Earlier this month, the Senate passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or “ENDA,” by a bi-partisan 64-32 vote. If it becomes law, ENDA would outlaw employment discrimination on basis of sexual orientation and gender identity at workplaces with fifteen or more employees. Most commentators suggest that the House of Representatives probably will not pass ENDA anytime soon, or even let it come to a vote. That’s a shame, because ENDA is needed for a variety of reasons:
1. LGBT workplace discrimination happens. National studies have shown that 42% of lesbian, gay, and bisexual employees have experienced workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. For transgender employees, it is a staggering 78%. We commonly get calls from Ohio employees who have suffered workplace discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation.
2. Legal protections for LGBT employees are insufficient. In twenty-nine states, it is legal to fire someone because of their sexual orientation. In thirty-three states it is legal to fire an employee because of their gender identity. Ohio has no laws against workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Various City Ordinances in Ohio ban the practice (Cleveland has one), but they do not give employees the right to bring a claim themselves. Likewise, while 88% of Fortune 500 companies have LGBT anti-discrimination policies, ironically, they are typically unenforceable by employees under Ohio law.
3. It’s the right thing to do. There is no difference between outlawing discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, age or disability, and outlawing it on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. A good is employee is a good employee, whether they are black or white, male or female, old or young, and whether they are gay or straight. ENDA would simply reaffirm that in the United States, we judge employees based on their merits, not arbitrary stereotypes.
This week, the Cleveland Plain Dealer Editorial Board advocated for the House to pass ENDA. As their editorial eloquently puts it, ENDA “has a most American notion at its core: That people should be judged on how they perform their jobs, not how they lead their private lives after the workday is over.” We agree. Congress outlawed discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, and national origin in 1964, it outlawed age discrimination in employment in 1967, and outlawed disability discrimination in 1990. In 2013, we’re long overdue to add those same basic protections for LGBT employees as well.