The Senate passed the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA) with a majority, bipartisan vote: 64 to 32, according to CNN on Nov 7. This means the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transvestite (LGBT) community is one step closer to achieving equality in the workplace because it will be illegal for employers to discriminate based on their sexual orientation.
ENDA already makes it illegal for someone to be fired based on their skin color, their race, their religion, their sex, and their nation of origin, according to Glaad.org.
The White House reported, the new version of ENDA will put into place “federal protections” that will make it illegal for an employer to fire someone because they identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
Heather Kelly, the advisor of the group ALI (All Lifestyles Included), and Assistant Director of Student Activities for Multicultural and Diversity Initiatives, said, “I just want to preface my answers by stating that these are my opinions, and not the opinions of my office,”
Kelly continued this new law is so important because, “If you are L (lesbian), G (gay), B (bisexual) you can get fired, in. I believe it is 29 states. If you are T (transgender) it is 33. That is just if someone at your job finds out that you are dating someone else who is of the same sex. You can not be hired for the same reason, and that’s really something that is horrible, when you think about it.”
Melissa Galvin, a junior and Co-President of ALI said, “I believe ENDA is so important to our society because, if passed, it’s a reminder that we can be who we want to be, that we have the right to do so. If not passed, it’s a reminder that we have a much longer way to go than people like to admit. In the workplace, we should be judged on how well we do our job and nothing else.”
The Human Rights Campaign says ENDA is not extending “special rights” to the LGBT community. instead ENDA is “extending fair employment practices” that all workers should have access too.
They also state that this bill resembles already existing civil rights laws, like Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which made it illegal to fire someone because of their gender or their race, and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
ENDA also exempts small businesses, religious organizations and the military. This means that businesses who employ less than 15 people, and religious entities (like churches) that are already exempt from Title VII’s “prohibition on religious discrimination” will be able to reject a worker who identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.
Currently, only 21 states and Washington D.C. prohibit employment discrimination based on a persons’ sexual orientation and only 17 states and Washington D.C. prohibit discrimination based on a persons’ gender identity.
Only 434 companies on the Fortune 500 list have enacted policies that protect against a persons’ sexual identity and 282 have policies that protect someone’s sexual orientation. That means that there are still employees out there who are living with the fear that Kelly described above: being fired because their secret is out.
“We, throughout our lives, share parts of who we are at work,” said Kelly. “To have to go into work and hide who you are on a constant basis; to have to change your pronouns every time you talk; to not be able to put pictures of your loved ones on your desk; to have to constantly put yourself inside yourself, and not be able to be who you are, that’s a horrible thing. To live in fear of losing your livelihood, it’s a huge deal and a huge inequality that we are facing where we live in a nation where we talk about every one being equal. So to be able have that nationally protected is a ‘ginormous’ deal.”
After passing in the Senate, ENDA is now waiting to be voted on in the House of Representatives. In an article posted on CNN’s website, John Boehner commented as saying that this bill will cost people jobs and hurt small businesses.
A statement released on Nov 6, 2007 by Boehner on his official website, suggests that he opposes ENDA because “The bill purports to protect workers based on the ‘perceived sexual orientation – a highly subjective concept that is bound to tie the legal system in knots.”
Dr. Nancy Mezey, Assistant Professor of Sociology, said that if the bill does not pass in the House, “We may be waiting [for the bill to pass] until there is a change in Congressional leadership.”
Terence Bodak, Co-Adviser to ALI, said, “The bill will most likely not pass in the House. Considering versions of EDNA have attempted to pass since 1994 and failed, unfortunately I believe there is little hope for it at this time. Is this to say that it will never become law? No. Like other non-discrimination legislation, there will come a time for its passage. I just hope that it is sooner, rather than later.”
He reacted to Boehner’s comment, “I believe small businesses harm themselves more by not hiring qualified workers simply because of sexual orientation. If your best candidate is gay and the second best candidate is nowhere near as qualified as the first, what is hurting business more? The right to discriminate in the hiring process or the loss of talent.”
ENDA has other supporters in government. Newly elected Senator Cory Booker supported the passing of ENDA in the Senate. He wrote on Twitter that he, “absolutely, unequivocally, proudly, with gusto & enthusiasm. I hope to make it my first ‘co-sponsor.’”
The CNN article stated that Senator John McCain and Senator Jeff Flake became the most recent Republican Senators to express their support for the bill. President Obama wrote a blog post for The Huffington Post where he supported ENDA and urged the House to pass the bill so that the LGBT community may be treated fairly and equally in the workplace.
Kelly expressed her gratitude that Obama wrote that post, “It’s great to have a sitting President who is so outspoken on race and sexual identity. It’s important for him to address and tell Americans he supports them.”
Mezey also said that ENDA is important because, “the implication for society is that by passing ENDA, we actively move toward providing all of our citizens, regardless of the state they live in, the protection and dignity that they deserve. In other words, we move toward greater equality. By rejecting ENDA, we send a message that discrimination is okay.”
Bodak said, “Students should care about the passage of ENDA because the fact that a person can be fired because of his or her sexual orientation should alarm them.
Bodak continued, “There are many justifiable reasons for employment termination. There are many reasons on why certain people are hired over others, but there is no reason why sexual orientation should be one of them.”
Galvin agreed, “It is important to college students because the outcome of this bill will dictate the work environments we enter when we graduate.”
PHOTO TAKEN from bussle.com