Thursday, April 14, 2011

Sen. Jeff Merkley Introduced Fully Inclusive ENDA

Throughout my time as an organizer and blogger, I’ve always been amazed at how there are some people who oppose basic civil rights for all. While I can see where opponents of gay marriage are coming from (though I vigorously disagree with them), it simply doesn’t make sense to me when I hear people suggest that it’s alright to deny employment to someone just because of their sexual orientation. That is why I was extremely happy to see that Sen. Jeff Merkley is once again trying to end discrimination based upon sexual orientation and gender identity in the workplace by introducing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).

The legislation would prohibit employers, employment agencies, labor organizations and joint labor-management committees from firing, refusing to hire, or discriminating against those employed or seeking employment, on the basis of their perceived or actual sexual orientation or gender identity. Such protections are already in place prohibiting discrimination based on race, religion, gender, national origin, age, and disability.

“The right to work hard and earn a living is a fundamental right. It is essential to the success of a family. It is essential to the pursuit of happiness. It is part of equality under the law,” Senator Merkley said. “The test of whether you can get and hold a job should be whether you can do the job, not your sexual orientation or gender identity. I’m proud to join Senators Kirk, Harkin, and Collins to introduce the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and take an important step in the march towards equality.”

As you probably already know, various versions have been previously considered by Congress and some have even been passed by the House. The plain and simple fact that we’re once again seeing the legislation introduced, however, shows how we haven’t seen an end to workplace discrimination signed into law. In fact, some of the previous debate surrounding ENDA have caused some internal divisions in the LGBT community as people like Barney Frank and HRC’s Joe Solmonese claimed a fully inclusive ENDA couldn’t pass and therefore decided to sell out the transgender community by dropping gender identity from the bill.

Not too surprisingly, this caused a lot of people to be extremely frustrated. The grassroots already had a testy relationship with HRC and the organization’s willingness to ignore a group of people it was supposed to be standing up for was simply the final straw. Donna Rose, the first transgender member of HRC’s board, even resigned her position out of protest.
"Less than a month ago, HRC President Joe Solmonese stood before almost 900 transgender people at the Southern Comfort Conference in Atlanta to pledge ongoing support and solidarity," said Rose, in a statement released to the media Oct. 3. "In his keynote address, he indicated that not only would HRC support only a fully inclusive ENDA, but that it would actively oppose anything less. That single pledge changed hearts and minds that day, and the ripple effect throughout the transgender community was that we finally were one single GLBT community working together. Sadly, recent events indicate that those promises were hollow."
Those who were upset by this move were correct to express their outrage. The whole purpose of ENDA is to end discrimination in the workplace and it was simply wrong to sell out any portion of the LGBT community. That is why I was extremely pleased to see that Merkley’s version of ENDA is fully inclusive.

As there’s growing support for a fully inclusive ENDA, we’re also seeing a lot of support for the policy from the business community. This can be seen by how more than 85 percent of Fortune 500 companies already extend workplace protections based on sexual orientation and more than one-third on the basis of gender identity. Furthermore, several businesses expressed specific support for the legislation that Merkley has introduced.

“Nike stands with Senator Merkley and the other co-sponsors toward the reintroduction and passage of a fully inclusive ENDA bill,” said Nike U.S. Director of Government and Public Affair Orson C. Porter. “At Nike, we firmly believe that diversity drives innovation, which is a cornerstone of our business. Although more and more businesses in the U.S. have implemented policies that address workplace fairness for LGBT employees – the nation still needs a federal standard that treats all employees equal. Now is the time to do the right thing and pass ENDA into law.”

“At Sara Lee, we operate in a multi-cultural marketplace,” said Sara Lee Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion Mark Demich. “Therefore, we believe that having a workforce comprised of people from different backgrounds and life perspectives can lead to better customer and consumer insights, greater innovation and a more inclusive environment for our employees. Such an inclusive environment embodies who we are. In fact, Be Inclusive is one of our core values. Therefore, we strive to create and sustain a culture of inclusion and a workplace that is fair, equitable and free from discrimination. We strongly support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act that outlaws discriminatory practices based upon sexual orientation and gender identity. And we thank Illinois Senator Mark Kirk for signing on as a co-sponsor.”

Despite the support from the business community and the fact that the bill stands up for basic equality, it looks like there will be some difficulties getting the bill through Congress. When similar legislation was introduced in the House of Representative a few weeks ago, for instance, there was about half the number of co-sponsors. There’s no doubt that this is directly related to the Republican takeover of the House. In other words, the party that gained the majority by claiming it’d focus on jobs is actively opposing legislation that would help ensure people won’t face discrimination in the job market.

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