Rachel Laser, the deputy director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC) spoke at
Goucher on Feb. 19 about the National Employee Non-Discrimination act (ENDA). She discussed the new provisions currently under consideration for the ENDA and explained how the students can get involved in the pro-LGBT movement and make a meaningful contribution to the fight for the amendment of ENDA.
The Employment Non Discrimination Act is legislation that has been proposed in every Congress from 1994 until its official passage in 2007. The act is based on the 1964 Civil Rights Act. ENDA ensures that employers cannot discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation when making hiring decisions. For the bill to pass through the House, legislators realized they needed to drop the provision in the bill that guaranteed the aforementioned protections for transgendered individuals. This is the battle that Rachel Laser and the RAC are currently fighting. They realize that for ENDA to provide security and peace of mind for the LGBT community, the law must also protect transgendered individuals. Rachel Laser is working to ensure that these provisions are added to the bill in the near future.
The RAC has a history of teaming up with civil rights movements. It was founded in 1961 as the political and legislative outreach arm of the Reform Jewish Community. The RAC’s goal was to act as a liaison between Reform Synagogues nationwide, and the government. The organization boasts many legislative accomplishments. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the 1965 Voting Rights Act, were both drafted by Jewish, African American, and other leaders of the Civil Rights Movement in the RAC conference room. Zoe Summit ‘16, Co-President of Hillel, had the opportunity to attend a seminar for high school students at the RAC when she was in 10th grade. During the seminar, she was able to lobby for EDNA. After hearing Laser speak at Goucher, Summit said, “I’m really glad the RAC is still focusing on EDNA.” The event attracted a wide range of students. Students who are not involved in Hillel attended Laser’s speech because they were interested in the topic.
“I had previously researched employment non-discrimination in the context of state and local laws, but I had not heard of a religious advocacy group engaging in this issue,” Andrew Huff ‘14 said. “I think it’s a very neat intersection of identities, to have a religious organization conducting work to advance economic equality for sexual minorities. It’s very mosaic.”
Huff also thought Laser’s speech was effective and very relevant to the world we live in today.
“I enjoyed her frankness in explaining how compromise will give you a headache – but it won’t mean you sell out,” Huff said. “I think it’s important to frame compromise as an exchange, so perhaps giving up something, but not to the point of compromising the integrity of the goal.”
Additional reporting by Jaclyn Peiser and Rachel Brustein