Political Notebook: ENDA top priority if Dems retake House, says Pelosi
by Matthew S. Bajko
Should Democrats retake the House this fall, passage of federal protections for LGBT employees would be a high priority on their to-do list, promised Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi in response to a question from the Bay Area Reporter during a recent visit to the Castro.
Pelosi (D-San Francisco) is in line to once again become House speaker if her party is able to retake control of Congress' lower chamber from the Republicans in November. To do so they need to reclaim 25 seats, and Democrats are increasingly confident they can due to female voters being turned off by the GOP this election cycle.
In talking to local reporters Wednesday, April 11 after an event unveiling a permanent display of the AIDS Memorial Quilt at Castro restaurant Catch, Pelosi said her confidence in winning back the House grows by the week. [Albeit a day later saw a cable news-whipped firestorm over a lesbian Democratic strategist's dismissive comment of presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney's wife Ann , a stay-at-home mom, because she "has never worked a day in her life."]
Whereas a few months back Pelosi thought flipping the House was a close call, now she believes Democrats have a "more solid 50/50 chance" of taking back the gavel.
Asked by the B.A.R. where passage of a pro-LGBT Employment Non-Discrimination Act would be among her to-do list as speaker, Pelosi indicated it would be one of the first pieces of legislation she would want to see the House address.
"It would be a very high priority. We have to do it," said Pelosi.
The next night Pelosi repeated her pledge during an appearance on former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm 's Current TV show, video of which can be seen on the online version of this column at ebar.com.
Asked by Granholm what a Democratic House's initial legislative agenda would look like, Pelosi replied that "... as part of that initial array of bills we would have ENDA, it was part of our agenda before ... ending discrimination in the workplace, and that would be part of it as well."
The same day that Pelosi spoke with the B.A.R. the Obama administration was meeting at the White House with leaders of national LGBT groups to inform them that the president would not sign an executive order banning federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT workers.
Due to the refusal of the GOP House leadership to bring the ENDA legislation up for a vote, LGBT advocates have been pressuring President Barack Obama to issue what is being called a "mini ENDA" through executive order. His refusal to do so has set off a firestorm of criticism against the White House; this week the Human Rights Campaign launched a letter-writing campaign about ENDA targeted at Obama and Congress.
Asked about the White House meeting, Pelosi said she was unaware it was taking place but did acknowledge that stopping LGBT discrimination in the workplace "certainly needs to happen at the federal level. It is hard to imagine we need something like ENDA, but we do."
Her response would appear to put Pelosi at odds with the president's refusal to issue the executive order. Asked for clarification, Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill told the B.A.R. that the fight over ENDA signals the need to elect a Democratic House.
"This decision adds more urgency to Democrats winning back the House to continue on our path of ending discrimination as we did by repealing 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' and making a fully-inclusive hate crimes bill the law of the land," wrote Hammill in an emailed response. "With a Democratic Congress, we will make more strides toward equality by passing a fully-inclusive ENDA and repealing the so-called Defense of Marriage Act."
Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California) is championing repeal of DOMA, the federal ban against same-sex marriage, in the Democratic-held Senate, but there is zero chance of seeing any LGBT legislation passed this year. There has been virtually no movement on LGBT issues in Congress since the Republican takeover of the House in 2010, apart from DADT's repeal during the lame duck session that year.
ENDA has had a tortured history in Congress since first being proposed in 1974. A fully inclusive version that would include gender identity protections has never made it out of either chamber.
A bill stripped of the transgender-friendly language came close to passing out of the Senate in 1996. Similar legislation did pass the House in 2007 but was never taken up by the Senate.
For Pelosi, who was excoriated five years ago for allowing the version only covering sexual orientation to be voted on, passing a fully-inclusive ENDA would finally heal that wound with LGBT activists.
2nd SF police station to add LGBT liaison
The San Francisco Police Department's Mission Station oversees much of the city's gay Castro district, and as such, has long designated an officer to be its liaison to the LGBT community. It is the only police station in the city to do so, though the department two years ago created a citywide LGBT liaison position.
Now newly installed Park Station Captain John J. Feeney is looking at naming one of his officers as an LGBT liaison. Once you cross Market Street in the Castro into the Duboce Triangle neighborhood or head up into Twin Peaks, that part of town is actually under the auspices of Park Station, which is more closely associated with the Haight and Cole Valley districts.
Feeney attended the April meeting of the Merchants of Upper Market and Castro to introduce himself and was asked about establishing an LGBT liaison by the B.A.R. At the time he said that the idea "hasn't come up."
But in a follow-up email exchange, Feeney wrote that, "I am interested in designating an LGBT liaison officer and will speak with my lieutenants for their suggestions. I have an officer in mind but would like their input as well."
Feeney added that he hoped to soon be able to publicly announce which officer it would be.To see Current video click here: https://current.box.com/s/5f3f33767e40926038d1.
Web Extra: For more queer political news, be sure to check http://www.ebar.com Monday mornings around 11 a.m. for Political Notes, the notebook's online companion. This week's column reports on redistricting outcome for San Francisco supervisor seasts.
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Got a tip on LGBT politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 861-5019 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.