Reintroduction Of Employment Non-Discrimination Act Provides Important Opportunity For Education

The bipartisan Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) has been reintroduced in both houses of Congress this week, having been introduced in some form in almost every Congress since 1994. The bill, in its 2011 form, would make sexual orientation and gender identity protected classes in employment, such that LGBT Americans could not be discriminated against by employers (except religious organizations). Currently, individuals can legally be fired for being gay in 29 states and for being transgender in 38 states.

Because of the Republican majority in the House, there are no expectations for the bill to pass this session. House sponsor Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) called the reintroduction “an organizing tool.” Lawmakers and advocates should use opportunity to educate the public (and incumbents) about the importance of this legislation.

Tico Almeida, who previously served as ENDA’s lead counsel in the House, today echoed the importance of holding hearings and making sure transgender voices are included:

I vividly remember sitting in the counsel’s chair on the committee dais as Vandy Beth Glenn testified about being fired on the same day she told her employer that she planned to transition from male to female. I watched several members of Congress tear up and sadly shake their heads while listening to her speak.

By contrast, the lone Senate hearing during the same time period intentionally and controversially excluded the testimony of even a single transgender American. But that mistake by Senate staffers is in the past.

Individuals who identify as transgender are particularly vulnerable to employment discrimination. According to a recent study on transgender Americans, they are twice as likely to be unemployed and four times as likely to be living in poverty compared to the general public. Almost half the respondents (47 percent) reported being fired, not hired, or not promoted because they were trans, and 90 percent reported harassment or mistreatment on the job. With only 12 states offering protections (Hawaii will make 13), ENDA is crucial for improving the lives of transgender Americans.

The impact of personal stories cannot be underestimated. A 2007 survey found that 41 percent of Americans know a friend or family member who is gay, even though only about 3.5 percent of the population openly identify as LGB. Such individuals who know someone gay are more than twice as likely to support same-sex marriage as those who do not. A 2008 study confirms the same impact is true for employment discrimination and other matters of LGBT equality.

If the reintroduction of ENDA is used to effectively communicate and relate the challenges and struggle of LGBT Americans, it could ensure the bill finally sees the passage it deserves.