rights of our transgender sisters and brothers are included, as they should have been this time," Schuenemeyer said.
The Rev. Malcolm Himschoot, interim Open and Affirming program coordinator with the UCC Coalition for LGBT Concerns, said the House legislation unnecessarily divided the LGBT community "by allowing officials to define who may, and who may not, be discriminated against."
"Unemployment affects transgender people disproportionately, and also many gay men and lesbian women who do not fit gender 'norms,'" Himschoot said. "Discrimination is still allowed by this empty, political [version of] ENDA, and discrimination was practiced in passing it. Our church, our Coalition, and our ecumenical welcoming church partnerships must demand better."
The Rev. Ruth Garwood, executive director of the UCC Coalition for LGBT Concerns, called the absence of ENDA protections for transgender people "a terrific disappointment."
"Since Bush will not sign this bill, even if the Senate passes it, there will be opportunities in the future to draft and pass a non-discrimination bill with the kind of substantive protections that provide for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities," Garwood said. "God's love for humanity excludes no one and I look forward to our nation embracing people of all gender identities and sexual orientations."