ENDA: End LGBT workplace discrimination
Published: Wednesday, November 14, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, November 14, 2012 00:11
Anyone who has ever filled out a job application has seen the section on the page stating exactly who is protected against discrimination. I have always seen sexual orientation on that list. It wasn’t until I was told about something called ENDA that I learned not all states protect people like me.
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA, is proposed federal legislation that would prevent employers from discriminating against employees or potential employees based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Currently there is no such protection. Much like same-sex marriage laws, employment protection based on sexual orientation or gender identity is decided by states.
Right now, 16 states and Washington, D.C., prohibit discrimination in the workplace against someone for his or her sexual orientation or gender identity. Those states include Oregon, Washington, California and Nevada (go, West Coast!). In 14 other states, laws provide some lesser level of protection, and primarily only for those working for the government. But 20 states have absolutely no laws prohibiting discrimination against someone based on his or her sexual orientation or gender identity.
More than half of those 20 states are south of the Mason-Dixon Line.
Our very own Senator Jeff Merkley was one of the sponsors of ENDA, along with Congressman Barney Frank. The bill was introduced and assigned to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions in April 2011. In a June 12 press release regarding the bill, Merkley said, “Freedom from employment discrimination is just a matter of fundamental fairness.”
According to GovTrack, a legislative tracking tool offered by Civic Impulse, the bill only has a 2 percent chance of becoming law.
In a phone interview with Merkley’s office, intern Lee Scharich stated the bill currently “has little chance to pass in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives,” but plans are ongoing to keep it on the table through the next session of Congress.
While wading through the full text of the bill, I noted a reference to the Defense of Marriage Act. For those who opposed same-sex marriage, feel free to endorse this bill. It will not force employers to grant employees marriage benefits to same-sex couples.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 states that it is unlawful for an employer “to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex or national origin.” The Civil Rights Act of 1991 expanded the list to include discrimination against age or disability, and further defined the protections employers were required to offer employees, including freedom from harassment in the workplace.
It makes no mention of including the LGBT community.
More than 9 million Americans belong to the LGBT community. In more than 20 U.S. states, many of those Americans need to stay in the closet at work — colloquially called the “supply closet” — in order to retain their jobs. They cannot bring their partners to work functions, and they cannot tell anecdotes about their lives prior to their transitions. It is one thing to decide to keep information about yourself private because you don’t think it is anyone else’s business, it is another thing entirely to be forced to remain silent.
It is true many businesses choose to apply non-discrimination policies to the LGBT community in the workplace: Just because there are no regulations requiring it does not mean that these states are inherently discriminatory.
However, as stated by the 2007 ACLU report “Working in the Shadows: Ending Employment Discrimination for LGBT Americans,” the lack of federal regulation means that everyday, hard-working Americans are “kept from supporting their families and making a positive contribution to the economic life of our nation because of characteristics that have no bearing on their ability to do their jobs.”
Irene Drage is a senior in English. The opinions expressed in her columns do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Barometer staff. Drage can be reached at email@example.com.