Lafferty: Employment Bill Threatens Easy House Schedule

Posted April 19, 2010 at 6:51pm

House Members looking for easy votes following a public and exhausting health care battle are facing a rude awakening. Democrats especially have been running ragged after spending much political capital on health care reform and are hoping for a softball legislative schedule so they can focus on their top priority — re-election. A bill under consideration in the Education and Labor Committee, however, will prove to make these next few weeks anything but easy.

[IMGCAP(1)]The committee is sitting on a time bomb: namely, H.R. 3017, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Set to go off as early as Wednesday when it could head to a full committee markup, the bill aims to force states to broaden their protection of minority status individuals. Among other things, ENDA will make “gender identity” a protected minority, and states, local governments and businesses with more than 15 employees will be forced to recognize it as such.

Most importantly, every public school in America will not be able to discriminate in hiring transgender teachers, and it will be illegal to reassign them from the classroom.

Written by Chai Feldblum, an Obama recess appointee to the body that will enforce ENDA, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the law will allow for all kinds of unwanted, though perhaps not unintended, consequences. Under ENDA, state and local governments will be forced to recognize gender identity as a protected minority status. Section 3 of the bill defines the status as “the gender-related identity, appearance, or mannerisms or other gender-related characteristics or an individual, with or without regard to the individual’s designated sex at birth.” Cross-dressers and those who have had surgical operations to alter their gender would then share the same protections as minorities. Expanding the scope of traditionally protected minorities to these groups will engender all sorts of problems.

Take the case of a New York teacher undergoing a surgical transition to become female in 2006. Students of New York’s Batavia High School were forced to remain in the class during the transition, and parents were refused the right to opt their children out of his class. The teacher claimed protection under New York’s disability laws and therefore had to be accommodated by the school district. Students were told they had 30 days to learn how to properly address him or face punishment.

In 2008, students and parents were shocked to learn that a female music teacher at California’s Foxboro Elementary School underwent surgery to become a man. Parents were not informed about the sex change in advance so they could remove their children from her class. In addition, the kids were required to refer to her as “Mister.” The school district refused to notify parents about this teacher’s sex change because of “privacy laws” — that is, laws under the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996.

The federal government clearly oversteps its bounds when it places the privacy of a teacher above the right of the parents to look after the well-being of their child. These cases are not isolated, and hundreds of school districts nationwide could face similarly sticky situations if ENDA is passed.

Right now, 38 states do not have gender identity recognized as a protected status, but ENDA would change all of that. While states like Illinois and California do have laws protecting gender identity under non-discrimination guidelines, such laws should not be forced upon the dissenting majority. Bill passage would strip states of their right to legislate in matters of employee discrimination, education and morality.

Aside from the federal government trampling states’ rights, what type of education are we giving to our children when we present them with difficult questions regarding gender identity? These impressionable young students need a stable environment in which to learn. Forcing children, who are struggling to find their place, to remain in classrooms taught by teachers working through their own identity issues will breed more gender confusion and enervate the educational experience.

Contrary to lawmaker hopes, this next session will be anything but easygoing. States are already smarting from expensive and cumbersome health care changes taking effect, and another intrusion will only spell trouble for Members facing a tough re-election.

On the opposite side, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender groups and sympathetic Members in safe seats are pressuring their colleagues to endorse this latest vehicle for social change. Can Democrats afford another costly battle when they are running scared and, according to Rasmussen Reports, face 58 percent of Americans who want to repeal the health care bill?

Lawmakers charged with protecting states’ right to legislate in matters of education and employment must battle this latest infringement.

Once again federal law is being used to batter states and parents into submission. Will their Representatives in Congress defend them, even at the expense of a re-election campaign?

Andrea Lafferty is executive director of the Traditional Values Coalition, the largest nondenominational, grass-roots church lobby in America, representing more than 43,000 churches.