11/07/2013

Senate passage of ENDA is important step toward dignity and fairness for LGBT people

There’s no place in America for workplace discrimination of any kind.

But, incredibly, a half century after our nation outlawed discrimination against racial and ethnic minorities and women, it’s still legal in most states for employers to hire or fire a person solely because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Today, by passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA),  the U.S. Senate took a historic step toward ending this outrage.

Despite the scare stories from those opposed to workplace fairness, ENDA does not create any special rights for anyone. It simply prohibits employers from using a worker’s sexual orientation or gender identity as the basis for hiring, firing, promotion, or compensation. It means that LGBT people will be afforded the same workplace protections already in place regarding race, religion, gender, national origin and disability.

The fact is, most of America’s largest corporations have already recognized the value of treating LGBT people fairly and have enacted policies similar to ENDA. But employers in 29 states can still lawfully discriminate because of sexual orientation, and in 33 states they can discriminate because of gender identity.  

This legislation is by no means perfect. Unfortunately, it contains overly broad exemptions for faith-based organizations, ones that may allow, for example, a religiously affiliated hospital to fire a gay nurse. Despite this fault, it represents a major step forward.

Over the last few years, we’ve passed milestone after milestone on the road to  equality for LGBT people – among them, the Supreme Court’s recent decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act.

But many barriers remain. Being mistreated on the job for belonging to a certain group of people or having certain characteristics that have nothing to do with job performance is simply wrong, and it must stop. Just as it took the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to outlaw discrimination against African Americans, it will take federal legislation to begin to end the injustice against the LGBT community. Nothing less will do.