A pass forward for ENDA

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Chairman of the Senate Labor Committee, can and should organize an ENDA hearing during this Congressional session. Making up for past mistakes by his staff, he can and should call one or more transgender Americans to testify.

ENDA's recent trajectory on Capitol Hill is somewhat turbulent. The bill was controversial in the 110th Congress for getting watered down, and it was frustrating in the 111th Congress for getting repeatedly and inexplicably delayed. I had a front-row seat to this legislative process from 2007 to 2010 while I served as ENDA's lead counsel in the U.S. House of Representatives. I worked for Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.).

In those three years, the House Labor Committee organized three ENDA hearings. Five transgender witnesses testified; one hearing was specifically focused on workplace discrimination against transgender Americans. Of course, many gay and lesbian witnesses were called, and straight allies, too.

I vividly remember sitting in the counsel's chair on the committee dais as Vandy Beth Glenn testified about being fired on the same day she told her employer that she planned to transition from male to female. I watched several members of Congress tear up and sadly shake their heads while listening to her speak.

By contrast, the lone Senate hearing during the same time period intentionally and controversially excluded the testimony of even a single transgender American. But that mistake by Senate staffers is in the past.

Now, ENDA is back, and it’s time to move it forward. Pressure is building for Chairman Harkin to schedule an ENDA hearing in the next year and to call transgender Americans to testify. Such a hearing would build momentum for ENDA’s eventual passage.

LGBT Americans will win a legislative victory against workplace discrimination only if they can tell their stories – to Congress, to the media, and to their neighbors. What we seek is what all Americans deserve – equality under the law. ENDA merely grants access to the same workplace protections available to other Americans who are targeted with unjust discrimination. ENDA is fundamental to the American dream.

Tico Almeida is a civil rights litigator at Sanford Wittels & Heisler LLP in Washington, D.C.