Ending discrimination in the workplace once and for all

Still rebounding from the worst economic conditions since the Great Depression with signs of a recovery still fragile and relatively jobless, you would think that almost everyone on Capitol Hill would quickly embrace legislation that would promote and enhance job security. Whether or not they do so remains to be seen.
 
Soon, the House will begin consideration of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), a bill that prohibits workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. In essence, it’s a jobs bill providing workplace protections to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.
 
If a person is qualified and talented, a dedicated and committed worker, someone who contributes to the bottom line and works well with others — that should be enough. That should be more than enough.
 
That should be the definition of a model employee. Someone we seek out, that we would immediately hire and that we would do whatever is required to retain.
 
Did I mention it shouldn’t matter if this person is lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender?
 
But it still does for some employers, and that’s why ENDA is critical. That’s why after more than 15 years since its first introduction, it is well past time that ENDA become law.
 
No one should have to hide who they are just to keep their job. And no one should be forced into the closet to live a lie just to support their family. 
 
ENDA does nothing more than provide basic protections that should have already been in place. It does nothing more than ensure basic rights and send a message that prejudice and injustice will no longer be tolerated in U.S. workplaces.
 
Which is the reason that controversy on the bill is hard to find, except among those who are dead set against LGBT people being a part of society at all.
 
ENDA is no longer a difficult vote, as it was perceived to be when it was first introduced in 1994. President Obama supported identical legislation when he was a state senator in Illinois, his presidential campaign Web site openly offered his full support of the bill, and today, his civil rights agenda listed on whitehouse.gov lists ENDA’s protections for sexual orientation and gender identity as a priority. Political opponents have attacked the president for many things — but his support for basic nondiscrimination laws is not one of them — not in his campaigns and not in his presidency.
 
In addition, sexual orientation and gender identity nondiscrimination laws are in place throughout the country, such as in Colorado, Iowa, and, just in the last six months, in Salt Lake City.
 
This is simply an issue of basic fairness and equal opportunity. It’s about ensuring that the American Dream can be dreamed and lived by all.
 
Last week, I heard from James in Florida, who several years earlier, had just gotten a raise for his great work as an account manager when he was seen leaving a gay bar by a coworker. His employer asked him if he was gay and he said he yes, wanting to be honest. He was fired and it took him years to find a comparable job; even with his college degree, he could only find a job as a food server. 
 
Congress heard last fall from Vandy Beth Glenn, who landed her dream job as a copy editor with the Georgia Legislature in 2005. After four years in the U.S. Navy and reaching the rank of lieutenant, this was her chance to use her journalism degree from the University of Georgia. She was a reliable and valued employee for more than two years until the day she announced she was going to transition from male to female. She too was fired and escorted from her workplace.
 
This happens every day in this country, and it will continue to happen until Congress passes the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
 
Vandy Beth Glenn and James should have been protected, and ENDA will do that. The United States is supportive of legislators who take action to end this discrimination; support for these measures has not translated into re-election problems.
 
Congress must see those that say ENDA is controversial for who they are: anti-gay bigots far out of the mainstream of America. They have put forth so many lies about what ENDA would do; there isn’t enough space to correct each one. The truth is, ENDA is a fully bipartisan measure with more than 200 cosponsors, and it is a sensible and much-needed bill. LGBT people and our families, and the U.S. economy, need Congress to act on this legislation now.  

Rea Carey is Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund.

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