The House is poised this week to take a historic step in favor of gay rights, with passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, otherwise known as ENDA (H.R. 3685).
Currently, federal law provides basic legal protections against employment discrimination on the basis of race, gender, religion, national origin or disability. Left off that list, however, is any mention of sexual orientation. Under federal law in the U.S., it is NOT against the law to fire someone simply because they are gay or lesbian.
But if the legislation scheduled to be considered on the House floor this Thursday becomes law, this disparity would finally change. For the first time in American history, gays and lesbians would be protected from discrimination in all aspects of employment, including hiring, firing, promotion, and compensation.
While we are all entitled to our own personal or religious beliefs, the workplace is not an appropriate place to force these beliefs upon others. Every citizen in this country deserves the opportunity to make a living free from discriminatory treatment by their employer. Many U.S. businesses and states have already recognized this fundamental principle. It is time to ensure this truly American value is protected nationwide.
For those of you who have followed this issue closely, you are probably aware there has been some tumult in the GLBT community regarding the final language of the ENDA bill. The legislation originally included gender identity as receiving legal protection. But when it passed out of committee, the language was stripped from the bill.
I am sympathetic to those upset by this action. When ENDA is debated on the floor, an amendment by Rep. Tammie Baldwin will be considered to include gender identity protections. I plan to support it. Individuals with gender identity issues deserve equal treatment under the law the same as anyone else. Unfortunately, passage of the Baldwin amendment does not appear likely. Sadly, even in this day and age, it is still a bridge to far for this Congress.
However, the fact that we are even voting on ENDA and that it is almost assured to pass is a major victory in itself. Civil rights struggles are just that, a struggle. They are not won in a day or with one vote. There are a whole host of GLBT civil rights issues that still need to be tackled. I am confident that gender identity protections in the workplace will be one of those that will be passed in the future.
This week, we mark a historic milestone for gay and lesbian rights and progressive change in America. With the strong support ENDA has garnered, in large part to the grassroots organizations who have worked tirelessly for decades to promote equality, Americans in the workplace will finally be judged not on the basis of who they love but rather their qualifications and job performance.