Get Equal counts enough support on House floor for passage of Employment Non-Discrimination Act
The direct action group Get Equal organized rallies across the country this week to encourage passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. At a Dallas rally held outside the office of Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, Jim McGee, the senator’s North Texas regional director, spoke to demonstrators and promised to meet with them again.
The rally was held the same day as the arraignment hearing in Washington, D.C., for the ENDA 4 on Tuesday, April 6.
The ENDA 4, which includes Dallas activist Chastity Kirven, were in court answering charges related to a March 18 incident. The four were meeting with staff members in House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s office.
They wanted a commitment from Pelosi’s staff that she would move ENDA out of committee and onto the floor of the House for a vote. When staff members wouldn’t make that promise, the four refused to leave.
After a four-hour standoff, Capitol police arrested them for illegal entry. That charge carries a penalty of up to six months in jail.
Before returning to Washington for the arraignment, Kirven said she thought her attorney, former D.C. attorney general Robert Spagnoletti, had negotiated a plea deal. She said she expected to plead no contest and receive six months probation and community service.
Kirven was defiant as she left Dallas to attend the hearing. Thinking she would have to complete community service in Dallas as part of her sentence, Kirven said whatever she chose to do it would be something they wouldn’t particularly like.
"I plan to make it as queer as possible," she said. "It will be queer and in their face."
Kirven said the four pleaded not guilty at the initial hearing and were immediately sent to a different court for disposition of the case.
"We went straight from arraignment, where we pleaded not guilty, to judge Harry Cushenberry Jr.’s court, where the prosecutor and our attorney reached a final settlement," Kirven said.
There, they were sentenced to six months probation and ordered to stay out of the Capitol and related office buildings. Two of the four defendants, who are from the D.C. area, were sentenced to 60 hours of community service. Kirven was not.
The probation is a "stet agreement." Once probation is completed, charges will be dismissed. If probation is violated, she will have to serve 180 days in jail and pay a $1,000 fine.
The two who were given community service said they would spend the time working for a transgender organization.
Kirven said, "Pelosi had the option of ‘no-papering’ it," meaning not pressing charges.
She said she thinks charges were pursued to discourage others from using this form of protest. She said if ENDA doesn’t move forward, this won’t deter the LGBT movement.
During the civil rights movement, Kirven said, when four people were arrested at lunch counters, there were four others ready to step up and take their place.
Kirven also said that Get Equal has heard "through the back door" that the three gay and lesbian members of Congress, Reps. Barney Frank, Tammy Baldwin and Jared Polis, want them to keep up the pressure to get ENDA to the House floor.
Because this is an election year, Pelosi is under pressure from many members of Congress to keep more controversial issues from coming to a vote.
But Baldwin’s office has confirmed to Dallas Voice that there are enough votes to pass ENDA in the House.
When about a dozen demonstrators gathered outside Hutchison’s office on Tuesday afternoon to push for passage of ENDA, McGee came downstairs to talk to them.
"When the bill comes to the Senate, we’ll take a look at it," McGee said.
Hutchison, who consistently receives a rating of zero on LGBT issues from the Human Rights Campaign, voted against ENDA in 1996, when it came within one vote of passage in the Senate.
"She’s open to discussing the bill when it gets to the Senate," McGee said.
He ended the friendly meeting on a grassy area along the Central Expressway service road just north of Meadow Road by handing out his card and inviting the demonstrators to arrange a meeting.
Michael Robinson, who organized the Dallas rally, also faces charges related to a March 18 incident. He was meeting with staff in Pelosi’s San Francisco office and was issued a citation for disorderly conduct when his group refused to leave. He said he’ll have to answer the charge in court, but has not heard about a date.
About 50 people showed up at the court building in D.C. to show their support for the ENDA 4. Get Equal staged a similar rally in San Francisco and Queer Rising held one in New York City. In Texas, rallies were also planned in Houston, Austin and San Antonio.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 9, 2010.