Updated April 15th at 5:37 p.m. Eastern Time
Yesterday, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told reporters that he is optimistic about the passage this year of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA, which bans discrimination in the workplace on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
With the House Committee on Education and Labor poised to consider the bill, a group called the Traditional Values Coalition, which bills itself as "the largest non-denominational, grassroots church lobby in America," sent out a press release warning of the consequences of passage.
Because it protects against discrimination on the basis of gender identity, the bill will "force public schools to allow transgendered individuals to teach in the classroom," according to the Coalition, which says it speaks on behalf of more than 43,000 churches.
"Every state will be forced to recognize transgendered and transsexual individuals as part of a protected class," it said in a statement. "Schools will then be forbidden to reassign any teacher undergoing a so-called sex change because this would be considered 'discrimination.' Thus, children will be trapped in classes taught by men undergoing a so-called sex change to become women and will be taught that it's normal behavior." (Emphasis theirs.)
The bill "protects what is listed in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as a mental illness, Gender Identity Disorder (GID)," argues Andrea Lafferty, the coalition's Executive Director. "Teachers have a direct, daily influence on children and to employ such individuals while at the same time overriding the laws of 38 states is unacceptable and dangerous." (38 states do not have laws banning workplace discrimination based on gender identity.)
In an e-mail to Hotsheet, Michael Cole, a spokesperson for the LGBT-rights group Human Rights Campaign, said the Coalition was engaging in "scare tactics."
"A central American value is that we should be judged on the basis of merit, yet some are willing to stoop to scare tactics and dehumanizing rhetoric in order to oppose basic workplace protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans," said Cole. "If there's anything that ENDA teaches children it's that everyone deserves an equal chance to earn a living -- a lesson that the common sense laws of twelve states and more than one hundred municipalities have already taught us."
The ENDA legislation would not apply to businesses with fewer than 15 employees, religious organizations and the military, and it does not allow for preferential treatment or quotas on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
UPDATE: E-mails Mara Keisling, Executive Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality:
"Once again, the Traditional Values Coalition is distorting the facts in an attempt to prevent lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from being protected against workplace discrimination. The impact of ENDA is plain and simple--it bans firing, harassing or refusing to hire people based on a sense of personal prejudice against someone's sexual orientation or gender identity.
It's clear from her statement that Andrea Lafferty isn't even aware of the current laws in place--ENDA simply fills a void where there is no applicable state law. CBS correctly pointed out that 38 states still do not provide protections for employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
It is important to remember, when considering their words or utilizing them as a source, that the Traditional Values Coalition is listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a respected watchdog of hate group activity in our country. Hate and ignorance are not the traditional values that Americans actually believe in.
What ENDA is about is ending discrimination and providing an opportunity for all people in our country to go to work, to do our jobs well, and support our families."