Thursday, June 14, 2012

Historic Senate Hearing on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act

On Tuesday, June 12th, the Senate Committee on Health, Education and Labor held a hearing on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (S. 811): the critical need for the legislation, its intended role in workplace discrimination, and the likely effect of such legislation regarding workplace discrimination based on perceived or actual sexual orientation, gender identity and expression. The hearing included testimony from experts in several fields, including Kylar Broadus, Founder of Trans People of Color Coalition, and the first transgender individual to testify before the U.S. Senate. Kylar’s presence represented an historic step forward in the recognition of the need for LGBT equality, and was echoed by many Senators’ statements and the testimony of others on the panel.

The rest of the hearing showed how ENDA would promote American values and economic growth. Senator Harkin, the Committee Chairman, opened the discussion with a clear and simple statement: that “…it is long past time to eliminate bigotry in the workplace and ensure equal opportunity for all Americans. [LGBT] Americans are first-class citizens. They are full and welcome members of our American family. And they deserve the same civil rights protections as all other Americans.”

Lee Badgett, a noted Williams Institute researcher and public policy expert, explained that employment discrimination is a national, pervasive problem that causes incredible harm to its victims. Too many LGBT individuals all across America lose not only their jobs, but lifelong careers, simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity or expression. Badgett also testified how passing ENDA would help businesses become more competitive, in contrast to what many of ENDA’s opponents have stated. Other testimony came from Ken Charles, VP of Diversity and Inclusion at General Mills, who testified that implementing full LGBT equality and workplace protection at their company, far from incurring costs, has increased their productivity and competitiveness. This statement was supported by a letter from over 90 major corporations declaring their support for ENDA and the economic value it possesses, as well as statistics from the Human Rights Campaign that show that 87% of Fortune 500 companies have workplace protections for sexual orientation, and 41% include gender identity protection. Charles called the absence of protections “a tax on American productivity” and emphasized how important it is for employees to be able to bring their full selves to work and not have to spend energy on protecting their true identities. American values should focus on an individual’s talent, work ethic and equality of opportunity, not the way they choose to express their gender or who they choose to love.

Samuel Bagenstos, a law professor at the University of Michigan Law School, explained that ENDA would simply add sexual orientation and gender identity to employment discrimination using the framework already upheld by courts for other protected classes. He also emphasized key points about ENDA’s religious exemptions, facts that were misconstrued by Craig Parshall, an opposition panelist. Bagenstos explained how ENDA’s religious exemptions are broader than any other civil rights legislation, and that no company, organization, or institution would be required to hire LGBT employees against their faith.  Senator Harkin emphasized this issue, pointing out that strict protections for religious liberty were already clear and in place for anti-discrimination laws, and that business owners and corporations shouldn’t let false fears about religious liberty undermine workplace fairness and safety. 

As PFLAGers, it’s clear to us that ENDA is life-saving legislation, as it would allow hard-working Americans to rise to their full potential and productivity instead of having to live in fear of being harassed or fired. This message was illustrated by Kylar Broadus’ story, in which he told of his own harassment and career loss due to his decision to transition, harassment so severe he suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and crippling financial effects that are still pervasive 20 years after the fact.

Take Action: Congress must pass ENDA as soon as possible to implement necessary workplace protections for LGBT Americans and help American businesses reach their full potential. Please take action now and tell your members of Congress that you support ENDA. Discrimination in the workplace is morally wrong and bad for business. It’s time to ensure that all Americans have the right to work and showcase their talents, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity or expression. 

1 comment:

Labor Law Poster said...

Thanks for sharing! Really, we should have more laws to help us focus on work rather than live in fear of being harassed or fired.