In the United States today, it’s perfectly legal under federal law and in a majority of states to fire someone for being LGBT. Today, a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the House and Senate once again introduced legislation that would change that.
If passed, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2013 (ENDA) would prohibit most public and private employers from discriminating against workers based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. Led by Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Congressman Jared Polis (D-CO), this commonsense bill levels the playing field for LGBT workers by finally affording them the same workplace rights and safeguards afforded to other protected classes on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, and disability, among others.
If this bill sounds familiar, that’s because it’s been around for quite a while. ENDA was first introduced in 1994 and has been introduced in every single session of Congress with only one exception. What’s more, this commonsense bill has only been seriously considered before Congress twice. In 2007, the House voted on and actually passed ENDA (though the bill lacked protections on the basis of gender identity), but the bill went nowhere and died in the Senate. In 1996, the full Senate voted on ENDA (also without protections for transgender workers) the same day it approved the anti-gay and discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). While most expected it to pass, the bill lost by a single vote that year.
The fact that this bill has languished in the halls of Congress for nearly two decades is absurd, especially considering that Americans have supported equal opportunities and fairness for LGBT workers since the early 1980s. Today, 73 percent of likely voters support ENDA, and that includes a majority of Republicans and self-identified conservatives. Even 50 percent of people who have generally unfavorable views about LGBT people support equal treatment for LGBT workers. On top of public support, businesses large and small — from Wall Street to Main Street — support this bill.
Even with all of this support, ENDA still has yet pass.
Perhaps what’s most remarkable about the bill is that nine out of ten voters already think its protections are law. Treating workers equally — regardless of their sexual orientation and gender identity — is a no-brainer for the vast majority of the American public.
ENDA’s premise is simple: everyone who works hard and plays by the rules should be able to make a living to support themselves and their families. Sadly, mountains of research confirms that many LGBT people don’t have that opportunity due to high rates of employment discrimination, which leaves them without a job and without a steady income to make ends meet. In fact, it’s largely because of employment discrimination and the absence of ENDA that LGBT families are more likely to live in poverty and report lower annual incomes than non-LGBT families.
One of the reasons that ENDA is still not law of the land is that opponents of LGBT equality continue to use misleading and false rhetoric to distract and derail the bill from being enacted. For example, anti-gay conservatives continue to claim that ENDA poses a threat to religious liberty, despite the fact that the bill contains a robust exemption for religiously-affiliated organizations (notably, some groups think that provision goes too far in exempting religious organizations from claims). Others use scare tactics about transgender workers and ridiculous arguments about bathrooms, changing rooms, and invasion of privacy issues, even though few if any problems of that nature have arisen in states with employment protections on the basis of gender identity.
The good news is that there is now more momentum than ever to finally pass ENDA into law. Lawmakers are literally rushing to come out in favor of LGBT equality. Now that this bill has been re-introduced, it’s time for lawmakers to walk the walk and vote in favor of equality.
Crosby Burns is a policy analyst for LGBT Progress.