Op-ed: There's No Excuse for Discrimination at Work

Rep. Jared Polis is taking the helm in a long fight for an overdue law to keep LGBT Americans rightfully employed in every single state.

BY Jared Polis

May 09 2013 4:00 AM ET

Jared Polis

Did you know that in more than half of the country it is still legal for a boss to fire someone just because of who they are dating or how they identify? While it sounds absurd, for thousands of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender Americans in states like Texas, Florida, and Pennsylvania, it is all too real. The need for a national Employment Non-Discrimination Act a critical part of the LGBT community’s struggle for equality. No American should have to live in constant fear that their employer can fire them just because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

In the last few years, we have made major strides toward equality for the LGBT community at the federal level, such as the passage of an inclusive Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act and the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which for the first time included explicit protections for the LGBT community, and the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell." Major political figures, from the president and vice president to almost every Democratic senator, have come out in support of marriage equality. We have come a long way. But there is still so much more to do before every LGBT person in the country has true equality.

This year is the first year I have the tremendous honor and responsibility of introducing ENDA in the House of Representatives. The bill’s original author, Rep. Barney Frank, retired last year and asked me to take on this important cause. I am proud to be working with Republican representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen to move this important piece of legislation forward in the House and with senators Jeff Merkley and Mark Kirk in the Senate.

Some states, including my home state of Colorado, already prohibit discrimination against LGBT people in the workplace. Unfortunately, 34 states have failed to ensure that transgender workers have this basic right. Twenty-nine states do not even prohibit discrimination against lesbian, gay, and bisexual people. Simply displaying a picture on your desk of you and your same-sex partner can be grounds for being fired in those 29 states.

Instead, members of the LGBT community are often forced to choose between being true to themselves and honest at work or risk getting fired or denied job opportunities. I have heard countless stories of individuals such as Kimya from Michigan, who after coming out faced threatening messages, vandalism, and discrimination at work, only to be ultimately fired for being a lesbian.

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