by Judi Baker | On June 12, 2012, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee held a hearing on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). ENDA is federal legislation banning workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
ENDA has been introduced in every Congress, except one, since 1994. In 2009, a transgender-inclusive version of ENDA was introduced by Rep. Barney Frank. He introduced the bill again in 2011, and Sen. Jeff Merkley introduced it in the Senate. In April, 2012, President Obama decided not to sign an executive order prohibiting LGBT discrimination among federal contractors, citing that he wanted to focus on constructing and passing a comprehensive, nation-spanning Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
At this time, there are no comprehensive federal employment protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. As shown by this map created by the Movement Advancement Project (MAP), our rights as LGBT people in the workplace varies greatly, state by state. Employment non-discrimination law covers sexual orientation and gender identity in 16 states and Washington, D.C.; employment non-discrimination laws cover only sexual orientation in 5 states and there are no employment non-discrimination laws covering sexual orientation or gender identity in 29 states. ENDA would create a cohesive, nationwide policy that would protect all LGBT employees in every state from workplace discrimination.
The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund submitted testimony for the hearing that included personal stories of workplace discrimination. Read the full testimony here. The Task Force’s testimony also included data from their recent report, Injustice at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey in which 26% report losing a job simply because they are transgender and 78% reported mistreatment or discrimination at the workplace because they are transgender.
For the first time in the Senate’s history, a transgender witness testified on behalf of the bill. Kylar Broadus, founder of the Trans People of Color Coalition, shared his experiences.
“To be unemployed is very devastating, also demeaning and demoralizing. And then the recovery time — there is no limit on it. I still have not financially recovered. I’m underemployed. When I do talks, I tell people I’m not employable. I was lucky to be where I am and I’m happy to be where I am, but I’m one of the fortunate people that is employed. There are many more people like me that are not employed as a result of just being who they are — being good workers, but being transgender or transsexual. So I think it’s extremely important that this bill be passed to protect workers like me.”
In a groundbreaking move this past April, the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) ruled that transgender employees are covered under Title VII of the Civil Rights code which bars discrimination based on gender. The decision by the full five members of the EEOC applies to both private and public employers throughout the country in all businesses with 15 or more employees and the federal government.
Other ENDA witnesses included: M. V. Lee Badgett, Research Director, Williams Institute for Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy, University of California at Los Angeles; Samuel Bagenstos, Professor of Law, University of Michigan Law School, Ann Arbor, Michigan; Ken Charles, Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion, General Mills Inc., Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Craig Parshal, Senior Vice President and General Counsel, National Religious Broadcasters Association, Manassas, Virginia.
Additionally, over 90 major corporations submitted a letter in support of ENDA.
So, what’s next? Though not expected to pass both houses of Congress, the possibility of passage continues to gain momentum. Supporters remain hopeful.
“While action may be unlikely in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives for now, advocates are hoping for movement in the Democratic-led Senate to showcase the lack of substantial opposition and generate public pressure,” says Julie Bolcer in her article in The Advocate.
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