Key LGBT Equality Bill Moves Forward
Hot off last month’s landmark rulings at the Supreme Court, LGBT rights advocates are not wasting any time when it comes to moving on to the next big fight: workplace equality.
Most Americans think it’s already illegal to fire people just because they’re gay or transgender, but unfortunately most Americans are wrong. In a majority of states it’s still perfectly legal to fire someone just because they’re gay or transgender.
Legislation to address this problem, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), has been languishing in Congress for the better part of two decades. Today, however, the Senate took a huge step forward. On a bipartisan vote of 15-7, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee agreed to move ENDA to the Senate floor.
In a clear sign of the growing momentum toward full LGBT equality, all Democrats on the HELP Committee were joined by three Republicans, Sens. Hatch (UT), Kirk (IL), and Murkowski (AK), in voting to move the bill forward. This strong vote and ENDA’s record 53 co-sponsors puts it tantalizingly close to the 60 votes it will need to pass the Senate.
Here’s five data-driven reasons why ENDA enjoys such strong support:
1. LGBT workers face incredibly high rates of workplace discrimination. Nearly 4 out of 10 “out” gay, lesbian, or bisexual employees report experiencing harassment at work, and 9 out of 10transgender people report the same. Even more shocking is that 9 percent of “out” LGB workers, and 26 percent of transgender workers, have been fired simply because of who they are.
2. LGBT people and their families face economic insecurity because of employment discrimination. Getting harassed in the workplace isn’t just a matter of discomfort for LGBT workers — the economic consequences for these individuals and their families are devastating. Employment discrimination is a major driver of economic insecurity among LGBT families. Contrary to popular stereotypes, gay and lesbian couples are more likely to live in poverty, and poverty rates for lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults are as high or higher than for straight adults. For transgender employees, the situation is even more severe —15 percent of transgender people live on under $10k a year — over four times the rate of the general population.
3. A majority of states do not prohibit discrimination against LGBT workers. In most states, LGBT workers have no recourse for harassment or discrimination in employment. Though more states pass LGBT inclusive nondiscrimination laws each year, only 21 states and DC prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and only 17 and DC forbid employers from discriminating on the basis of gender identity. Thus, firing someone just for being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender is perfectly legal in more than half the country.
4. 9 out of 10 Americans already believe ENDA is already federal law. Even though ENDA would be the first federal law to prohibit employers from discriminating against LGBT people, 9 out of 10 voters mistakenly believe LGBT workers already have federal protections against employment discrimination. The lack of outcry from that 90 percent of voters who believe that ENDA is already law discredits the arguments of opponents who claim that the bill introduces outrageous “special protections” for LGBT employees or that it would impermissibly tell employers what to do.
5. There is overwhelming support from voters and business owners for LGBT-inclusive workplace protections. Polling by the Center for American Progress shows that 73 percent of the American public supports nondiscrimination protections for LGBT employees. This support cuts across demographic lines. Two-thirds of Republicans, 74 percent of Catholics, 61 percent of senior citizens, and even half of people who identify themselves as being anti-gay support ENDA’s protections. A 2013 Small Business Majority poll similarly shows that small business is also in favor of workplace protections. 67 percent of small businesses believe the federal law should prohibit employment discrimination against LGBT people.
BOTTOM LINE: It’s time for Congress to make it illegal to fire people just for being gay or transgender. There is absolutely no place for this kind of brazen and mean-spirited discrimination in 21st century America.
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