ENDA hearing aims to push forward legislation

This past Tuesday, the Senate Committee for Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions met in a hearing on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), a piece of currently proposed labor non-discrimination legislation. ENDA, if passed, would add factors of actual or perceived gender identity or sexual orientations to federal protections against workplace discrimination, which currently includes race, color, religion, sex and national origin, as detailed in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The five witnesses who testified before the Senate in the hearing included Kylar Broadus, an attorney and founder of Trans People of Color Coalition in Missouri, who made history as the first-ever trans person to testify before the US Senate. Broadus focused his testimony on the numerous instances of transphobia in his professional career which have caused severe consequences, including long periods of unemployment and post-traumatic stress. Also testifying was a social scientist and sexual orientation policy specialist at UCLA’s Williams Institute, a high-ranking executive of General Mills, and two lawyers specializing in First Amendment issues and labor policy.

“It is long past time to eliminate bigotry in the workplace, and to ensure equal opportunity for all Americans,” Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said in his opening statement.

Emphasizing and encouraging a speedy passage of ENDA through the Senate, Harkin, along with the original sponsor of ENDA, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), emphasized through their statements and questions the major points of the bill: that despite dissenters’ arguments, the bill would not cause “a flood of lawsuits,”would extend equal protections as already exist for other groups, would increase businesses’ profitability and would include exemptions for religious groups.

The exemptions for religious groups proved to be the most contentious issue brought to light in the hearing. Craig Parshal, a witness and First Amendment lawyer with the National Religious Broadcasters Association, repeatedly stated his organization’s position that ENDA would present a serious breach of the first amendment of the Constitution. Citing parts of the bill’s sixth section, Parshal contended that the exemption procedures, modeled on those laid out in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, were excessively ambiguous.

In rebuttal, Samuel Bagenstos, a professor of law at the University of Michigan, made clear to the Senate committee that the language of the bill was clear, and that the procedures it called for had already demonstrated effectiveness in practice. In fact, ENDA’s exemptions for religious groups are so broad, Dr. Bagenstos testified, that the bill’s exemption language has been severely criticized by groups such as the Human Rights Campaign and the American Civil Liberties Union. Sen Harkin, following Dr. Bagenstos, also reminded the committee of similar First Amendment issues brought by religious groups in debates over racial and women’s equality, which have been thoroughly accepted as constitutional.

ENDA has had a troubled history. Currently, while sixteen states and 186 cities and counties (including the District of Columbia) have passed workplace equality policies for sexual orientation and gender identity, the policies have consistently lacked support as federal legislation. ENDA, in its current form, has been introduced in every Congress since 2007, and similar legislation providing protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation has been introduced consistently for almost four decades without passage. Additionally, between 2000 and 2008, the Bush administration issued a pre-emptive veto threat applying to all LGBT equality legislation. This year, along with Sen. Merkley’s Senate ENDA bill S 811, Rep Barney Frank (D-Mass) has re-introduced ENDA to the House of Representatives as HR 1397.

This post was written by Robin Banerji, a student at Haverford College and a member of the PSEC Coordinating Committee.

WHAT PRIDE MEANS TO ME: Look How Far We’ve Come

The Keystone Student Voice celebrates June 2012 as LGBTQ Pride Month by hosting a compilation of personal essays written by students/youth across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania on what “pride” means to them.


Stepping off of my train into the city, lugging my bags down the street and clumsily dropping one on my toe as I stumbled over myself, I stopped in my tracks for a brief moment to catch my breath before finally looking upward to see something pleasantly unexpected. Towering above my head was a scrolling text advertisement displayed from a skyscraper that advertised June as “Philadelphia LGBT Pride Month” – with the lettering decked-out in all things rainbow, of course. On a personal level, the in-your-face neon colors seemed a bit much for my taste, but beyond that existed a heartwarming realization that progress has in fact been made.

Having just come from a visit to my hometown, a loud and proud member of the “conservative T,” I was instantly reminded of the stark contrasts to be made in a state that is as diverse as it is culturally schizophrenic. To the far east and far west, we have bustling urban centers that – for the most part – are welcoming to LGBTQ life and frown upon acts of discrimination and intolerance. Philadelphia boasts anti-discrimination laws that are few and far in between in the commonwealth, and Pittsburgh touts its own set of municipal laws that come to the aid of LGBTQ individuals, albeit like a knight in dull, somewhat rustic armor bought for a bargain at a thrift store. Not perfect protection, but there nonetheless, and leading the pack as inspiring examples for the less progressive areas to be encountered in the rest of the state.

But more to the point, I found that, standing on the street in the gayest clothes to be found at H&M and sporting a fabulous new haircut, I actually was proud. Proud to feel at home in a city that is placed like an aimless dart in the surroundings of a largely homophobic region when viewed from the grander northeastern perspective, and proud to see that – Philadelphia, at least – does not treat its Pride event as something “hush, hush” or unwelcome in the community. This, for me, was an overwhelming new feeling.

Pride events have come quite a long way in the last few decades – what I remember as a child being broadcast by the nightly news as “protests” or “marches,” now thrive as meetings of great minds and bodies in the LGBTQ community, serving as a means of celebration rather than a shake of the fist to “the man.” But perhaps that is the biggest difference between what Pride means to someone like me, and what it may mean to a less embracing individual watching from a distance and baselessly analyzing the LGBTQ community like a group of ants clustered under a microscope on a hot, sunny day.

Contemporarily, we view our Pride events as a way of rejoicing and enjoying our progress, expressing our own culture in a very public way and living our lives as entirely free and uninhibited individuals for a single day, with the hope of using this same attitude as a foundation for our lives in the future. We drink, we don our drag get-ups, and dance until our legs go numb and we collapse. Essentially, it’s St. Patrick’s Day for gay people.

Yet our skeptics insist that we protest, disrupt and obnoxiously flaunt our “alternative lifestyles.”

It seems, however, that this is quite the opposite. Pride events no longer are organized as advertisements for equal rights, or at least not directly so. We celebrate with the intention of others taking notice and joining in on the festivities, but we do not aim to convert, brainwash children, nor push forward a far-left agenda that right-wingers continue to suggest we stand for. We merely celebrate as a reminder to the world that we are in fact perfectly equal human beings with nothing to be ashamed of.

We commemorate our Pride events this year with the same passion we draw from as LGBTQ individuals during the other 364 days of the year, channeling all of the feelings of positive energy from these days, injecting them with steroids and unleashing them for a day of extravagant festivities and pure joy. I will undoubtedly see a slew of “haters” and no-fun killjoys holding signs with derogatory labels and senseless words of judgment when Philadelphia’s June 10 Pride Day rolls around, but I will simultaneously remember that for every bigot with a yard sign in the world, there are hundreds, thousands – millions, perhaps, more people with loving hearts that stand up for LGBTQ pride and the wholesome values it really represents.

This reflection was written by Brandon Baker, director of communications for PSEC and student at Temple University. Brandon can be reached at bbaker@pennsec.org.

Swarthmore College faces continued challenge of hate speech

Chalk is for more than child’s play and blackboards, as it turns out.

The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s independent student publication, brought to the attention of the college’s community the defacing of a wall directly at the entrance of Worth Courtyard, tainted earlier today with homophobic language written in chalk that read, “Queer Dorms” and “Tits.” The writing then pointed with an arrow to the nearby Worth Hall and “Lodges,” conveying a disturbingly straightforward message of “Kill em’ all [sic].”

Local students and activists around the country are left wondering just who the ambiguous “all” entails.

“This hateful activity is harmful not only to LGBTQ students, but to the student body as a whole,” said Joy Horner, deputy director of the Pennsylvania Student Equality Coalition (PSEC). “This is a safety threat to the campus at large, and should be of everyone’s concern.”

Swarthmore administration officials have since denounced the act, insisting that the university is looking to take more aggressive action against hate speech going forward.

“…Swarthmore is not a community that will tolerate hate or threats against any member of our community,” Dean of Students Liz Braun said in a statement. “There is more work to be done.”

The college had a similar pair of occurrences last month; first during a “Pub Nite,” when a guest stood on a bench waving the Confederate flag, chanting and drawing negative attention from the event’s attendees, and again when a slew of homophobic slurs were written on David Kemp – a Swarthmore dorm building. The administration’s then-lukewarm response to the two incidents has manifested in increased tension between students and administrators leading into today’s events.

Will Lawrence, a witness of the chalk writings and student at Swarthmore, expressed concern to The Daily Gazette that these instances will only continue if the administration does not produce stronger reactions.

“Considering that this seems to be becoming a pattern, we really need to develop an immediate response mechanism among the students that will allow the community to denounce hate speech and express support for those who were targeted,” Lawrence said.

If history is in fact meant to repeat itself, this won’t be the last we see of this controversy at Swarthmore. For the sake of student safety and civic justice, we hope Swarthmore administrators will take these issues more seriously than they have in the past.

Brandon Baker is the Director of Communications for the Pennsylvania Student Equality Coalition (PSEC). Brandon can be contacted at bbaker@pennsec.org.