Community Conversations

Please click on one of the dates to join us for a series of Community Conversations: 

Sunday, Dec 6 - Augusta
Monday, Dec 7 - Ogunquit 
Tuesday, Dec 8 - Ellsworth
Thursday, Dec 10 - Bangor
Tuesday, Dec 15 - Lewiston*
Wed, Dec 16 - Portland**

* Note: The Lewiston / Auburn Community Coversation was originally scheduled for Wednesday, Dec 10 but due to the massive snowstorm it has been rescheduled for Tuesday, December 15. 

**Note: The Portland Community Conversation was previously scheduled for Tuesday, Dec 15 but is being rescheduled to accommodate for the Downeast Pride Alliance event the same night.  

Public Policy Director Darlene Huntress on ENDA

Perhaps nothing illustrated more, in 2007, our community coming together than the controversy surrounding the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). This legislation put our concept of community to the ultimate test: would we stand together, or would we come apart? Would we stand up for every person under our umbrella, or would we accept political incrementalism, even if the price was to leave some members of our community behind? Would we stand up for each other by standing up to those in power?

The story of ENDA is complicated. The short version is: a bill was introduced into Congress that would protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from discrimination in employment. The bill had been around in one form or another since the 1970s and after the Democrats took control of Congress in 2006, many were optimistic it would finally pass.

On Sept. 27, with little consultation with the LGBT community, members of Congress announced that they had decided to introduce a new version of ENDA that did not include gender identity. This would not only deny protections to transgender people, but also fail to protect lesbian, gay and bisexual people who did not conform to other people’s expectations about how to appropriately express one’s gender.

Now, I want to talk about what gender identity and expression mean. I think sometimes we have a very black and white perception of what that is—that it’s all about someone who was born female and transitions to male, or visa versa. And that is one very important aspect of gender identity and expression. But it can also be much more subtle.

Look at me. I don’t remember the last time I shopped for clothes in the women’s section of a store. I go directly to the men’s section, every time, and I’ve been doing that for many, many years. I am as likely to go looking for clothes in the women’s section as my dad. And let me just say, the only heels in my house are on the two ends of a loaf of bread.

Let’s be honest here: A “man’s” jacket. A “man’s” tie. Not very feminine. My hair is cropped as short as, if not shorter than, most of the men who are looking at me right now. Again, not very feminine. Thankfully my boss doesn’t seem to mind. But there are many people in the outside world whose employers aren’t quite so open-minded.

What if I worked for someone who decided to fire me because he or she believed there’s something wrong with people who don’t conform to certain gender expectations?

What if I had a boss who, without asking me a single, direct question about my sexual orientation, made an assumption about my sexuality? And decided I must be a lesbian, and thought, “damn, I don’t agree with homosexuality” and decided to fire me—simply because of a perception that my expression of gender does not fit what they think is “normal”?

Without gender identity and expression protections, if I’m fired because of the hair and the tie and all the assumptions that come with it, I have absolutely no recourse.

So it’s not black and white. When you remove gender identity and expression protections, you make even more vulnerable the most vulnerable—our trans brothers and sisters—and you also take these important protections away from people just like me.

Word that gender identity and expression was being removed from ENDA spread like wildfire through the state LGBT organizations, and an amazing thing happened: we found our voice as a community.

And we said "no, thanks.”

These state organizations understood a fundamental fact: our mission is to advocate for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Our mission instructs us to support the entire community. And dropping a segment of our community from protections they desperately needed was simply unacceptable.

We formed a coalition called United ENDA, and I am proud to say EqualityMaine was one of the first state organizations to join. Within days, 350 state and national organizations had signed on, and our message was clear: "It's an all-inclusive ENDA or we don't want an ENDA at all.”

Together, our members generated more than 15,000 phone calls and thousands more emails to Washington. Some of us, like our own fabulous board member Jamie Gibson, went down to DC and met face to face with members of Congress, asking them to vote against the non-inclusive ENDA bill. We stood together and in a firm, clear, and committed voice delivered the message that incremental progress is only acceptable when it lifts everyone in the community. We told our elected officials that they could not divide our community. It was simply non-negotiable.

This was not an effort that lasted for one day or one week. Our push went on for weeks and weeks. It was relentless. It was strong enough that House leadership had to defer taking action on the broken version of ENDA not once, not twice, not three times—but four times.

In the end, in spite of those phone calls and emails, in spite of an unprecedented effort, the non-inclusive version of ENDA prevailed. As I like to say, Goliath 1, David 0.

But in the fight we established our identity as a community. We showed our Congress and our country that we do stand together, we will not stand for divide-and-conquer politics, and we’re not going away. We learned that when we protest together we have some nifty power of our own. And we did not compromise our integrity. We will look back on this moment as a turning point in our shared goals, and in our vision as a solid and unified community. Most importantly, the story of ENDA 2007 showed us that we have finally begun the process of recognizing our transgender brothers and sisters as an important and necessary part of who we are. It should have never taken this long.

Let me add a very important postscript to the story of ENDA. There were seven members of the US Congress who voted against the non-inclusive ENDA because they didn’t want to leave a portion of the community behind. Five of them were from New York. One of them was from New Jersey. And it is with great pride, and extreme gratitude, that I tell you this: the seventh? Our own Congressman Mike Michaud, who, after his vote, made this public statement: “I am an cosponsor of the original version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act because I oppose all types of employment discrimination. But the bill that the House of Representatives ultimately voted on fell short of what a majority of Mainers voted for in November of 2005. I heard from a lot of my constituents on this issue and just couldn’t support a bill that doesn’t live up to the non-discrimination protections of our state.”

EqualityMaine at 25

This year, EqualityMaine celebrated 25 years of progress for Maine's LGBT community. Check out our 25th anniversary celebration video.

Sign Up for Updates