On October 20 GSBA members from the 9th congressional district met with Representative Adam Smith at the offices of the Northwest Network of BTLG Survivors of Abuse.
The group discussed the frustrating lack of progress on a federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) and the problematically broad religious exemptions within the current version. Rep. Smith admitted that the issue was not being addressed by this Congress, but that there was “no place for religious exemptions” in the bill. He agreed that taking people out of the job pool hurts our whole society, adding that “The strongest societies are those that discriminate the least.”
GSBA President & CEO Louise Chernin urged the Congressman to be wary of the increasing attempts by conservative groups and legislators to pass further so-called religious exemptions laws that would allow them to circumvent existing anti-discrimination bills. Monisha Harrell of Equal Rights Washington added that the religious exemptions clauses were of concern to many groups beyond the LGBT community, including women, racial minorities, and people who are divorced, among many others. Congressman Smith agreed and described them an example of religious fanaticism here in the United States. He stated that he wants "to be a voice where it is still needed, as much for healthcare as for gay rights,” listing areas that needed more attention, including equality and protection for the transgender community. He specifically mentioned the need to address wrongful discharges of transgender people serving in the military and continuing benefit inequities.
With the recent example of California’s opening of the utility contracts process to LGBT-certified businesses, George Pieper of Out Front Office Solutions informed the group and the Congressman about the need to proactively advocate for LGBT inclusion in minority contacting fairs and decisions.
Our hosts at the Northwest Network celebrated the 2013 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which was the very first federal protection based on sexual orientation or gender identity. They asked how we could build on that hard-fought success and extend it. The Congressman congratulated the group for effective advocacy in recent year, but again acknowledged that the party in control of the House of Representatives does not take up any legislation that they do not want to take up, meaning that probably there is little effective advocacy to be done on LGBT issues in the next term.
However, Rep. Smith urged the whole group to think long term, especially about how we address the critical issue of people being turned off government and civic engagement. He asked how progressives in general can prove once again that government does and can do good, as well as a broader narrative of what progressive politics are and how they can build a more just society. As always, advocates need to identify constituents of legislators who need to be convinced and have them share their personal stories.
You can find more information about Congressman Smith and contact his office here. He is the Ranking Member on the House Armed Services Committee.