Conservatives Gear Up For Fight Over Pending ENDA Legislation

The House Education and Labor Committee is expected to take up the Employer Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) in the next several days and the bill will likely receive a quick vote in the full House in the coming weeks, Rep. Barney Frank (D-NY) told a group of gay activists on Sunday. “The speaker has promised that.” “We will get this done fairly quickly,” he said. The legislation — which has 199 co-sponsors in the House and 45 co-sponsors in the Senate — would make it illegal for private employers with more than 15 employees to fire, refuse to hire, or fail to promote employees simply based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Religious organizations and non-profit membership-only clubs are exempt from the bill.

But as Congress prepares to move forward with the legislation, conservative activists are quickly mobilizing against it. Over the weekend, Matt Barber of the Liberty Counsel and Andrea Lafferty of the Traditional Values Coalition warned attendees of the Freedom Federation’s Awakenings Conference that protecting transgendered individuals from discrimination would cause sexual assaults on disabled veterans and lead to the designation of sexual fetishes like “men that want to rub their bodies up and down women… Fecal matter. Their involvement with fecal matter. Or urine. Transvestism. The list goes on, I’m not naming all of them. Children. Animals. And so we really need to draw a line in the sand” as a special class.

Today, Lafferty cleaned up her argument for mainstream consumption and published it in Roll Call. The piece eschews some of her more flamboyant claims and focuses on the argument that transgender teachers would harm children by breeding “more gender confusion and enervate the educational experience“:

Expanding the scope of traditionally protected minorities to these groups will engender all sorts of problems…The federal government clearly oversteps its bounds when it places the privacy of a teacher above the right of the parents to look after the well-being of their child. These cases are not isolated, and hundreds of school districts nationwide could face similarly sticky situations if ENDA is passed…what type of education are we giving to our children when we present them with difficult questions regarding gender identity? These impressionable young students need a stable environment in which to learn. Forcing children, who are struggling to find their place, to remain in classrooms taught by teachers working through their own identity issues will breed more gender confusion and enervate the educational experience

Dr. Jillian T. Weiss does a thorough take down of Lafferty’s argument here, but suffice it to say, Lafferty relies on popular anxiety about transgendered people to suggest that that their mere presence would somehow hurt children. As Weiss notes, “Lafferty does not cite any instances of harm occurring to children in those two cases. There is no indication that these children were scarred for life, or experienced gender confusion, or were subjected to inappropriate sexual comments.”

Roll Call has agreed to give Weiss space to rebut Lafferty’s argument and it might be placed in Thursday’s paper, but Lafferty’s column is probably the first of what will be many attempts by conservatives to clean up the language with which they try to derail the bill.