Next week, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee will hold a markup and vote on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). The purpose of this legislation is to prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. This success of this bill is crucial to all LGBT families; it will make gaining employment less difficult and create job security for those already employed. ENDA will provide one more safeguard for LGBT individuals working hard to provide for their families.
ENDA would ban employers from refusing to hire, firing, or discriminating against those employed or seeking employment on the basis of their perceived or actual sexual orientation or gender identity. Although protections such as these are already in place based on race, religion, gender, national origin, age, and disability, there is no federal regulation that prevents such discrimination against the LGBT community.
Only 16 states and the District of Columbia have laws that provide for non-discrimination based upon sexual orientation and gender identity. Some localities have instituted ordinances that offer the only protection afforded to LGBT workers. Although these state and local initiatives shield some individuals from workplace discrimination, their reach is short. The uneven coverage of LGBT employment non-discrimination laws create confusion in what safeguards exist and what recourse individuals have against discrimination in their personal location. In 12 states (AK, AL, AR, MO, NC, ND, NH, OK, SD, TN, VA, and WY) there are absolutely no state or local provisions to keep discrimination against LGBT employees out of the workplace. In some of these states there is a good concentration of LGBT residents and in AK, AL, AR, OK, SD, and WY, more than 25% of same-sex couples are raising a family. ENDA provides a federal blanket of protection with nationwide, uniform mechanisms for recourse.
Recent strides have been made by individual employers to protect the LGBT workforce. More than 85% of Fortune 500 companies extend workplace protections based on sexual orientation and 57% on the basis of gender identity. In addition, some unions build protections into their collective bargaining agreements and some employers incorporate programs that foster a good working environment for their LGBT employees. In the grand scheme of things, however, this does not cover a majority of the nation’s laborers. We need to ensure protection for individuals in all area of the workforce. ENDA’s goal is to do just that.
This will be the first markup of ENDA by the Senate HELP Committee since 2002. The time is now to reach out to your senators and share your voice in support of ENDA. Let them know that you support the protection of LGBT workers that is provided by the bill.