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Centerpoint: Wait, What Are My Rights Again?

Does anyone else find it a tad ironic that in the wake of Prop 8, where the struggle for marriage equality has become a keystone of the modern LGBT civil rights movement, Beyonce’s feverishly catchy “Single Ladies” has become a national anthem for gay men everywhere? Or that repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT), legislation that would retain desperately needed, qualified military personnel, lingers patiently in the corridors of Congress while federal government debates the possibility of deploying more troops worldwide?

With more pending landmark federal legislation than we could have imagined, our collective heads are spinning just trying to keep up with it all. So here’s a “quick and dirty” update on the state of our civil rights in 2009.

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) has been introduced in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate, and it enjoyed a hearing in the House Committee on Labor and Education with little fanfare. Next stop: both houses will vote the bill up or down, hopefully ending with President Obama’s “John Hancock.” If all goes as planned, employers will no longer have the ability to fire or refuse to hire LGBT workers based on their sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.

Meanwhile the Military Readiness Enhancement Act (MREA), more widely known as the repeal of DADT, has been introduced in the House and continues to garner bipartisan support among members of Congress, tallying a hearty 180 co-sponsors under its belt. Be on the lookout for introduction in the Senate. We’re one step closer to serving openly in the military!

And while state-level civil marriage rights for same-sex couples abound, Congress Member Jerrold Nadler put piecemeal out of fashion when he debuted the “Respect for Marriage Act” in the House, a move that, if successful, will repeal the “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA). This would lift the federal prohibition of same-sex marriage recognition and allow states to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. So, who’s ready to get hitched in Iowa, then settle in Wisconsin? I hear they have great cheese!

Probably two of the most pressing pieces of legislation for our community are the “Matthew Shepherd & James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act” and reauthorization of the Ryan White CARE Act. “Hate Crimes Prevention” would codify current hate crimes laws to include protections for sexual orientation and gender identity/expression. Passing the House and Senate as an amendment to a Department of Defense reauthorization bill with bipartisan support, this package now awaits a final signature by the President. The CARE Act has provided states and local governments with hundreds of millions of dollars in services for people living with HIV/AIDS since 1990, including subsidies for otherwise exorbitant medication, treatment and care. Periodically, CARE Act funding must be renewed. Funding was slated to expire on September 30, 2009, but thanks to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, the “Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Extension Act of 2009” was passed that morning, allowing funding to remain at last year’s level until October 31, 2009. After passing in both houses early last week, we remain hopeful for a signature by the President approving multi-year reauthorization by Halloween.

Remember, it’s incumbent upon us all to ensure that our lawmakers don’t flinch from their duty to ensure equal protection for everyone under the law. Contact your lawmakers today.