One by one, they stepped up to the podium and got personal.
''I believe what my parents taught me — that if I work hard, I will be judged on my merits. However, for GLBT Americans, this cannot happen in the absence of legislation to protect them from discrimination at work so that they can come to work as who they are and focus their energy on being successful, not being in the closet.'' — Terrance L., a gay man from Washington, D.C.
''I have already lost my house. Now I have lost my unemployment. I have done everything I was supposed to do. I went to school...I have done all of the things that should make me an equal citizen worthy of equal protections.... What is Congress waiting for? Are they waiting to be convinced that we all deserve protection?'' — Gloria Nieto, California resident and out lesbian.
''I have been unemployed since Jan. 3, denied unemployment benefits, unable to find a job, exhausted all my resources, lost my health insurance; I am facing homelessness very soon. I am scared to death about my future.'' — Donna P., a 60-year-old transgender woman from the Baltimore area.
These are among the wrenching stories shared at a mid-May press conference at the National Press Club, just days before Congress headed off for its Memorial Day recess. It was one of many National ENDA Week actions held across the country to let our political leaders know that passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) — federal legislation banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity — is a top priority for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, our friends and families.
We are a community that has had to fight and push and advocate and sweat for every right we have ever gotten, whether it be the right to socialize peacefully in our local watering holes — like the Stonewall Inn 41 years ago — to the right to marry the person we love. Pride Month celebrates this scrappy, vibrant and courageous past, which is not all that different from our present.
Case in point: ENDA, which is about securing one of the most basic and fundamental rights a person can have — the right to work, feed our families, keep a roof over our heads, and contribute our talents to society free from discrimination.
The good news is, because of years of hard work from our community, we're closer than ever to getting ENDA through Congress. But, for this to happen we must continue pressing the politicians to back up their lip service with action. How many times have we heard that ENDA was going to move soon, that committee action was right around the corner? Too many. That corner has stretched into blocks, and time is running out.
Congress returned from recess this week to resume its legislative agenda. There are now only eight weeks left in the congressional calendar before the summer break. We have to get ENDA cleared in committee, passed in the House, and then through the Senate. Now is not the time to cede any ground. Continuing to push is the only way toward victory. We must repeatedly call, e-mail, write and visit all of our legislators (including the historic 202 ENDA co-sponsors in the House) to tell them to pass a fully inclusive ENDA now.
If you or someone that you know has ever been fired or discriminated against because of sexual orientation or gender identity, it's critical to share your experience at file://localhost/viewform#gid=0https://spreadsheets.google.com/vi">thetaskforce.org. Telling your personal story is a powerful tool toward getting ENDA passed. If you are thankful to live in a place with protections, we need you to tell your story as well.
We have to push Congress over the finish line with this one. We must show them that we care, that we vote, that we are holding each and every member accountable for representing all of their constituents.
It is Pride Month and what better way to show our pride than to hold our elected officials accountable for the job we sent them there to do.
Rea Carey is executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.