ENDA Takes Major Step Forward in Senate–Soulforce’s History Advocating for the Law

Rev. Dr. Cindi Love speaks at a Clergy Call on Capitol Hill in Support of ENDA.

Rev. Dr. Cindi Love speaks at a Clergy Call on Capitol Hill in Support of ENDA.

In 2000, Soulforce founders Mel White and Gary Nixon posted online the “Journey Into Soulforce” – the first resource produced for training thousands of activists in the Soulforce way of relentless nonviolent resistance. As part of the “Journey,” participants were asked to reflect on the pain inflicted on LGBTQ people by systemic oppression.

Among the policies listed that denied LGBTQ people their rights

+ “Anti-sodomy” laws that criminalized same-sex relationships
+ Lack of marriage equality
+ “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” which kept LGBT people from serving openly in the military
+ Denial of rights to adopt, provide foster care, and in some cases, retain custody of birth children
+ Denial of full membership in churches
+ Denial of membership and leadership in the Boy Scouts of America
+ Lack of inclusion in hate crime legislation
+ Lack of nondiscrimination laws for employment and housing

Since 2000, thanks to the tireless work of countless activists and organizations, serious progress has been made dismantling these forms of oppression. The last piece on this list which had not receive significant change or support at the national level was non-discrimination legislation.

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) has been brought up in Congress every year since 1994. In 2007, with a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives, gay, lesbian, and bisexual communities went through a difficult soul-searching process about inclusive justice, as an ENDA bill passed the House that did not include protections for gender identity or expression.

Rev. Dr. Cindi Love has been part of clergy actions on Capitol Hill since 2007 supporting ENDA, the repeal of DOMA, and the passage of legislation on hate crimes, both in her former role with the Metropolitan Community Churches and now as Executive Director of Soulforce.

Finally, on Thursday, November 7th, the gender-identity-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act passed the U.S. Senate for the first time by a bipartisan, 2-1 margin. It is thought that the law would pass easily in the House if the Republican House leadership would bring it up for a vote, and President Obama has promised to sign the bill into law.

“It’s like the dominoes are falling one by one,” said Rev. Dr. Cindi Love, Executive Director of Soulforce. “This era of change that began with Stonewall is coming to a close, as much of the official recognition and equality the gay and lesbian community sought out is becoming a reality.”

Love stressed that these significant legal changes have not removed the danger to vulnerable communities, including LGBTQ youth, the safety, health, and employment of trans people from all walks of life, and the thousands of LGBTQ people still involved in unwelcoming religious communities.

“So many issues like transgender health, immigration, reaching out on LGBTQ rights internationally, decriminalization of same-sex relationships around the world, intersectional work on racism, to name just a few, were placed on the back burner for marriage, military, and basic nondiscrimination rights. Now that some of these initial rights we sought have been granted, all of us must work together to secure the next phase of protection and freedom for everyone.

“I remember clearly the day that ENDA lost by a single vote on the Senate Floor in 1996. Even though we are making progress, there are still deep divisions and resistance to basic rights for LGBTQ people. House Speaker Boehner continues to oppose ENDA because he believes it will lead to frivolous litigation and cost American jobs. If the House refuses to pass ENDA, we must call upon the White House to issue an executive order barring anti-LGBTQ workplace discrimination by federal contractors.  We would rather secure the vote of the House and know that the people we elect to represent us truly do so, but if they will not, we must insist that the highest level of our government does represent us.”

“There’s a lot more work to be done,” Love said, “but Soulforce is proud to have always been on the cutting edge of pulling up discrimination by its roots in fundamentalism.”