Many In Bay Area Call Anti-Bias Measure An Act of Betrayal
National civil rights organizations are celebrating the passage by the House of legislation that would add "sexual orientation" to a list of federally protected classes, but some San Francisco groups refuse to take part in the party.
The vote Wednesday on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, also known as ENDA, postponed several times, was ultimately revised to remove protection for transgender workers, which upset gay rights groups here and across the country. Democratic leaders said the removal was necessary to get the act passed. But more than 300 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender leaders opposed the exclusion, saying it is unfair and sends the wrong message.
"People are livid," said John Newsome, co-founder of And Castro for All, a bias awareness group. "If the first step out of the gate leaves people behind, it is an ill-conceived first step."
The Human Rights Campaign, the NAACP, the Anti-Defamation League and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights supported the revised bill, saying an incremental approach is sometimes necessary, and that the move marks a step forward.
"We are happy for our lesbian and gay brothers and sisters and understand that we are making legislative progress, but we feel that there is a lot of work still to be done," said Cecilia Chung, deputy director of San Francisco's Transgender Law Center. "We are disappointed that this version is not all-inclusive."
The act, which passed 235-184, makes it illegal for employers, except for churches and the military, to make decisions about hiring, firing, promoting or paying an employee based on sexual orientation. Its chief proponent is Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., a gay rights advocate. The 1964 federal civil rights law already bans discrimination based on race, color, religion, gender or national origin.
"I thought it was a morally bankrupt decision for them to go forward," said Robert Haaland, a transgender person and co-chair of Pride at Work, an LGBT labor organization. "More than 300 organizations opposed this strategy. It is incredibly patronizing and shows that Barney Frank doesn't particularly care about transgender people. Our community should be one."
Nineteen states and the District of Columbia already have laws against discrimination based on sexual orientation, and nine of those states, including California, protect transgender workers.
Though Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese said the revised law could pave the way for legislation that covers transgender workers, advocates disagreed.
"Bush has said he won't sign the bill, so how does it set a principle or pave the way?" asked Newsome. "This incrementalist version embraces more mainstream gays and lesbians while it continues to leave transgender Americans vulnerable to discrimination."
On Wednesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, applauded the bill, saying discrimination has no place in America.
"As someone who has looked forward to this day, it is a joyous occasion," she said, but added that she shared the disappointment that transgender workers were not included.
Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma, said the bill is a good start but just the beginning.
"I share the concern that it does not protect transgender people," she said.
"Ultimately, we wish it had been stronger and not left out members of our community," said Jere Keys, a spokesman for Out & Equal Workplace Advocates, a nonprofit that works with employers to eliminate barriers to LGBT equality in the workplace.
Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, called the vote a "shell of a victory."
"Today's passage is bittersweet, and as we look ahead we intend to transform the many promises made today on the House floor for a fully inclusive ENDA into reality."
E-mail Leslie Fulbright at email@example.com.
© 2007 The San Francisco Chronicle