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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Barney Frank's Speech on ENDA

Pam's House Blend has the full text.

Mr. Speaker, I want to address today a very important issue that is generating an intense discussion among a fairly small segment of people who follow things, and it seems to us it's not healthy and that we ought to have a broader discussion, both of the specific issue, which is a question of how to protect people against discrimination based on their sexual orientation and at some point I would hope their gender and their gender identity, and also how do political parties relate to those in the population who are the most passionate, the most committed and the most legitimately zealous about their feelings, often on one particular issue to the exclusion of a broader set.

Before I came to Congress in 1981, former Members, the gentlewoman from New York (Ms. Abzug), gentleman from Massachusetts (Mr. Tsongas) and others, in the House filed legislation to make it illegal to discriminate against people in employment based on their sexual orientation; that is, they would have made it illegal in the same way that the 1964 Civil Rights Act made it illegal based on race, but in a different statute for a variety of reasons, for people to be fired, for people to refuse to hire people, for people to be denied promotions or in other ways discriminated against in the job based on their being gay or lesbian or bisexual. That was, and has been, the number one legislative goal of gay and lesbian, bisexual people for more than 30 years.

In many States subsequent to that enactment, that introduction, laws were adopted to do that. Wisconsin was the first in 1982; Massachusetts, the State I represent, the second in 1989. Many States now have it.

As we kept that fight up in the face of a good deal of opposition and as we began to educate people as to why the prejudice against people based on our being gay or lesbian or bisexual was, in fact, invalid as a grounds for economic discrimination, movement expanded to cover people who are transgendered, people who were born into one sex physically but who strongly identify with the other sex and who, in fact, choose to live as members of the sex other than the one they were born in, often but not always having surgery to enhance that new life.

Let me add one point here. I am, myself, of course, gay, so when I talk about passing legislation against sexual orientation discrimination, it's fair for people to say, well, you think about yourself. But I first got elected to a legislature in 1972. In the intervening 35 years, I have worked very hard for legislation further banning discrimination based on race, discrimination based on ethnicity, based on gender to protect women, based on age to protect the elderly, based on disability.

At the time that I voted to protect people against those forms of discrimination, I was not, myself, a victim of any of them. I was not a beneficiary of banning discrimination against women or against African Americans or against Hispanics or people who were disabled. I was not when I voted for it one who was protected against discrimination based on age, but I now am, but I wasn't when I voted for it. I have just been around long enough to do that.

I reject the notion that somehow I have only been concerned with the category in which I am a member. I will say this, every time I voted for one of those, I was voting to protect one group of people and not another. Because at the time when we voted, that was all that we could do, that was all that we could get the votes for, because a fight against discrimination is an incremental fight. I wish it wasn't.

Go read the whole thing at Pam's House Blend. If I can find a youtube of this speech, I'll post it.