Advocates Emphasize the Need for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act
By Rachel Barr
June, 14, 2012
Employment discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans occurs throughout the United States, according to testimony given at a recent Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee hearing on “Equality at Work: The Employment Non-Discrimination Act.”
M.V. Lee Badgett, research director of the Williams Institute for Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy at UCLA and director of the Center for Public Policy and Administration at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, reported on survey data showing that 47 percent of lesbian, gay and bisexual workers had experienced discrimination at work because of their sexual orientation, and 27 percent of those respondents had experienced discrimination within 5 years prior to the survey. A second survey showed that 78 percent of transgender citizens had also experienced workplace discrimination, Badgett noted.
Kylar Broadus, the founder of Trans People of Color Coalition, became the first transgender individual to testify before the U.S. Senate when he spoke before the HELP committee about his experiences with workplace discrimination. “After I announced my gender transition… I watched my professional connections, support, and goodwill evaporate, along with my prospects of remaining employed. I was harassed until I was forced to leave,” Broadus explained in his written testimony. “I was forbidden from talking to certain people and my activities were heavily monitored. I was forced out and unemployed for about a year before finally obtaining full-time employment.”
HELP Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, D. Iowa, remarked that it’s time to end this discrimination. “It is time to make clear that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans are first-class citizens. They are full and welcome members of our American family. And they deserve the same civil rights protections as all other Americans,” he said.
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) would prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The bill was first introduced in Congress in 1994 and was reintroduced in both the House and Senate in 2011. More than 80 civil and human rights organizations joined The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights on a letter urging members of Congress to co-sponsor ENDA. “Hardworking Americans should not be kept from supporting their families and making a positive contribution to the economic life of our nation because of characteristics that have no bearing whatsoever on their ability to do a job,” the letter states.
ENDA is modeled after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which made discrimination in the workplace on the basis of race, religion, gender, national origin, and color illegal. There is currently no federal law protecting individuals from job discrimination based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. It remains legal in 29 states to fire or refuse to hire someone because of his or her sexual orientation, and in 34 states it is legal to do so based on an individual’s gender identity.