New laws designed to protect LGBT workers in the United States may be watered down because leading Democrats are split over the inclusion of gender identity.

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act, currently before Congress, would extend federal employment discrimination protections that are currently provided on race, religion, gender, national origin, age, and disability to also cover sexual orientation and gender identity.

However, the Washington Blade reports that at a meeting on Wednesday of House of Representative Democrats, it became clear that ENDA would not be supported by many of them in its present form.

“The fact of the matter is, we’ve been canvassing this and the votes just are not there for a trans-inclusive bill,” said Steven Adamske, spokesman for Representative Barney Frank, according to theadvocate.com

Mr Frank is the only openly gay man in Congress and a sponsor of ENDA.

“The one thing we don’t want to do is embolden the enemy. My boss’s recommendation is to go forward with an historic ENDA bill and then, in the very near future, work on improving that bill, as has been done with every single civil rights bill that has been passed in the last 40 years.”

Gay rights groups were dismayed at the suggestion that gender identity protections may be dropped.

A coalition of nine US advocacy groups issued a joint statement:

“Our collective position remains clear and consistent regarding the status of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

“Our organisations oppose the removal of protections for transgender people from ENDA. We would also oppose any bill that did not protect transgender people.

“We are shocked and upset that, according to the Washington Blade, influential members of the House of Representatives have apparently made a decision to remove protections for transgender people from the bill.

“If true, this decision was made without consultation with leaders of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

“While we don’t doubt the sincerity of Congressional leadership’s intent to take action and be helpful to the LGBT community, we cannot disagree more with this strategy.

“We will continue to work with LGBT-supportive members of Congress to urge their colleagues to immediately drop this strategy.”

The largest gay rights group, Human Rights Campaign, told theadvocate.com:

“The indication we are getting from the Hill is that the leadership will possibly move forward with a new version of ENDA that does not offer explicit protections for gender identity. HRC is deeply disappointed and did not assent to this position.”