Today's Mighty Oak

The Pink Slip Scare

For five years I worked for a company that would have fired me if they had known I was gay.  And it would have been perfectly legal.

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), would make it illegal to fire (or refuse to hire) someone because of their sexuality or gender identity.  Currently, employees are protected based on traits such as age, race, veteran status and disability.  But still, sexual orientation and gender identity are not protected.

While some states have stepped up, a massive and confusing patchwork has emerged 1:

  • Seventeen states and D.C. prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity
  • Four additional states prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation alone
  • Nine states prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, but only for public employees
  • Three states prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, but only for public employees, and in one of those states, it is only employees of the executive branch that are protected

On top of that, some individual counties and cities have enacted their own non-discrimination ordinances, making the country a maze for LGBT workers to try to traverse.

But it’s not just fairness and equality this bill strives for, it’s economic gains as well.  Companies with employees who are honest with who they are in the workplace have better interpersonal relationships with their coworkers and are more engaged in the workplace 2.  Conversely, workplaces that have discriminatory policies in place see wasted money, less trust, less job satisfaction and less job loyalty, costing over $64 billion a year 3.  Most Fortune 500 companies have made it corporate policy to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, seeing it not only as right and fair, but good corporate policy as well 4.

But yet, we still live in a world where gays and lesbians can (oftentimes travel to) get married, and then be fired for placing a photo of their spouse on their desk at work.

ENDA passed the senate, which was a historic victory, having never passed through a chamber of congress in the 40 years it has been brought up 5.  Now, like any other bill making its way through the legislative process, it moves to the House.

Will it pass the House?  No.

I’m an eternal optimist, yes, but I just don’t see it even being allowed to come up for a vote.  Speaker Boehner has said he thinks the bill is “unnecessary” and he sees no need for it 6.  He goes on to say that LGBT citizens are already protected, which is a lie; and also really insulting since his home state of Ohio has no such protections whatsoever and he must be aware of the situation.

As if he hasn’t made it abundantly clear in the past, Speaker Boehner continues his march of anti-equality, securing meeting space for the World Council of Families, a hate-group that seeks to modify United States law to more closely resemble the draconian laws in Russia persecuting the LGBT community 7.  And this was after that same group was barred from the Capitol Building by a fellow Republican because of their extreme views 8.

We’ve known for quite some time the opposition we face from the Speaker, and unless there is some massive shift, or an impossibly rare discharge petition, we will not see ENDA move any further.

But perhaps that is actually a good thing.  For years, versions of ENDA trying to gain votes to pass in either chamber of congress went through various revisions.  Oftentimes gender identity was omitted, many progressive lawmakers and lobbyists fearing it would not pass with those provisions in place.  The current version of ENDA that passed the Senate keeps those protections in place, and rightfully so.

But this version of ENDA includes very broad religious exemptions, allowing for certain types of charities, hospitals and universities to continue to discriminate 9.  If we are to fight discrimination and proclaim that we are all equal, then we must mean it.  A watered down version of ENDA which does not help those most in need is pointless.

Exemptions for gender identity and broad religious exemptions have no place in this bill.  Are we asking for special treatment?  Absolutely not, we just seek the same security that our coworkers, our friends, our brothers and sisters have: that when our bosses make decisions about our employment, that it is based on our merits, not our personal lives in the bedroom.

Currently, I am protected by my county’s non-discrimination ordinance.  But if I were to take a job a mere six miles away I would be vulnerable.

A friend, when discussing a potential transfer in his company asked if I would move with him.  I’m finally in a position where I have some protections, and that is an amazing feeling.  I don’t go to work on edge every single day.  I don’t fear for my employment.  I can be my entire self with my co-workers.  I’m happier.

And I don’t want to give that security up.  My own mental health can’t take it, and now that I have some modicrum of equality, I can see how tolling my previous job was on me.  I’m not asking for anything special, just what he has: the knowledge that he is protected from discrimination in his workplace.

I had to turn down his offer, I would have been moving to a place where I would have zero protections and he was floored that this was still something I had to think about it: not because he comes from a perspective of straight-privilege, but because he could not fathom that being able to discriminate was still legal.

Supporting equality is not a radical statement, even as it was just five years ago, but we still live in a world where it must be fought for and won.  And we still live in a world where many go to work each day afraid to be truthful, or who live in a world where their options are very limited.  So that is why we fight.

Do I think we will see passage of ENDA through the House?  Honestly, no.  But for the first time we have real progress, and we will keep fighting to see that momentum continue.

TL;DR version:

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  3. Burns, Crosby. The Costly Business of Discrimination. Washington, D.C.: Center for American Progress, 2012. Print. ↩
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