By Diego J. Bartesaghi Mena
Almost 30 years after it was first introduced at the national level, on Friday, Nov 7 the U.S. senate passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. The ENDA would outlaw discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the workplace by employers with at least 15 employees. It also will protect LGBT people from being discriminated against while applying for housing and healthcare based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. The bill was passed by a bipartisan vote of 64-32 in the senate, a two-to-one margin. As of now, only 21 states, including the state of New Jersey, protect LGBT workers. Nevertheless, the fight for equality is neither recent nor far from over.
The fight for LGBT equality started with the Stonewall Inn Riots. On the night of June 28, 1969, the New York City police raided the Stonewall Inn, a “gay bar” that included drag queens and lesbians. Led by the drag queens, the patrons fought back igniting the gay civil rights movement. Since then, many laws and bills have passed providing LGBT people the opportunity to live “normal” lives next to their heterosexuals counterparts.
According to the Center for American Progress, “anywhere from 15% to 43% of gay people have experienced some form of discrimination and harassment at the workplace.” In addition, CAP claims that “90% of transgender workers report some form of harassment or mistreatment on the job.” The William Institute claims that 8-17% of lesbian, gay, and bisexual workers report being fired or denied employment simply because of their sexual orientation.
The ENDA will push for further equality, not only for gay, lesbian, and bisexual people, but — most importantly — transgender people being discriminated against in every sector of the economy. According to the Human Rights Watch:
ENDA simply affords to all Americans basic employment protection from discrimination based on irrational prejudice. The bill is closely modeled on existing civil rights laws, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The major counterargument of the bill is that it would affect small business. “ENDA is a ‘one size fits all’ solution to alleged discrimination that erases all marriage-based distinctions,” explains Fightenda.org, a campaign organized by The Legislative Affiliate of Family Research Action, a conservative Christian non-profit organization. According to them, ENDA “grants special rights to homosexuals while ignoring those of employers. The federal government should not force private business to abandon their moral principles.” Furthermore, in regards to small business, it would increase the amount of litigations and court costs.
However, ENDA does not cover small businesses with fewer than 15 employees, does not apply to religious organizations and the military, explicitly prohibits preferential treatment based on sexual orientation or gender identity, and does not permit disparate impact suits, reports Human Rights Watch. Moreover, Policymic.com reported:
The non-partisan Government Accountability Office showed that in states that ban sexual orientation discrimination, only 1.8-6.7% of all discrimination claims were based on sexual orientation. For example, in Colorado, only 35 out of a total 516 (6.7%) job discrimination cases involved sexual orientation, and just one that [sic] involved gender identity. In California, only 5.6% of cases were based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Given these statistics, it is hard to imagine that a federal law would lead to ‘unimaginable litigation.’
In addition, the general public supports ENDA, which is critical for the bill to pass the U.S. House of Representatives. A 2011 poll found that 73 percent of likely voters support protecting LGBT people from discrimination in employment. In addition, many large and small businesses, including many federal contractors, have already taken these steps on their own, and report that they have very few or no added costs and actually reap longer-term benefits to their bottom lines (e.g. recruiting the best and brightest, minimizing turnover costs, increasing productivity, appealing to new markets, etc.), reports the American Civil Liberties Union.
Without public support and mobilization, the bill won’t pass. Like any bill that has been presented in the House of Representatives, people’s votes and calls to their legislators will make a difference, as they did on September 2012 when advocates and public mobilization made the state senate pass the law which recognized same-sex marriage in New Jersey.
Twenty-one states, including the District of Columbia have laws protecting LGBT people. On a federal level it is still legal, in the other twenty-nine states, to refuse to hire or fire people because they are gay, lesbian, or transgender. ENDA will be able to protect these individuals at the Federal level.
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act will not only push forward the march of equality for the LGBT community, a fight that started almost forty-four years ago, but also — as on October 21st, 2013 when same-sex marriage was made legal in New Jersey — allow LGBT people to finally feel normal and equal to their heterosexual counterparts.