By Julia Marsh
Tuesday, May 4, 2010
Four bills designed to curb discrimination based on sexual orientation are pending in Congress. Some advocates are hopeful, but others are more wary about hostile lawmakers and a lack of leadership by President Obama.
Hayley Gordenberg, deputy legal director for Lambda Legal, a gay rights group based in New York, called harassment of LGBT students "the bully's choice of the day." The harassment can range from being stuffed into a locker to cases of death threats, she told Women's eNews.
Rep. Jared Polis, an openly gay Democrat from Colorado, is the bill's lead sponsor. It enjoys about 80 co-sponsors. Lara Cottingham, his communications director, told Women's eNews that the sponsors' goal is to include the bill in reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (formerly known as No Child Left Behind).
"We are also hoping to hold a committee or subcommittee hearing on this issue later this year," Cottingham said.
Sen. Al Franken, the freshman Democrat from Minnesota who took office after an extended recount and legal battle, hopes to introduce companion legislation to the Student Non-Discrimination Act in the current session, his office told Women's eNews. A companion bill is part of the normal legislative process; if the Senate works on a bill in tandem with the House, it's more likely to become law.
A third bill, the Freedom from Discrimination in Credit Act, would protect gay and transgender people from discrimination when applying for credit including mortgages, student loans or credit card transactions. The bill's supporters do not point to research that shows significant numbers of LGBT people are denied credit. However, bill co-sponsor Rep. Steve Israel, a Democrat from New York, said in a press release that in tough economic times people shouldn't "have to worry" that their sexual orientation or gender identity might affect their ability to qualify for a loan.
The Credit Union National Association, based in Washington, D.C., and Madison, Wisc., which represents about 90 percent of credit unions in the United States, recently endorsed the bill. The credit bill counts about 55 co-sponsors and was introduced by Israel and Rep. Barney Frank, an openly gay Democrat from Massachusetts who chairs the Financial Services Committee, which has jurisdiction over the bill.
The fourth bill, the Every Child Deserves a Family Act, bars discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status in adoption or foster care.
It gives legal recourse to LGBT adoptive or foster parents who encounter discrimination and threatens withdrawal of federal funding to agencies that don't comply. It has almost 20 supporters in the House and is awaiting a subcommittee hearing.
The bill text refers to a 2008 study by the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, a nonprofit education and policy group headquartered in New York, that says that although gay and lesbian parents care for almost 80,000 children, one-third of child welfare agencies in the country still reject LGBT applicants.
Julia Marsh is a Washington, D.C.-based correspondent covering domestic and foreign affairs for a Japanese newspaper.
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