Thursday, October 11, 2007

A Weakened ENDA makes no sense

GLAD supports a fully inclusive Employment Non Discrimination Act (“ENDA”). ENDA would make it illegal in all 50 states for employers to discriminate against employees on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation.

In 1964, when Congress passed the Civil Rights Act protecting a number of groups from discrimination on the basis of a number of characteristics, no consideration was given to protecting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. Politically, we were simply not on the radar.

But the political climate changed significantly as awareness of gay and lesbian issues rose and, in 1994, congressional leaders advanced a bill focused narrowly on prohibiting sexual orientation-based discrimination in employment. It was thought that the narrow focus would help it pass quickly.

Of course the political weather changed yet again, becoming unfriendly to LGBT people, and ENDA languished for 13 years and with no hope of any advancement. Nearly five years ago, GLAD, Lambda, the ACLU and the National Center for Lesbian Rights joined to reexamine that very narrowly focused 1994 bill to see if it still made sense legally, strategically, politically and ethically.

In light of what we have learned and how our movement has evolved since 1994, it did not. First, our movement has increasingly become inclusive of transgender people, recognizing our shared experience and history. GLAD in fact added “gender identity and expression” to its core anti-discrimination mission on this basis. This is not only a matter of justice but a recognition that discrimination against sexual minorities comes from related sources.

As GLAD knows from the calls we get on our InfoLine, the discrimination experienced by many gay men, lesbians and bisexuals is based not directly on their sexual orientation, but on their presentation — their gender identity or expression. They are “too feminine” or “too masculine” and they make employers uncomfortable — and they’re fired.

And from a series of unprincipled court decisions dating back to the 1970s and 1980s, we learned that existing federal sex discrimination laws would not prevent employers from firing trans people unfairly.

Consequently, we felt it was critical to add language explicitly prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity or expression to proposed federal and state laws. It would protect all of us, and it was the right thing to do. Our legal groups, alongside the political groups, worked intensively with congressional leaders to a place of unity and support for the fully inclusive ENDA that became HR 2015.

Two final practical points support our position. First, our experiences in state legislatures, and most recently in Congress, involving work on hate crimes, show that legislators know how to ensure that laws protect the full community. Second, in other contexts we have learned the lessons associated with asking for less than we want and deserve. Our efforts on marriage equality prove that there is no point in our community selling itself short.

Having come to this position, it makes no sense for GLAD to support a weakened ENDA, and we would urge others to take that position as well – as nearly 300 groups across the country have. The time is right to stand together as one community supporting one bill.

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