A cross-party group of US Congressmen and women have formed a new campaign to push for greater rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans Americans.
The LGBT Equality Caucus wants the extension of equal rights, the repeal of discriminatory laws, the elimination of hate-motivated violence, and improved health and well being for all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.
It will also tackle US foreign policy with regard to the human rights of LGBT people across the world.
The only two openly gay members of Congress, Democrats Barney Frank and Tammy Baldwin, announced the formation of the caucus at a Capitol Hill press conference yesterday.
Congresswoman Baldwin, who represents Wisconsin, said:
“We represent different races, different genders, different sexual orientations, different geographic regions, different generations, and different parties, but we share a common mission: to promote lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender equality.”
Congressman Barney Frank, who is co-chairing the caucus, added:
“With a Democratic majority in the House, we now have both the opportunity and the responsibility to move towards legal equality for people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.
“This caucus will play an important role in helping shape the strategy by which we do this.”
Congressional aides said that the caucus will be a resource for Members of Congress, their staffs, and the public on LGBT issues, which have been prominent during this session of Congress.
In November the Employment Non-Discrimination Act was passed by the House by 235 to 184.
ENDA was originally designed to make it illegal to fire, refuse to hire or promote a person based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
The decision to remove trans people from the scope of the legislation caused anger among the LGBT community in the US, with many demanding an “all or nothing” stance.
Many of the House Democrats serving their first term did not want ENDA to include protections for trans people, fearful of a backlash from conservatives.
ENDA would need Senate approval before it could become law, but President Bush has already indicated he would veto it.
In May the US House of Representatives passed the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act with a strong bipartisan vote of 237-180.
The Senate approved the nearly-identical Matthew Shepard Act as an amendment to the Department of Defence Authorisation bill on a voice vote.
President Bush had indicated he would use his veto to block any attempt to extend federal hate crimes laws to LGBT people.
The hate crimes provisions had been attached to a defence spending bill, but was dropped by the Senate because it could not attract enough support.
Ms Baldwin described the purpose of the new LGBT caucus as both symbolic and substantive:
“Symbolic because, historically, of all the member caucuses organised in the Congress over the years, none has ever been dedicated to equality for LGBT Americans.
“The very existence of an LGBT Equality Caucus in Congress makes a strong statement about the values this Congress and this nation hold dear.”
At its founding yesterday, the Equality Caucus is comprised of the following members, with more expected to join in the coming months:
Co-Chairs: Reps. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Barney Frank (D-MA)
Vice Chairs: Reps. Rob Andrews (D-NJ), Xavier Becerra (D-CA) Lois Capps (D-CA), Yvette Clarke (D-NY), Joseph Crowley (D-NY), Diana DeGette (D-CO), Keith Ellison (D-MN), Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), Mike Honda (D-CA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), James McGovern (D-MA), Jerry Nadler (D-NY), Linda Sánchez (D-CA), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Hilda Solis (D-CA), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), Henry Waxman (D-CA), Anthony Weiner (D-NY), Peter Welch (D-VT)
Members: Reps. Howard Berman (D-CA), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Robert Brady (D-PA), Michael Capuano (D-MA), Susan Davis (D-CA), Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Eliot Engel (D-NY), Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), Phil Hare (D-IL), Rush Holt (D-NJ), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Patrick Kennedy (D-RI), Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Doris Matsui (D-CA), James Moran (D-VA), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Frank Pallone (D-NJ), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Steven Rothman (D-NJ), José Serrano (D-NY), Chris Shays (R-CT), Pete Stark (D-CA), Betty Sutton (D-OH), Ellen Tauscher (D-CA), Niki Tsongas (D-MA), Robert Wexler (D-FL), Lynn Woolsey (D-CA).