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ENDA Forum Reveals Dissent on Gay Job Bill

Trans, GOP groups complain they weren?t invited to participate

[ATLANTA, GA] - While a majority of the 125 attendees at a July 8 town hall meeting in Atlanta showed strong support for a federal bill to ban anti-gay job discrimination, members of Georgia's transgendered advocacy group and gay Republicans offered vocal opposition.

The federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act, dubbed ENDA, remains pending in the U.S. Congress, and organizers of the meeting hoped to rally Georgians to lobby legislators on the bill.

But Monica Helms, executive director of Trans=Action, and Mansell McCord, executive director of the Georgia Log Cabin Republicans, both spoke vehemently against ENDA and the Human Rights Campaign?s public education and lobbying efforts for it.

"The transgender community cannot hide like most of the gay community," said Helms, who was accompanied by approximately 10 Trans=Action members. "We are the most visible and vulnerable in this fight, yet we are not in this bill. That is a travesty."

About 10 percent of corporations in the United States have anti-discrimination policies that include gender expression, Helms said at the forum. (This is a misquote. Monica reports that what she actually said was ?"Ten percent of the 'population' is now living in jurisdictions that have employment protection which covers gender expression and gender identity.")

"That is the 21st century. This bill, without reference to gender expression, is 20th century. HRC is behind the times," Helms said.

Several members of the five-member panel addressed Helms' extended comments.

"This has been an issue for a long time," said Nancy Buermeyer, deputy director for political strategy at the Washington-based Human Rights Campaign, co-sponsor of the event with Georgia Equality.

"We have 30 years of public education in gay issues and less than a third of that on transgender issues," Buermeyer said. "The reality of politics is we have a long way to go on these issues, but HRC will stand with the transgender community until we are there."

Event moderator Roby Chavez, a former television reporter and current freelance journalist in Washington, D.C., asked Helms to take a place on the panel, garnering a loud round of applause from the audience.

Chavez and Buermeyer were joined on the panel by Allen Thornell, executive director of Georgia Equality; Ronald Moore, who is gay and diversity manager at Hewlett Packard; Steve Scarborough, staff attorney with Lambda Legal Defense & Education Fund; and Robin Shahar , who currently serves as an attorney for the city of Atlanta and fought unsuccessfully to the U.S. Supreme Court when she was denied a job in Georgia?s attorney general?s office because she is a lesbian.

Gay Republicans challenged the panel?s make-up and the forum?s purpose.

"There are members of the community, I for one, who do not like the way ENDA goes around and does things," McCord said. "Log Cabin did not get a notice about this event, we just happened to pick up on it. This is not the dialogue that needs to take place. This is a rally."

Rich Tafel, the national executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, created a large controversy earlier this year when he publicly questioned the expenditure of "all this energy" on ENDA. The bill, he suggested in a commentary distributed to Log Cabin members, "probably won?t really change the lives of gay Americans."

Local Log Cabin members also sided with transgendered activists over the inclusion of gender identity in the bill.

"Including the transgendered community in the current ENDA is critical if we expect to ever have them included," Marc Yeager, vice president of Georgia's Log Cabin Republicans, said after the forum. "Social conservatives fear ?creep.? If we wait until after ENDA is passed, it will be almost impossible to get another one passed later," Yeager said.

ENDA moved out of a Senate committee by a voice vote led by sponsor Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) last month and could be voted on "within the next couple of weeks," according to Buermeyer.

The Senate version of the bill currently has 45 sponsors and co-sponsors (40 Democrats, one Independent and four Republicans), and would need 51 votes out of 100 to pass. Georgia's Sen. Max Cleland (D) is a co-sponsor. Sen. Zell Miller (D-Ga.) has not co-sponsored the legislation, and "has said he has not decided how he is going to vote. He needs to hear from his gay constituents," Buermeyer said.

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