US: Record numbers as Transgender Lobby Day attacks ENDA religious exemptions

PinkNews logo surrounded by illustrated images including a rainbow, unicorn, PN sign and pride flag.

A record number of transgender activists and allies have taken part in a lobbying event in D.C. to urge lawmakers to push through a version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) which does not include the broad religious exemption clause.

The proposed religious exemptions have caused several LGBT rights groups to drop their support for ENDA, which is currently being delayed by the House of Representatives.

Speaking to Senators and Representatives, around 200 lobbyists at the Transgender Lobby Day 2014 instead recommended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (1964) as an example of religious exemption which is narrow enough not to undermine the entire purpose of the Act.

Lobbyists also urged members of congress to support the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA), introduced to both Houses in March 2011 to protect LGBT youths against discrimination in schools.

The two-day event, which took place from 14-15 July, included break-out sessions on improving transition-related health care, working against police profiling, and building power and diversity within the trans movement. The estimated 200 attendees is a record for the annual event.

It was organised jointly by several organisations: National Center for Trangender Equality (NCTE); Trans People of Color Coalition; Trans Latin@ Coalition; National Gay and Lesbian Task Force; PFLAG National; Black Transmen, Inc.; and Black Transwoman, Inc.

Event organisers provided training for those new to lobbying, and arranged meetings for attendees with their Senators and Representatives. Key to the event was the idea that, by sharing their personal stories, transgender individuals can show their members of Congress the importance of ENDA and other legislation to their lived experiences.

The event website explains the benefits of lobbying members of Congress. It reads: “Your Congressperson may not be aware of the concerns of transgender people or even know that there are transgender individuals in her or his district. Therefore, it is essential that we visit the elected officials who represent us and speak with them personally.

“Allies can help greatly in educating congressional representatives about transgender issues. It is especially important, however, that transgender people share our own stories. Speaking personally with your member of Congress can be both an empowering experience for you and an effective educational experience for your legislator.”

Mara Keisling, executive director of the NCTE, told Washington Blade that the high turnout of citizens lobbying over ENDA had a twofold significance.

“First, trans people understand that passing employment protections is not an option for us; it is a desperately needed necessity. Second, trans people are increasingly willing to step up and give voice to that understanding,” she said.

She added: “That over 200 people took the time and the expense to get to D.C. and use their voices and stories to educate Congress, I think is a pretty good measurement that they are very committed to passing a bill. I’m confident that when ENDA is in play again next year, trans people will continue to fight and educate to win employment protections.”