Despite the fact that nearly 90% of Americans favor equal employment rights for LGBT citizens and the apparent readiness of President Obama to sign the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (or ENDA)—a bill that has been introduced in every Congress but one since 1994—it is unlikely to pass in the current House of Representatives.
Conservative opponents argue ENDA would disallow faith-based businesses from making personnel decisions based on their religious beliefs.
But these critics fail to see ENDA for what it really is: a long-overdue jobs bill.
Throughout the country, LGBT people live in fear that they will lose their job if their employer finds out that they are LGBT. It is intolerable that people are forced to hide who they are in order to secure or maintain employment. And with so much of our government’s focus on the economy and creating jobs, each job that is lost due to prejudice compounds the unemployment challenges not just for the LGBT community, but for our nation’s economy as a whole. It is a core American value to judge people on their work ethic and work product, not on who they are.
ENDA will make the American dream available to LGBT citizens nationwide.
Think this is all hyperbole? Think again.
The National Transgender Discrimination Survey results show that transgender people in throughout the U.S. suffer from tremendously high levels of job discrimination and economic security, with 26% losing a job just because of who they are and 90% experiencing mistreatment or harassment, or hiding who they are to avoid it. Transgender people experience twice the unemployment rate as the general population and almost four times the poverty.
Add to these facts the finding that in 2007, 28% of LGBT adults reported experiencing workplace discrimination with 21% reporting discrimination on a weekly basis.
Factoring in unemployment benefits, wasted training expenses, and lowered productivity—of both the abusers and their victims—discrimination against LGBT people in the workplace costs all of us as much as $1.4 billion per year in lost output. This amount is substantial by any measure, but given the need to restore our nation’s economic well-being, it is downright unacceptable.
Currently, 12 states and the District of Columbia recognize these realities and have already enacted anti-discrimination policies that protect employees on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Over 100 localities have adopted similar policies. Taken together, these protections extend to 40% of the US population.
For the majority of our country however, including in North Carolina, there are either no laws protecting LGBT people from workplace discrimination and harassment or inadequate laws that do not protect all members of our community.
That is why we need a federal standard calling for equal treatment of all employees. That is why we need ENDA. Because whether or not you get to keep your job should not depend on where you live.
In the meantime, you can also catch this cause at work here at home. Yesterday (3/29), Equality NC secured introduction of House Bill 472: Nondiscrimination in State/Employment by Representatives Luebke, Brandon, Fisher and Harrison, along with 14 co-sponsors. Click here to learn more about this important legislation.
The vast majority of North Carolinians join the rest of the nation in opposing employment discrimination against LGBT people. And so this bill falls in line with public opinion, protecting state employees from discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity. It amends the State Personnel Act by adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of protected classes for discrimination in hiring; denial of promotion, transfer or training; retaliatory demotion, reduction in force or termination; and harassment.
Let’s hope ENDA can be the STARTA something bigger.
Until then, we must ensure that equality works here at home.
-Jen Jones, Equality NC