Today, for the first time in history, the U.S. Senate will vote on a fully-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act – the federal bill prohibiting discrimination again lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the workplace. The LGBT community has been fighting for workplace protections for the past 40 years, but this is the first time the full Senate will vote on a bill that includes not only protections based on sexual orientation, but also includes explicit protections for gender identity as well
At the foundation of a happy and healthy family is economic security – the ability to earn a living and the economic stability to provide for a dependent partner and children. Equal access to employment opportunities and benefits is key to economic security, yet only a handful of states have laws that specifically ban workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. In 29 states you can be fired for being LGBT and in an additional 4 states, where there are workplace protections based on sexual orientation, there are still no protections for transgender employees.
This patchwork of state and local laws means more than two-thirds of children being raised by parents who are LGBT live in jurisdictions without explicit, inclusive, and comprehensive job protections for their parents.
ENDA provides security to these families because it would ban employers from refusing to hire, firing, or discriminating against those employed or who are seeking employment on the basis of their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. Federal workplace protections based on race, religion, gender, national origin, age, and disability already exist, and while Title VII has more recently been interpreted to provide some limited protections based on gender identity and sex stereotyping, there is no federal law that explicitly prohibits such discrimination against LGBT workers.
This patchwork of federal and state anti-discrimination protections create confusion regarding what safeguards exist and what recourse individuals have against discrimination in their specific state. ENDA will eliminate this confusion and establish a federal blanket of protection with nationwide, uniform mechanisms for recourse.
Recent strides have been made by individual employers to protect the LGBT workforce. More than 85% of Fortune 500 companies extend workplace protections based on sexual orientation and 57% on the basis of gender identity. In addition, some unions build protections for their LGBT workers into their collective bargaining agreements and some employers incorporate programs that foster a good working environment for their LGBT employees. In the grand scheme of things, however, this does not cover a majority of the nation’s laborers.
Given that the highest proportion of families headed by LGBT parents live in states with zero workplace protections, it is critical that we pass ENDA and that we pass it now. The health, security and stability of our children and families depend on it.