I attended a meeting in Pulaski, Va. today at the regional office of Congressman Rick Boucher of Virginia's 9th district, as part of the Human Rights Campaign's "No Excuses" project. The meeting was arranged by HRC's Terry McGuire. The focus of the meeting was to ask for Congressman Boucher's support for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which has been voted down or vetoed every year it's been up for a vote since 1994. This version is, for the first time, trans-inclusive.
The 9th district spans the region starting southwest of Roanoke and extends south to the NC and TN borders and west to the borders of WV and KY and includes Virginia Tech and Radford University.
Also at the meeting were Christian Sides and Josh Baker from Va. Tech. We spoke with Boucher's aide, Becki Gunn, who was the only one of the two-person staff in the office today. She was manning the phones before during and after our meeting as a senate panel worked on the Health Care bill.
I was the defacto spokesman for our group and presented our case asking for the congressman's support for ENDA. I explained that it remains legal in 29 states to discriminate in employment on the basis of sexual orientation and that in 39 states it's okay to do so on the basis of gender identity or expression.
I shared my story of coming to Southwestern Virginia from Washington, DC with a job and how, when that job ended, I had to look for one in my new, very conservative, home town. I related how awkward and risky it was to ask a potential employer about their non-discrimination policies and whether their insurance benefits included domestic partner coverage. I said that asking these questions during a job interview to someone who is not gay-friendly tips your hand and can expose you to anti-gay bias. No matter how qualified you are, it's impossible to prove discrimination if you never get called back. I also explained that asking these kinds of questions during a job interview shouldn't even be necessary.
I told her how uncomfortable it is to be closeted at work. On Monday mornings when everyone else is talking about what they did with their boyfriends/girlfriends or spouses and families. They ask you what you did and you tell them you did nothing, just to avoid the conversation.
I also mentioned that Ted Kennedy had been a co-sponsor of the senate version of the bill (I figured a little name-dropping couldn't hurt) and added that the bill had been introduced and voted down or vetoed several times over the years.
Josh explained how a federal law would ensure protection against anti-LGBT bias in all 50 states instead of the inconsistent state-by-state protections we now have.
Becki was very receptive and said that she saw no reason why Congressman Boucher wouldn't support the bill. It's not written in stone yet, but I think we can count on Boucher's support. Becki took my contact information and said the congressman will be writing to me as a follow-up and would keep me updated as the bill progresses. I'll share what I learn with Terry, Josh and Christian and with you here.
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