Gay? U.S. House Says That's Okay


In a respectful and moving gesture, Speaker Nancy Pelosi took the gavel so that she could personally proclaim that the U.S. House had just voted in favor of a national ban on anti-gay job discrimination.

"On this vote, the yeas are 235, the nays are 184. The bill is passed," said the beaming speaker, whose pantsuit was a gay-friendly lavender.

It had taken more than three decades for the House to pass the bill now known as the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA), succeeding after its razor-thin defeat in the Senate in 1996.

The nearly all-day extravaganza on Nov. 7 was stuffed with surprises -- who could have imagined a lawmaker explaining "gaydar" on the House floor? -- lessons and tears. One disappointment -- that transgender people were not included -- is a reminder of the hard work ahead.

Snapshots of the day I'll cherish:

-- That's Congressman Teddy Bear to you: Gay Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts is a legislative bulldog. But he choked back tears in pleading with colleagues to help him protect workers "afraid they'll lose their job in a gas station if someone finds out who they love. ... Don't send me out of here having failed to help those people."

-- Beacon of hope: Lesbian Rep. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin continued battling for transgender inclusion, declaring, "I believe that those who will be left behind by this bill deserve to hear on this House floor that you are not forgotten and our job will not be finished until you, too, share fully in the American dream." Seven Democrats cast protest votes against the bill because it didn't cover gender identity, and others, including Pelosi, said they wished there had been enough support to include it.

-- Civil rights warriors: Of the many black lawmakers who spoke out against anti-gay bias, the legendary John Lewis of Georgia was especially stirring: "I, for one, fought too long and too hard to end discrimination based on race and color not to stand up against discrimination against our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters ... The time is always right to do right."

-- "The beauty is in the mix": That eloquent description by Pelosi of what makes her hometown of San Francisco special was the real message of the day in which the House embraced America's gay workers. Rep. Susan Davis of California told a sweet story about a male-to-female transgender landscape architect, while Rep. Jay Inslee of Washington talked of Dave Kopay, his "boyhood hero," who helped the University of Washington Huskies reach the 1964 Rose Bowl, went on to play pro ball with such teams as the Detroit Lions and Washington Redskins, then came out as gay.

-- GOP does not spell anti-gay: Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner of New York challenged Republicans to finally be on the right side of a civil rights vote: "Speak up now. This is your moment." Thirty-five -- nearly one out of five of the Republicans who voted -- did just that. That's a promising start. And as GOP Rep. Deborah Pryce of Ohio declared, "The fundamental American right to earn a living should be a principle around which everyone in this chamber, regardless of party or ideology, should be eager to embrace."

Yes, Madam Speaker, the beauty of the American workforce is in the mix.

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