After 40 years of Americans trying to end workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, the Senate voted on Monday to move forward with the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).
In principle, there is nothing mysterious or complicated about ENDA. In fact, it has a very straightforward goal: to ban employers from discriminating against American workers on the grounds of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Current federal law prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, national origin, disability, and gender, so why not extend the same rights to LGBT workers?
However, there's a lot of public debate going on, and there will likely be much heated discussion before (and if) the bill is passed. So what’s the main challenge, really? To overcome tons of misleading information that is popping up everywhere on the web under the guise of "family values," let's consider some important facts:
The Washington Post reported on Monday that House leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) opposes ENDA, which could put the bill's fate in jeopardy. He believes the bill is unnecessary and “will increase frivolous litigation and cost American jobs, especially small business jobs.”
However, the vast majority of American businesses support the bill and have similar work-related protections to those in ENDA. In fact, 96.6% of Fortune 500 companies have taken steps to prevent discrimination against LGBT workers. If corporate America manages to agree with the need to have non-discrimination policies in the workplace, trust me, it's probably because it won't affect their bottom line.
To Mr. Boehner: the only thing the bill will kill is your own prejudice, not jobs.
Despite efforts from conservative groups such as Family Research Council Action to shoot down the bill, the vast majority of Americans support ENDA. In the above graph, you can see that majorities in all 50 states support ENDA-like legislation.
According to a May poll by the Public Religion Research Institute, nearly three-quarters (73%) of Americans favor protecting gay men and lesbians from workplace discrimination. As this infographic shows, Republicans, independents, Democrats, and even Christian groups, stand behind the bill:
The liberal group Right Wing Watch reported this week that radio host Bryan Fischer told his listeners, "We should discriminate against people based on their deviant sexual behavior." According to Fischer's conclusion, ENDA grants special rights to LGBT individuals with "no protection in here for heterosexuals, none whatsoever..."
What Fischer doesn't know, among other things, is that there is a long history of employment discrimination against LGBT individuals in the United States. A study conducted from the mid-1980s to mid-1990s by The Williams Institute revealed that "16% to 68% of LGBT respondents reported experiencing employment discrimination at some point in their lives." For transgender workers, these numbers are even more revealing, with 78% reporting threats of physical violence and harassment. As this image bellow suggests, most transgendered and gay workers lack comprehensive protection against workplace discrimination:
Contrary to what Fischer says, ENDA is not about "special" protections. The bill is about job opportunity and fairness for all, including his example of the poor heterosexual white man who suffers from severe discrimination at work (was he talking about himself?).
Bear in mind: ENDA simply adds sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of of characteristics that legal practices already protect from discrimination in the workplace, including race, religion, gender and disability.