I live in liberal Massachusetts. My state’s LGBT community is protected against workplace discrimination, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t stay awake a few nights worried about coming out to my employer.
If I — a generally privileged person in one of the most pro-equality states in the nation —have worried about this, I can’t even imagine how difficult it is for members of the community who live in the 19 states that currently don’t afford any workplace protection. Coming out is an act of courage, and it becomes a lot more difficult if it means you could lose your job.
The Employment Nondiscrimination Act, better known as ENDA, is up in Congress for the tenth time since 1994. If passed, the bill would make workplace discrimination based on an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity illegal, providing protection for millions of LGBT individuals and their families.
Monday, House Speaker John Boehner voiced his opposition to ENDA. Boehner said that the bill would "increase frivolous litigation" and "cost American jobs."
These talking points are eerily similar to those of top conservative organizations and think tanks, such as the Heritage Foundation, the Family Research Council (FRC), and the Traditional Values Coalition (TVC). Such members of the far-right argue that ENDA will strip away the rights of heterosexual people by giving "certain sexual lifestyles" a "special status." They also argue that civil liberties will be lost, and that sexual deviance like bestiality and pedophilia will be normalized.
As exemplified by their ability to influence Boehner during the federal shutdown and now ENDA, such organizations are not just radical religious fanatics who hold no sway. They are smart, powerful, and have a wealth of resources and support. The FRC is the host of the GOP’s annual Values Voter Summit; in 2009, Foreign Policy ranked the Heritage Foundation the fifth most influential think tank in the U.S; and the TVC represents over 40,000 churches.
Though most millennials are much more progressive on LGBT issues than previous generations, the millennial following of these organizations is vast, so to consider these opinions outdated would be foolish. Right now, our generation’s anti-choice, anti-LGBT members are interning or working for the Heritage Foundation and organizations like the FRC. Within a decade, they will be the organization presidents, lobbyists, and fellows.
Brushing such people aside as unintelligent or ineffective is not accurate. As we wait to see whether Boehner’s hard line stance will prevent ENDA from passing, we can't afford — no matter where we live — to look the other way.