Gay Congressmen defends his record on trans rights

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The only out gay man in the US Congress has rejected accusations that he was responsible for the removal of trans people from a workplace protection bill.

In November the Employment Non-Discrimination Act was passed by the House by 235 to 184.

ENDA was originally designed to make it illegal to fire, refuse to hire or promote a person based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

The decision to remove trans people from the scope of the legislation caused anger among the LGBT community in the US, with many demanding an “all or nothing” stance.

Many of the House Democrats serving their first term did not want ENDA to include protections for trans people, fearful of a backlash from conservatives.

“History teaches us that progress on civil rights is never easy,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi commented at the time.

“It is often marked by small and difficult steps.”

Matt Foreman, who is stepping down as executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, used a radio interview last week to criticise Congressman Barney Frank.

“Representative Frank … has always been pretty squeamish on the trans issue – and I guess I can say these things because I am leaving my job – (he) said ‘Look the best way to pass ENDA, and the easiest way is to, let’s take out gender identity,’ and I don’t think the Speaker’s people thought this through, didn’t think it through, and then they said ‘OK, let’s do it’.”

Appearing on the same radio show last week, Congressman Frank said:

“He just made that up. That is not remotely how it happened. He also has no basis for talking about my attitude on transgender people, because I’ve had one set of conversations with Matt Foreman about transgender people.

“In 2002, when he was head of the Empire State Pride Agenda, he lobbied hard to get through the New York state legislature a bill that did exactly what our bill did last year. It covered discrimination based on sexual orientation but excluded people who are transgender.”

Tammy Baldwin, the only openly lesbian Congresswoman, tried to reinstate trans protections.

ENDA would need Senate approval before it could become law, but President Bush has already indicated he would veto it.

Currently 17 states have protections for LGB people; eight of those states extend that protection to trans people.

In 1996 similar legislation failed in the Senate by one vote.

87% of the top Fortune 500 companies in the US already provide protection from discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.

The US military and religious organisations are excluded from the legislation, which also does not force employers to extend benefits to same-sex partners.