Tuesday, March 23, 2010

So Health Care is (Almost) Done... How 'Bout Some Equality?

(Also at Stonewall)

I know, I know. I've been slacking off. Sorry.

But in my defense, it's hard to argue that health care didn't suck all the energy out of the room and didn't cause us to set aside most everything else lately.

However, this will soon change.

For many months, LGBTQ equality activists have urged The White House and Congress to get moving on ENDA, an important measure that, if passed, will finally protect LGBTQ Americans from unfair discrimination based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Nancy Pelosi may have deemed it too "controversial" to do late last year, Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) insists they have the votes for ENDA.

Baldwin does believe the votes are in place in the House to pass ENDA and a DADT repeal bill.

“As someone who has actually counted the votes, I believe that there are,” Baldwin said. “That’s one of the things the LGBT Equality Caucus does is to [focus] attention to making sure we can tell [House] leadership, with accuracy, what the vote would be if they bring the measures up to the floor.”

The Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus is a group of legislators in the House who are strong supporters of equal rights for LGBT people. The caucus is organized similarly to the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

Baldwin and Rep. Barney Frank established the LGBT Equality Caucus in June 2008. It now includes nearly 90 members of Congress.

President Barack Obama has recently met with both the Congressional Black and Congressional Hispanic caucuses, but not yet with the LGBT one. Baldwin says this is because “we haven’t put a spotlight on it of late.” She said the group “probably” would press for a meeting with the president in the future.

And it's not just ENDA.

Pressure has grown dramatically in recent days for a spotlight on LGBT-related issues in Congress.

On Thursday, March 18, the same day Congress began reviewing a report from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimating the costs of health care reform, gay civil rights activists, frustrated that Congress has yet to take a vote on ENDA or repealing DADT, staged peaceful acts of civil disobedience at both the Capitol and the White House.

Lt. Dan Choi, who is being discharged from the Army because he identified himself as gay, and former Capt. James Pietrangelo II handcuffed themselves to the wrought iron fence surrounding the White House. Both were arrested, along with California activist Robin McGehee of a new group called GetEqual, who assisted them.

Despite claims from the religious right that repealing DADT would be harmful for our military, they have yet to provide any evidence of that happening. I mean, wouldn't countries like Australia that starting allowing open military serive long ago be collapsing over allowing LGBTQ citizens to serve openly? (NOT!)

Our community has been waiting and waiting and waiting... And it doesn't look like we're willing to sit idly by and wait any longer.

Now Dina Titus has already cosponsored ENDA and the DADT repeal along with LGBT Equality Caucus member Shelley Berkley. Harry Reid has promised action on DADT, and it now looks like the Senate has the votes to pass ENDA. I know our Nevada Democrats have been supportive of LGBTQ equality, but now is the time to put the pedal to the medal and get them working to actually get it passed this year!

So now that health care reform is wrapping up, we need to remind Congress that there are no more excuses for inaction. We can not tolerate any more "legalized" discrimination, and LGBTQ Americans can no longer be spat upon as second-class citizens. ENDA needs to be passed. DADT needs to be repealed. And we need to make it happen this year!

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