LGBT Caucus Has Ambitious Agenda

Posted February 4, 2009 at 6:20pm

The House LGBT Equality Caucus is laying out an expansive legislative agenda for the rest of the year that starts with passing a hate crimes bill and, this fall, will include a push for a more expansive employment nondiscrimination bill that also covers transgender people.

Members of the caucus, which was minted last year to promote equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, held a strategy session yesterday and are upbeat about the prospects for major progress this year with a friendly administration in place and the support of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

Last year, the transgender provision was stripped from the anti-discrimination bill that passed the House in 2007, a controversial move but one that was designed to attract the support of wavering Democrats.

But Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) said he hopes to pick up significant additional support from both the large group of freshman Democrats as well as a sustained lobbying effort by the transgender community.

“I think they’re pretty good,” Frank said Wednesday of the chances for enacting the Employment Non-Discrimination Act with the transgender provision. There has been an intensive lobbying campaign by the transgender community, “instead of asking that we wave a magic wand,” Frank said. “You have to lobby the Members.”

Frank said that although it was controversial in the LGBT community to strip transgender from ENDA in 2007, it should make the bill easier to pass the second time around because many Members will have already voted for nondiscrimination in employment and have “a comfort level with the general principle.”

“Now the only issue is transgendered,” he said.

Frank added that with a White House expected to sign the bill, Members don’t have the luxury of voting on something they know won’t become law.

“By my count, we were very close to the number we needed to pass the bill and prevent a motion to recommit,” said Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), who co-chairs the caucus.

“There has been a lot of education” since then, she said.

The caucus also discussed other legislative efforts, including domestic partner benefits for federal employees and possible legislative action in the case of a transgender woman who was denied employment at the Library of Congress.

Baldwin also sent a letter Monday to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, asking her to provide various benefits to domestic partners of State Department workers, such as access to health care and emergency evacuations — something that could happen without legislation.

Another high priority is legislation to end the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, but the timing will likely depend on the Obama administration’s plans.

“You are going to have to have the Iraq War situation resolved first,” Frank predicted. But he said he still thought “don’t ask, don’t tell” would be repealed sometime in the next two years.

Baldwin agreed with Frank that the timeline for ending “don’t ask, don’t tell” could slip.

“President Obama has been crystal clear in his opposition to ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ and his interest in seeing it repealed, but I think the timeline on that is a little more uncertain because of the wars,” she said.

Baldwin said that if and when Defense Secretary Robert Gates steps down, that could be an opportunity for change.