HRC Calls on Congress to Take Action on Employment Discrimination

by Charles Joughin

House and Senate introduce legislation amidst bipartisan sea change for LGBT equality

WASHINGTON – Today the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) was introduced in the U.S. House and Senate while at the same time a growing bipartisan majority of Americans are speaking out for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality.  There is no federal law against sexual orientation or gender identity discrimination and it is perfectly legal to fire lesbian, gay and bisexual people under the laws of 29 states and transgender people are not protected by the laws of 34 states.

“It is shameful and embarrassing that past Congresses have failed to pass federal employment protections for LGBT Americans even though fair-minded leaders have advocated for its passage for years,” said Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin.  “As we experience the bipartisan sea change on LGBT equality, we call on Congress to seize this historic opportunity and ensure that workers are not unfairly treated based on who they are or who they love.”

HRC has been advocating for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act since it was first introduced in 1994 and its passage is a top organizational priority.  The bill would address discrimination in the workplace by making it illegal to fire, refuse to hire or refuse to promote an employee based on the person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. It was introduced today in the Senate by the bipartisan lead sponsors, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) as well as Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Susan Collins (R-ME) and Tom Harkin (D-IA), and in the House by Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL).

The last time a Senate committee considered ENDA was 2002 when Sen. Kennedy was the HELP Committee Chairman, and this is the first time a gender identity inclusive bill is set to see action. Current committee Chairman Tom Harkin has pledged a committee mark-up and Majority Leader Harry Reid has said he wants to bring the bill to the floor and HRC urges them to take these critical steps.

“Lawmakers can stand with the vast majority of Americans who support this common sense legislation or they can stand against the tide of history that is moving inexorably toward equality,” added Griffin.  “Our country’s most successful corporations know that discrimination has no place in the workplace and Congress must follow their lead as well as the wishes of their constituents.”

A November 2011 poll by the HRC showed that 77 percent of voters support protecting LGBT people from discrimination in employment.  This includes 70 percent of Republicans and 69 percent of seniors.  Voters are also unaware that current federal law does not prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation with 87 percent believing that kind of discrimination to be illegal and only 5 percent correctly knowing that it remains legal. 

Among Fortune 500 companies, 88 percent have sexual orientation non-discrimination policies and 57 percent have gender identity non-discrimination policies.  Additionally, more than 90 companies have joined the Business Coalition for Workplace Fairness, a group of leading U.S. employers that support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

The Human Rights Campaign is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender equality. By inspiring and engaging all Americans, HRC strives to end discrimination against LGBT citizens and realize a nation that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all.

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