July 01, 2004
HRC Marks Fortieth Anniversary of 1964 Civil Rights Act
STATEMENT OF CHERYL JACQUES, PRESIDENT OF THE HUMAN RIGHTS CAMPAIGN, ON JULY 2, 2004, THE FORTIETH ANNIVERSARY OF THE SIGNING OF THE 1964 CIVIL RIGHTS ACT
John Lennon once wrote a song called "Life Begins at Forty." He was probably not the first person to coin the phrase, but as we commemorate the 40th Anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act - which included the sweeping workplace protections of Title VII - Lennon does help us to imagine a world where those promises are fulfilled for all Americans.
Most people in this country are still shocked to learn that even today, in 2004 America, people can still be fired from their jobs in most states for their sexual orientation, gender identity and expression.
Title VII prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin - but does not explicitly include protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans. Imagine that.
Workplace protections exist to ensure that all Americans will have equal opportunity to provide for themselves and their families. While it is against the law to fire someone because of their skin color, or to refuse to hire someone because of their gender, or to harass someone in the workplace because of their religion - there is no federal law that protects GLBT Americans from those forms of workplace discrimination.
According to a Gallup poll from last year, 88 percent of the country supports equal opportunity in the workplace for gay and lesbian Americans. Yet all too often, GLBT people are the subject of workplace prejudices. And without a federal law prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, too many people who find themselves in that painful and deeply unfair position are left without any legal recourse.
In the land of the free, and the home of the brave, there is still great work to be done.
If life really does begin at 40, then this is the perfect time to expand the visions and promises of Title VII to include GLBT Americans, who are arguably the final people in this country who are still legally discriminated against.
During this election year, there are great national debates and discussions taking place about many important issues, both domestic and foreign. This issue, however, is so simple that it should not need much time or debate. This is simply about recognizing that all Americans should be free to earn a living and provide for themselves and their loved ones, without facing the threat of discrimination.
Forty years ago, workplace protections were enacted to ensure that the promise of the American Dream would be available to more Americans. Today, it is time for the country to wake up and realize that there is still work to be done in order for this nation to meet the promise of full equality for all.