On Wednesday, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act is set to go to a committee vote in the Senate. The act, if passed through Congress and signed by President Obama, would be the first piece of federal legislation that protects LGBTQ individuals from being fired or passed over for hire due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. As of now, LGBTQ folks lack legal recourse when they face discrimination in the workforce in the vast majority of the country.
Recent victories in the movement for marriage equality have the media and many advocates feeling closer than ever to real equality for LGBTQ people, but employment equity is a necessary win for the movement that we have yet to achieve. As a queer woman, marriage may be in my future – but as a young adult struggling with accrued loan debt, employment is my first priority.
ENDA is a federal bill that has been present in Congress since 1994. The act will:
+ Extend federal employment discrimination protections currently provided based on race, religion, national origin, age, and disability to include sexual orientation and gender identity.
+ Prohibit public and private employers, employment agencies, and labor unions from discriminating against LGBT orientation in work related circumstances such as hiring, promotions, and terminations.
+ Extend the prohibition of LGBT employment discrimination in federal, state, and local governments nationwide.
As the newly popular saying goes, “in today’s economy” it’s hard to both find and keep a job – so imagine how much harder that endeavor becomes when threats of discrimination plague you from employer to employer. According to The Williams Institute, between 15 and 43 percent of LGBTQ people have suffered from discrimination in the work place; for trans* individuals, that percentage goes up to 90%. According to the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, a 2008 survey revealed that LGB employees self-reported at a rate of 42% as having experienced discrimination, and over 50% of trans* individuals surveyed were harassed or worse at work. Discrimination against LGBTQ employees has created a new wage gap as well: in 2012, American Progress reported that same-sex families were earning almost 20% less than their heterosexual counterparts. ENDA is of particular importance for hundreds of thousands of LGBTQ citizens currently living in states that have not integrated anti LGBTQ discrimination amendments to their statewide employment policies.
These disparities are real problems affecting real people and families, and it is time for action. America is ready for ENDA. Public support for LGBTQ-inclusive employment discrimination policies has consistently been greater than support for same-sex marriage: whereas this year, public opinion reached above 50% in support for same-sex marriage for the first time, a Center for American Progress poll found that 73% of all Americans would support nation-wide LGBTQ equal employment legislation back in April of 2011. The bill has 53 cosponsors in the Senate and was introduced by a bipartisan coalition.
During his 2013 Inaugural address, President Obama stated that “our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law.” Until the day comes that the labor of all Americans is recognized as equal, that journey goes on.