PA LGBT Advocates Talk to Sen. Toomey Staffer about ENDA

By Central Voice

Four advocates for LGBT issues last Thursday spoke with a Harrisburg staffer for Pennsylvania’s US Sen. Pat Toomey. They shared personal stories and asked about the senator’s position regarding the Employment Non-discrimination Act (ENDA) expected to be voted on today by the US Senate.

The advocates were Marlene Kanuck, Pennsylvania Dept. of Education and a founding member of the LGBT Community Center of Central Pennsylvania; Alex Reber, David Madsen, and Nathan Groff, representing the Equality PA.

“All in all it was a pretty positive experience,” Reber tells Central Voice.

Collectively, the group shared personal stories of why a Federal job protection is important.

“I left a job in a small, rural school district in order to work for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania which has protections for employees,” Kanuck explained.

Although he has concerns about the bill’s language, Senator Toomey does not think it is appropriate for employees to be fired because they are gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual, Reber said of the group’s meeting with Stevens.

“Stevens did explain that the senator had some concerns about the language in the bill which would affect certain employers, namely religious organizations and Catholic hospitals,” Reber said.

Kanuck also noted that the staffer, on behalf of Toomey, said the senator had concerns that small business owners would not be able to fire people, for example, for poor performance fearing that gay employees may feel they were fired for being the gay and use that circumstance to object to the firing.

Kanuck noted that similar concerns were expressed when job discrimination laws were passed that would apply to African-American and Latino employees.

“I think that’s a weak argument but it does explain why we need to sit with senatorial staff and senators themselves in order to explain our personal experiences in the hope of creating a better understanding of the situation,” Kanuck said.

Kanuck was asked by the American Federation of Teachers to write and Op Ed piece on the issue which is published below.

This afternoon, the controversial ENDA measure is before the Senate where it has the support of every Senate Democrat, including Pennsylvania’s US Senator Robert Casey. If passed by the Senate, the measure next goes before the US House of Representatives.

A similar measure was last voted on in the U.S. Senate in 1996 when it was one vote short of passage (49 – 50). At press time, reports indicated the measure had reached 60 votes which should ensure its passage and eliminate the threat of a Republican filibuster on the controversial legislation.

Here is a Kanuck’s guest column:

Patch crack in job liberty
By Marlene Kanuck, Guest Columnist

In 1975, we were the first state to enact an executive order banning discrimination based on sexual orientation in state employment. Luckily for us state employees, that executive order has never been repealed. Democratic and Republican governors alike have continued this long tradition of fairness, of liberty. Even luckier, in 2003, a ban on discrimination based on gender identity was added to the executive order. That, too, has been upheld by Democrats and Republicans alike.

To be sure, these executive orders aren’t enough. We need a law that – as the inscription on the Liberty Bell puts it – “proclaims liberty throughout all the Land unto all the inhabitants thereof.” We need a law in Pennsylvania and we need a law in the United States.

We are a nation rooted in shared values. Fairness is one of them. Opportunity is another. Americans share the basic value that everyone should have the opportunity to get and keep a job and provide for ourselves and our families.

Right now, these most basic values remain out of reach for millions of gay and transgender Americans. There are no state laws providing workplace protections in 29 states on the basis of sexual orientation or in 33 on the basis of gender identity. And there’s no federal law that explicitly and comprehensively bans employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Not yet.

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act would add sexual orientation and gender identity alongside existing federal protections, like those for race, religion, gender and disability. And the U.S. Senate HELP committee advanced ENDA in July – with support from both sides of the aisle.

Bipartisan support for this bill is reflected in American public opinion as well. Nine out of 10 Americans believe there’s already a federal law and supermajorities support this legislation extending workplace protections to gay and transgender people. That includes 70 percent of Republicans. People of faith, small businesses, big businesses, people of color, older Americans, youth – all support the swift passage of ENDA.

Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid has committed to bringing ENDA to a floor vote this fall. The LGBT movement is experiencing unprecedented momentum, and this very well could be the year to get it done.

But first we need the people we elected including U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, to come out in support of ENDA. Sen. Bob Casey is already a cosponsor of the bill but we must have both our senators on board.

We need to say to Mr. Toomey, it’s been working for state employees in Pennsylvania for decades. It’s based on values of liberty and opportunity that our state and nation holds dear. It doesn’t matter if you have a “D” or an “R” behind your name, it’s the right thing to do right now.

For me, the crack in our Liberty Bell serves as a reminder. It reminds all of us that there is still work to be done, there are still “inhabitants thereof” for whom liberty is not yet within reach. ENDA is part the glue we need to fill that crack. We need to pass this vital piece of legislation now.

Marlene Kanuck of Hummelstown works for the state Education Department. She is a founding board member of the LGBT Community Center of Central PA.

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