It's finally happened. H.R. 3017, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, was introduced yesterday in the U.S. House of Representatives with 117 original co-sponsors. According to Mara Keisling, head of the National Center for Transgender Equality, this bill has twice as many co-sponsors as the last time a bill was introduced on this subject in 2007.
The Facebook campaign for “Inclusive ENDA” has over 2500 members. the Facebook group provides a service that allows those interested in passage of the bill to sign up for meetings scheduled with their U.S. Representatives in their local districts in August.
Hurrah! Politicians are speaking in glowing tones about the chances of passage, partly from a sense of pride at doing the right thing, and partly from a hope that saying it will make it so.
We have been down that road before. Don't be fooled. We are not home free yet. We as a community must advocate for this bill. But how?
Petitions, email campaigns, postcard campaigns, marches, and blog posts and so forth are being pursued with vigor. But these are not going to put us over the top. We need something more targeted. We must sign up for meetings with our U.S. Representatives in their local districts in August.
Let's do the math. 218 Representatives are needed for passage. According to the spreadsheet at Facebook's Inclusive ENDA campaign, there are about 194 Representatives who appear to be in favor as of the time of this writing. That leaves a gap of about 25 votes for the bare minimum necessary for passage. And not all of them have spoken up publicly, and some of them are assumed to support it based on their co-sponsorship in 2007. As we know, some of our weak-kneed Representatives are susceptible to pressure on the gender identity portion of the bill.
95 Representatives have yet to make their views known. 52 of these are Democrats. What is the best way to secure at least the 25 votes needed?
Not petitions, though these are useful. Not marches, though that would be grand. Not letters, though they help.
Face to face meetings are what really make the difference for an undecided legislator. Think about yourself, and take some issue that you don't know a whole lot about, but are being asked to vote on. Let's take as an example the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Act of 2009. Pretty exciting, eh? It establishes a cleanup fund for reclamation of old mines by subjecting production of minerals from any mining claim to royalties and fees. Is it a good idea? Do we need this? Is this addressing a major problem or is it some legislator paying back a debt to a constituent on an issue no one else cares about? Is it going to drive marginal businesses under? I don't know, I don't really care, and you probably don't either.
Which of these scenarios are most likely to get you to support the bill? 1) Your aide tells you some emails came in supporting the bill. 2) Your receptionist says you got some phone calls supporting the bill. 3) You meet with three constituents who vote in your district, nice people all of them, and they tell you how mine-damaged land is a major problem for them, and why this Act is needed to improve the quality of their lives. Each of them tells a story about what it's like living with these abandoned mines and why it's bad.
I don't know about you, but I'd go with number 3. Now, number 3 doesn't happen all that often. Why? Because, in fact, most people are too busy with their lives to stop and take the effort to set up a meeting and go and pitch their legislators. It's also a bit frightening. What will I say? How will they react? Will I be rejected? So a meeting of legislators with ordinary constituents happens once in a blue moon. Oh, the corporate constituents and the lobbying groups and the nonprofits are in there every day. But an ordinary person who experiences discrimination? Rarely.
That's got to change. And here's how to change it.
The Facebook campaign for “Inclusive ENDA,” with over 2500 members, is providing a service that allows those interested in passage of the bill to sign up for meetings scheduled with their U.S. Representatives in their local districts in August. August is a time when no legislative session is scheduled, and legislators are in their home districts. They are not controlled by a tight meeting schedule. They have time to listen. And that time is now.
Please sign up to meet with your local House Representative in August. That will make the most difference. Sign up here.