Thank You, Rob Andrews!

Almost lost amid all the noise and bustle here in NJ as the drama, the virtual acrid smell of large scale corruption and malfeasance surrounding the Christie Administration slowly intensifies, was the unexpected retirement of a champion of LGBT rights and most significantly transgender rights in Congress  which was abruptly announced on Tuesday, February 4, 2014.

Rob Andrews, the 12 term congressman from South Jersey, announced that he would resign from Congress and leave office on Feb 18 to lead the government relations practice of a Philadelphia law firm. Andrews was a Vice- Chair of the House LGBT Equality Caucus. It was in his role as Chair of the Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions Sub-Committee that he stepped up, kept his word to me and other Trans leaders and presided over the historic Congressional hearings, which, in my opinion, made it impossible for Democrats to forward an Employment Non Discrimination Act (ENDA) that was not trans-inclusive!

A little history is in order.

Reps. Bella Abzug (D-NY) and Ed Koch (D-NY) introduced the Equality Act of 1974, which sought to ban discrimination against gay and lesbian individuals, unmarried persons, and women in employment, housing, and public accommodations . It was the first-ever national piece of proposed legislation that would end discrimination against gays and lesbians in the United States. It did not, however, include transgender people. Unfortunately, the Equality Act of 1974 never earned enough support to make it out of committee in the House, and it was never introduced in the Senate. Similar bills and efforts also failed in the late 1970s.

While the Equality Act of 1974 was broad, ENDA is narrowly focused on a single issue: employment discrimination. Lawmakers first introduced ENDA in 1994. That version of the law would have made it illegal to discriminate against employees in all aspects of employment based on a person’s actual or perceived sexual orientation. Both the House and Senate versions of ENDA died in committee that year, a story that would be repeated for the next several years (though in 1996 ENDA received a floor vote in the Senate but failed by a one-vote margin). After 1996 a version of ENDA was introduced in every session of Congress except the 109th.

On April 24, 2007 members of Congress introduced HR 2015 the first version of ENDA that included discrimination prohibitions on the basis of both sexual orientation and gender identity. History will record that this inclusive version of ENDA died in Committee with 185 sponsors and that on September 27, 2007 prime sponsor Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) made a second attempt at moving the bill through, HR. 3685, this time without the provisions protecting transgender workers from discrimination (nicknamed SPLENDA for being a light version or imitation of the real bill).

On November 7, 2007 the House passed this non-inclusive ENDA by a vote of 235 to 184. The Senate version was never taken up or referred to a Committee, due to the exclusion of gender identity from Rep. Frank’s bill (We have to thank people like the late Senator Lautenberg of New Jersey who stated that he would only support an ENDA that was trans inclusive) and the acknowledged fact that President George W Bush had expressly stated that he would veto any ENDA bill thus making it an exercise in futility.

Let history show that by giving up on the inclusive ENDA, splitting the T from the LGB, a barely repaired schism within the LGBT community was re-opened, with HRC, the gay rights 800 pound gorilla abruptly reversing course from their own  stated public policy by standing with Barney Frank and Speaker Pelosi, while just about every other LGBT organization, led by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, rallied behind Tammy Baldwin to fight for transgender inclusion. Barney Frank then introducing two bills on the same day September 27, 2007, HR 3685 ENDA as it has historically existed, banning discrimination on sexual orientation and HR 3686 ENDA with transgender protections to that basic scheme. He stated, “Passing ENDA in part and then moving on to add transgender provisions when we can is clearly preferable”. The congressman from Massachusetts was saying, lets protect the gays and we will come right back for the transpeople “when we can”.

“When we can”, can be a long time!  For example, in 1989, Massachusetts prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation in credit, public and private employment, union practices, housing, and public accommodations. 22 years later Massachusetts finally passed a law prohibiting discrimination for almost, but not all of the aforementioned categories. Maybe you can also sell transpeople a bridge?

Barney Frank envisioned that Congressman Andrew’s Education and Labor subcommittee would hold hearings on his transgender only bill HR3686 (which I will refer to as Barney’s GENDA)  to “focus exclusively on transgender issues, to give Members a chance to meet transgender people, to understand who they really are, and to deal with the fears that exist.”  But Barney’s GENDA was anathema to the transgender community.

Having a relationship with Rob Andrews, I was able to communicate the disappointment that we had for his support of the gay only ENDA and his sponsorship Barney’s GENDA. In fact, his New Jersey colleague Rush Holt, bucked Pelosi and Frank and voted against the bad ENDA! I stressed that we wanted and needed hearings to educate America about the rampant and widespread discrimination, and specific employment discrimination in our country but that those hearings could not be connected at all to HR3686 which in itself was created from the history of trans discrimination.

He “got it”, immediately. We next met in February 2008 at a “Hillary” Primary victory party at the Skylark Diner in Edison NJ where he confirmed all would be a “go”!  In fact, no mention was ever made of Barney’s GENDA at those hearings. The Republican ranking member did make an indirect reference to the legislation in a question, but that question was unanswered!

Rob kept his word and always made note with pride of the historical significance of those hearings in the summer of 2008.  Whenever I brought a group of transpeople to the Hill to lobby, Rob’s office was always a stop, not only to visit a friend, but to show our folks how comfortable and natural and genuinely interested he was in person when meeting with a diverse group of constituents.  He had many contacts on the “other” side of the aisle and was always willing to reach out to them for our legislation. I can’t help but wonder if he had been the Prime sponsor of ENDA in 2007 or even in 2009 if it would have been a done deal!

ENDA 2007 HR2015 was introduced April 24, 2007 with 59 sponsors. A week before I got a call from one of Barney’s senior aides that he had under 30 sponsors and wanted to go in with at least 60 in this first ever trans inclusive ENDA.  At the time I was on the Board of National Stonewall Democrats and we put our political folks into legislative advocate mode and brought in at least 20 more sponsors. In the middle of May, I traveled to DC to lobby for ENDA with the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) as well as meeting up with a smaller group of advocates from NTAC (National Transgender Advocacy Coalition). It was a week of much LGBT activity in the Beltway … but amid all the enthusiasm was a sour note from some of the NTAC folks … news that the Democratic Black Caucus would not support the trans inclusive ENDA. Ironically, a similar message from two entirely different sources, both sworn to secrecy, came to me the next day.  OK, I said to myself, you know that there is a problem… go out and address it. Fix it! You’ve got HRC and all the other organizations, you’ve got the resources … you know there is a problem … do it!

In early September, Joe Solmonese, President of HRC, addressed participants at Southern Comfort , perhaps the largest transgender conference in America, explicitly telling those gathered that HRC would not support a non-inclusive ENDA. Within 2 weeks HRC flipped and supported the gay only version. My words to describe the events are not for publication.

I’m going to end this blog on a positive note.

First Congressman Andrew’s Historic Hearings in 2008……

See the 4:30 mark at…

After Chairman Andrews acknowledges our Jersey group, he goes after the Harvard educated lawyer who represents the religious haters and utterly destroys his legal arguments … it is so sweet watching him at work!

NJ’s late Congressman Donald Payne had made some remarks after voting for the Non inclusive ENDA in Nov 2007 that upset many of us in the trans community.  Garden State Equality objected and Chair Steven Goldstein, myself as Vice-Chair, and a small group of Trans Board Members and supporters met with him to educate and explain. He certainly understood discrimination and he quickly “got it”.

See the 6:00 mark, Cong Payne sees me and remarks that I had “harassed” him with a smile.…

The odds on favorite to win Andrews’ seat in the next election is current State Senator Donald Norcross. NJ’s Congressional District #1 is heavily Democratic and Sen Norcross has already been endorsed by almost all the South Jersey politicos, labor leaders, our new Speaker as well as U.S. Senator Cory Booker.  Donald will have big shoes to fill, but based on a brief talk with him, I’m encouraged that he can and we will encourage him to try and succeed.

Meanwhile to Congressman Rob Andrews, the Trans community says, “Thank you!”

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