WASHINGTON, DC — Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) claimed Thursday that he still supports extending nondiscrimination protections, but it’s unclear who in the LGBT community he’s willing to protect.
ThinkProgress spoke with the former Republican vice presidential candidate on Capitol Hill about the prospects for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), a bill that makes it illegal to discriminate against workers because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The legislation has been mired in Congress for decades because of Republican opposition, though Ryan voted for a weaker version of the bill in 2007 that only protected sexual orientation.
Ryan reiterated his support for ENDA on Thursday, but was at a loss when trying to explain why most of his Republican colleagues don’t support the legislation. “I don’t know the answer to the question,” said the Wisconsin congressman.
KEYES: One of the things that might be coming up is the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
RYAN: Oh, ENDA. I voted for that before.
KEYES: Do you think that the GOP should embrace this?
RYAN: My position is very clear on ENDA.
KEYES: Why do you think the Republican Party is not coalescing around it?
RYAN: I think it’s just, there are Republicans who support ENDA. I was one of them. I don’t know the answer to the question.
Unfortunately, Ryan’s position is not “very clear on ENDA.” When he was tapped as Mitt Romney’s running mate, the Log Cabin Republicans lauded his 2007 vote for the bill, his only pro-LGBT vote ever. However, Ryan personally lobbied its sponsor, Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), to strip transgender protections from that version of the bill, a move that divided the LGBT community. Since then, every version of ENDA proposed by Democrats has included both sexual orientation and gender identity. Ryan refused to clarify his position during the campaign — most likely because of Romney’s opposition — and his position on a trans-inclusive bill remains muddled.
It’s true that some Republicans support ENDA, but over 80 percent of Republicans opposed even that trans-exclusive bill in 2007, and the House hasn’t considered any version since. House Speaker John Boehner “hasn’t thought much” about advancing ENDA in the House, where only five Republicans co-sponsored its most recent version. Though Senate Democrats held a hearing on the bill last June, including the chamber’s first ever trans-identified witness, a Republican filibuster would likely keep it from passing. Several GOP congressmen have defended their opposition by explaining that being gay is a “choice” or mistakenly believing ENDA is already law.
Not only is that not true, but there are still 29 states where it’s legal to fire someone for being gay, and 34 where it’s legal to fire someone just for being trans. According to a recent survey, 9 in 10 transgender Americans have experienced workplace harassment.
Though Ryan’s continued support for at least a trans-exclusive ENDA is notable, his overall record on LGBT rights remains underwhelming at best.