For most minority groups in America, access to basic civil rights has historically been a tug-of-war. In 38 states—including Texas—it is still legal for an employer or company to fire someone based on prejudice against their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) and its proponents aim to finally eradicate discrimination against the LGBT community in the workplace.
With the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the inevitable dismantling of the Defense of Marriage Act that’s likely to follow in the future—there are three separate challenges making their way to the Supreme Court—LGBT activists and equality-minded people everywhere are hoping that Congress will, at long last, pass the ENDA.
A proposed bill in the United States Congress, ENDA that would prohibit discrimination in hiring and employment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity by civilian, nonreligious employers with at least 15 employees. The bill has been introduced in every Congress since 1994 (except the 109th).
Opponents of ENDA, such as the conservative mega-group American Family Association, argue that businesses owned by religious people would be forced to forgo Christian values because of the proposed law. Others believe it would create special benefits for gays and lesbians in the workplace. However, it would not require businesses to extend benefits to same-sex partners, and it exempts religious institutions and private organizations, such as the Boy Scouts. It would not force a quota of LGBT employees on businesses, nor would its wording include any sort of preferential treatment.
The statistics supporting its need are well known but bear repeating. According to the Williams Institute: 15 to 43 percent of gay and transgender workers have experienced some form of discrimination on the job, and 7 to 41 percent of gay and transgender workers were verbally or physically abused or their workplace was vandalized. The ACLU recently reported that gay male employees earn up to 27 percent less than their straight counterparts.
In 1998, President Bill Clinton issued an executive order prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation in much of the civilian federal work force. Clinton was also the first president to endorse ENDA. Gender identity protections were added for the first time in 2007. At that time, some sponsors believed that ENDA did not have a chance of passing with transgender inclusion and dropped it from the bill, which passed the House of Representatives but died in the Senate.
Transgender-inclusive versions of the bill have been introduced twice since then. President Barack Obama, whose recent evolution on marriage equality has shifted the national conversation on this issue, is on record as supporting the passage of ENDA. However, he released a statement earlier this year stating that he would not sign an executive order to pass ENDA. In 2011, it was introduced again in the House with 111 cosponsors. According to the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights organization, GOP candidate Mitt Romney has said, “I don’t see the need for new or special legislation…ENDA would be an overly broad law that would open a litigation floodgate and unfairly penalize employers….”
Tell that to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people who live in daily fear that they could be fired simply for who they love.
1994: Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) is first introduced in the 104th Congress
1996: First floor vote on ENDA held; Senate rejects the bill in a 50-49 vote
2007: Gender identity added to ENDA for the first time; non- transgender inclusive ENDA passes in the House but dies in the Senate
2012: President Obama announces he will not sign an executive order to pass ENDA, despite expressing support for the bill.