“Personally, ENDA Passing the U.S. Senate Parallels Powerful Push to End HIV/AIDS”

By Kenny Palmer on November 15, 2013 in Policy/Advocacy

Diego Sanchez, APR
Director of Policy, Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) 

“We recommit to the struggle. We will see it through, and we will get there.” Familiar? It’s not about last week’s U.S. Senate’s passage of The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (S. 815) by a bipartisan vote of 64-32 to end workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The 2010 quote comes from Annie Lennox, International U.N. AIDS Goodwill Ambassador, inspired by the Deputy President of South Africa’s long-awaited promise to bring anti-retroviral treatment to everyone in that country, pronounced at the XVIII International AIDS Conference in Vienna, Austria.

For people like me–a global, Southern, New Englander, transsexual Latino man–our world isn’t single-issue. Our world seeks equality for everyone, including the most marginalized. We welcome inspiring quotes like Ambassador Lennox’s, such as one from my own Senator, the late Senator Edward M. (Ted) Kennedy, (D-MA) spoken about ENDA and oft repeated by his designated-before-death ENDA Senate leader, Senator Jeff Merkley(D-OR): “The promise of America will never be fulfilled as long as justice is denied to even one among us.”

Sen. Merkley’s leadership to bring strong bipartisan Senate support to ENDA buttressed well the controversial, non-gender identity-inclusive 2007 ENDA bill H.R. 3685 in the U.S. House from my former boss, Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA-4). I believe that last week’s Senate success was made more handily because of the LGBT community’s vocal unity to honor only full inclusion in ENDA, expressed with dissatisfaction with the narrower bill’s passage in the House in 2007 by creating United ENDA. That House passage emblazoned community unity for full inclusion and led to the first-ever Congressional hearing in the House in 2008 on transgender non-discrimination in the workplace. I had the privilege to be among the first openly transgender witnesses ever before Congress. And click here to listen to an interview immediately after with Meghan Stabler, who submitted written testimony for the hearing.

For me, making ENDA law of the land in the U.S. is personal. I have suffered workplace discrimination because I am transgender. I was a global officer and corporate hospitality communications and diversity management leader, at the forefront of what is now called diversity and inclusion. I was a leader then as now, excited when my employer asked me to create the industry’s most dynamic and robust global diversity program. I did that, and then I got hammered for it. The plan I authored was award-winning externally. I got retaliation internally from my boss (who is no longer with that great company that today earns 100% on HRC’s Corporate Equality Index). I was targeted and terminated because I introduced the word ‘transgender’ for non-discrimination in employment policy. The company’s COO (a Disney alumnus) was supportive of trans inclusion. My boss was not. But it was wrong, and ENDA is right. Until we finish this work for workplace non-discrimination, we are not fulfilling what we at PFLAG in our 350+ chapters decry: live by the Golden Rule, treat everyone as we’d have ourselves treated.

We can celebrate that the inclusive ENDA passed the Senate, and we must continue our work to move an inclusive ENDA through the House in this Congress. We should still urge President Obama to sign an Executive Order this year to ensure non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity by federal contractors, as we at PFLAG National are doing.

Our work to eradicate HIV/AIDS and to end employment discrimination for LGBT people exhibits so many parallels. The commitment to make ENDA law mirrors the work to prioritize HIV/AIDS as U.S. policy, reflected in the formulation of the National HIV/AIDS strategy, on which I worked, and it feels like the successful efforts ending the U.S. HIV travel ban in 2010. Ending that ban led to the U.S. hosting the 2012 International AIDS Conference. Imagine welcoming our own LGBT people as embraced, protected employees in 2013? Let’s make it real. Keep up the pressure.

Diego Sanchez, APR, is Director of Policy for PFLAG National. Previously, he was the Work Plan Committee Chair of the CDC-Mandated Massachusetts HIV Prevention Planning Group, and Communications Director of AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts and AIDS Action Council in DC, now AIDS United.

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