ENDA 2013: Everything You Need to Know

UNITED STATES - JUNE 12: Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., speaks during the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee
UNITED STATES - JUNE 12: Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., speaks during the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing focusing on employment discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans and the 'Employment Non-Discrimination Act.' on Tuesday, June 12, 2012. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) will be reintroduced today in both the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives. People may have a lot of questions. Here, I hope, are the answers.

ENDA is a very simple bill. If passed into law, ENDA simply would make it illegal to discriminate in employment based on gender identity, gender expression or sexual orientation. It is only about making sure that LGBT people have the opportunity to work and be judged on their merits. It exempts religious institutions and employers with fewer than 15 employees.

ENDA is absolutely transgender-inclusive. Yes. Absolutely. Unequivocally. And while the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) and our allies will remain vigilant to make sure that "gender identity" remains in the bill until it passes, we just call it "ENDA" now rather than "inclusive ENDA," because it isn't ENDA if transgender people aren't in it. For us, there's now "ENDA" with us or nothing at all.

People are protected based on both gender identity and gender expression. The term that is used in ENDA is "gender identity," but it is defined, as in previous years, to include gender expression. The definition provided in the bill is this: "The term 'gender identity' means the gender-related identity, appearance, or mannerisms or other gender-related characteristics of an individual, with or without regard to the individual's designated sex at birth."

What are the chances of it becoming law this year? To become law, the bill must be passed in the U.S. Senate and then in the House, and then it must be signed by President Obama. There is not the slightest doubt that the president would sign ENDA if it gets through both chambers. And the Senate looks favorable for us this year. And though a clear path through the House of Representatives is not yet obvious, it could be greased by a strong showing in the Senate. We have had great conversations with members of Congress, and we are convinced that this is a good year to make a strong effort. If we fall short, the effort still will move the ball forward so that we are in a better position in the next Congress.

There are small technical changes made to ENDA since it was last introduced in 2011. ENDA is being introduced in substantially the same form as it was in both 2009 and 2011, but there are some technical changes meant to reflect legal and other advancements that have occurred in ensuing years. The most significant change for transgender people is that we fought for and won removal of language that clarified use of showers and locker rooms "where being seen unclothed would be unavoidable." None of the states that have passed and successfully implemented a gender identity anti-discrimination law includes such a provision, and neither should ENDA. NCTE will work tirelessly to make sure that members of Congress stay focused on the important and core issue of job discrimination and do not get sidetracked with extraneous and discriminatory issues like restroom use.

We have excellent lead sponsors in both the House and the Senate. During the next weeks and months NCTE will work with allies inside and outside Congress to add lots of Democratic and Republican congressional co-sponsors to ENDA. However, for now, when the bill is introduced this week, it will purposely include a small number of the strongest bipartisan supporters. The principal sponsors of the Senate bill will be Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.). The principal sponsors in the House will be Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.).

ENDA is still as urgently necessary as ever. Though we have made important advances in employment protections during the last few years (notably the EEOC ruling that transgender discrimination is sex discrimination, and President Obama protecting transgender federal employees), these wins are not final and do not cover all the issues we need to make explicitly illegal. Transgender and LGB people still definitely need ENDA. In addition to the clear legal protections that it would provide, ENDA will create a significant educational opportunity for employers to learn about transgender people and the fact that it is illegal to discriminate against us.

It's our moment to advance employment protections. It is vital that members of Congress hear from transgender people and those who care about us. To accelerate that process, NCTE, along with the Trans People of Color Coalition (TPOCC), invites everyone to come to Washington, D.C., on Monday, June 17, to lobby for the passage of ENDA. People who cannot come to D.C. for lobby day are encouraged to visit their two U.S. senators and one House member back home in their own communities.

NCTE will never quit. We have been focused on ENDA since we were formed 10 years ago. We have been an aggressive leader on ENDA and will continue to be until it is passed into law and employment discrimination against transgender and LGB people is clearly and completely illegal.