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Where does ENDA go from here?

By now, those following the ENDA situation know that the Education and Labor Committee is apparently going to be doing “markup” on 3685 (the orientation-only ENDA) today (Thursday), that no notice has been given for markup of 2015 (the orientation-and-identity ENDA), and that Tammy Baldwin is working to ensure that – should 3685 come out of the committee and go to the floor – an amendment to the bill adding gender identity back in will be considered.

Going back a bit further, we also know there is no guarantee that any form of ENDA can clear the Senate this year, that the President won't sign any form of ENDA without direct intervention from a higher power, and that no action on any form of ENDA is likely next year (it being an election year), which means the very earliest some form of ENDA could conceivably be passed into law is 2009.

So what happens next?

I doubt that anybody knows what will happen in the EdLab committee meeting, and even if 3685 goes to the floor, what will happen after it gets there is anyone's guess.  It is critically important that supporters of a United ENDA continue to urge their representatives to bring 2015 to a vote or, should 3685 reach the floor, to vote in favor of the “Baldwin Amendment” to restore gender identity coverage in that bill.  If the House-only passage of some form of ENDA is as vital a symbolic victory as Barney Frank and company suggest, then setting a precedent for excluding gender identity to get more votes is just as vital a symbolic defeat.

But that is all the short term view. The long term view is that no version of ENDA becomes law before 2009, and we need to start planning around that.

No matter what form of ENDA gets to the floor this year (if any), and regardless of whether it includes gender identity coverage or not, we have until 2009 to solidify our position.  To educate both our representatives and the voting public behind them, many of whom think of us as an abstract or unseemly talk show subject rather than as neighbors, allies, friends and family.  To forge ever-stronger bonds with genuine allies.  To increase funding for organizations that have proved their commitment to the entire LGBT community, while also learning to represent ourselves more vocally and more directly rather than counting on organizations to do all of the work for us.

And here is the good news: regardless of what has gone on behind closed doors or how anyone feels about it, recent events have given us an incredible platform upon which to rally our strength.  Awareness of the transgender community and our allies is at an all-time high in DC, and people who have never even said the word “transgender” before and have no idea what “gender identity” means are asking questions about us.  That is a huge opportunity that we must seize if we want to get back on the bus, stay on the bus, take it out of idle, leave the parking lot and get moving down the road.

No matter what happens with ENDA over the next few days and weeks, we have to take all of the energy and momentum that have built up over the last few weeks and keep them going for at least the next year and a half.  The favorable talk show appearances, biographies and celebrity coming out announcements have helped a lot, but they will not be enough moving forward.  It is incumbent upon every one of us to be an activist, whether that means regularly calling or visiting elected representatives to make sure they don't forget we exist, sending whatever money we can spare to legitimate LGBT organizations, volunteering to help with non-transgender causes to build bridges with new allies, or even just finding one or two people to whom we can safely come out and demonstrate that we are living, breathing people rather than abstract oddities.

Keep working to secure a favorable outcome in the current effort, but remember that this is just one piece of a bigger picture, and that picture is just one part of a much larger tapestry.  Work on an inclusive ENDA, and celebrate if we win or mourn if we lose.  But if you really want to see progress, wake up the next day ready to step right in and get back to work.  We're building Rome, not raising a barn.

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