by Bob Roehr
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2007 (ENDA) was reintroduced in the House on April 24 after a hiatus of two years. It would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, and carries an exemption for religious groups, the military, and very small businesses.
Current federal law provides legal protection against employment discrimination on the basis of race, gender, religion, national origin and disability. Only 17 states protect against being fired for sexual orientation and just eight protect transgender persons. Michigan does not extend employment protection to LGBT people.
ENDA is supported by most of the nation’s largest businesses, which already have adopted similar principles as part their own company employment policies. It also has the support of organized labor.
“This is a protection against discrimination that has been tried in a number of states, beginning in Wisconsin more than 20 years ago, and it has worked extremely well,” said lead sponsor Rep. Barney Frank (D-Massachusetts). “It has caused none of the problems that opponents inaccurately claimed it would and it has provided job protection for people who ask simply to be allowed do their jobs and be judged on their job performance.”
Republican Deborah Pryce (Ohio), a leader in the House, said, “This legislation is first and foremost about fairness – about allowing all Americans to pursue their right to earn a living. Workplace discrimination of any kind is wrong, period.”
The only open lesbian in the House, Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin), and Chris Shays (R-Connecticut) are also lead sponsors of ENDA.
“We are a nation predicated on equality, and over the years, we have embraced an increasingly broader and more inclusive vision of what that means,” said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). By passing ENDA “our country will simply be adding another proud chapter to the amazing American story of opportunity.” ENDA has been a priority piece of legislation for HRC for more than a decade.
“Democrats understand that the majority of Americans support these common-sense workplace protections,” said Jo Wyrick, executive director of National Stonewall Democrats. Taking an uncharacteristic tip of the hat to the marketplace she added, “This legislation not only safeguards employee rights, but expands national economic opportunity by reducing the impact of artificial bias on the free market.”
Log Cabin Republicans President Patrick Sammon said, “Americans know that ENDA represents a measured and pragmatic response to prejudice and discrimination. Job discrimination, for any reason, is un-American, unfair, and unwise.” He urged Republicans to support the legislation.
“Discrimination in the workplace is the number one issue for callers to Lambda Legal’s Help Desk, with over 1,000 people calling us about workplace rights in 2006. In Lambda Legal’s 2005 Workplace Fairness Survey, 39% of respondents reported experiencing some form of discrimination or harassment in the workplace during the past five years because of their sexual orientation,” Lambda’s executive director Kevin Cathcart wrote in an open letter to Congress.
LGBT advocates have long claimed that the votes have been there to pass the legislation, but that the Republican leadership, particularly in the House, has prevented such consideration. Now with Democrats in control of Congress, they hope for quick passage either later this summer or early fall.