Sunday, May 4, 2014

Outside GLAAD Awards, LGBT activists demand the equal civil rights that ENDA fails to provide

ENDA is NOT equal

Queer Nation NY distributed flyers about ENDA at GLAAD fundraiser at Waldorf-Astoria Hotel photo 2014-05-03QueerNationNY-GLAADDemonstration-WaldorfAstoriaHotelNYC_zps6931f9a5.jpg

At the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, activists from Queer Nation NY held a peaceful "educational leafleting" early Saturday evening, handing out flyers with messaging that demanded equal LGBT civil rights. The flyers, distributed to guests attending a fundraiser to benefit GLAAD, marked a turning point in grassroots LGBT activism in New York City.

GLAAD is a well-funded non-profit group that promotes the positive images of lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and trans individuals (LGBT's) in the media, and GLAAD is one of many LGBT organizations that support a Congressional bill, known as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA, that proposes to prohibit employment discrimination based on the categories of sexual orientation and gender identity. Some activists, including activists from Queer Nation NY, believe that religious exceptions to the proposed ENDA bill would provide a loophole, enabling any religiously-affiliated employer to legally discriminate against LGBT employees. Furthermore, the ENDA bill fails to prohibit discrimination in the realms of housing, public accommodations, education, and other federal programs.

Activists from Queer Nation NY estimated that they had distributed 250 flyers to guests of the GLAAD fundraiser, informing GLAAD supporters that grassroots LGBT activists were seeking "comprehensive civil rights legislation that includes sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes" instead of "piecemeal stopgap legislation." Among the GLAAD guests receiving Queer Nation NY's ENDA-themed flyers were author and political operative David Mixner, gossip personality Perez Hilton, and members of The Imperial Court of New York.

Man collecting recyclables outside Waldorf-Astoria at GLAAD Fundraiser photo 2014-05-03QueerNationNY-GLAAD-WaldorfAstoriaNYC-RecycleCollector_zps561f328d.jpg

While activists were distributing ENDA-educational flyers outside the storied Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, a man with visible health issues pushed a cart up Park Avenue and collected recyclables from a public garbage can near the main entrance to the hotel.

Support for ENDA, with its religious exemption shortcomings, has been a source of controversy amongst LGBT groups. Last year, a leading LGBT grassroots activism group, GetEQUAL, raised concerns about the religious exemptions to ENDA. But big money LGBT groups, like the Human Rights Campaign, support ENDA with its broad religious loopholes. ENDA has been passed by the U.S. Senate, but it has not been able to be passed by the U.S. House of Representatives. Since the House is controlled by rightwing Republicans, the likelihood of ENDA passing is remote, leading some activists to press President Barack Obama to adopt ENDA by executive order. In spite of President Obama's support for ending employment discrimination, he has balked from standing by his principles, creating a pause in ENDA-centered organizing that has allowed grassroots LGBT activists to see how imperfect ENDA really is. That activists from Queer Nation NY are now peacefully leafletting outside big money LGBT group fundraisers points to a new expectation amongst grassroots activists.

Instead of settling for imperfect legislation, activists from Queer Nation NY, along with other activists, are making another push for a comprehensive federal LGBT civil rights bill. Prior to Queer Nation NY's recent demonstrations, activists with the grassroots group QueerSOS undertook a more aggressive effort in 2010 when they occupied the public sidewalk outside Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's campaign office, demanding that she express support for a bill to update the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that would extend equal civil rights protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The 2010 activism, which would later motivate an activist to fast, was insufficient to move Sen. Gillibrand to stand up for full LGBT federal equality. Prior to that, the entrenched big money LGBT groups, sometimes derided as "Gay Inc.," have essentially controlled the LGBT narrative in Washington.

The modern-day idea for a comprehensive LGBT civil rights legislation can be traced back to when U.S. Reps. Bella Abzug and Edward Koch introduced in 1974 in Congress a "federal bill to ban discrimination against lesbians, gay men, unmarried persons and women in employment, housing and public accommodations," according to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. That bill, known as the Equality Act of 1974, originated as a project of the Task Force, but the bill failed to garner enough support to ever pass Congress.

Grassroots LGBT civil rights groups are now trying to raise the consciousness of big money LGBT groups like GLAAD and HRC on the importance of introducing draft Congressional legislation to codify comprehensive equal LGBT civil rights laws.

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