Op-ed: We Need an ENDA Worth Fighting For

By Rea Carey

Originally published on Advocate.com August 22 2014 9:00 AM ET

In July the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund took a principled stand on freedom and justice for LGBT people and their families.

We decided to oppose the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.We simply could not accept, particularly in this post–Hobby Lobby decision world, a religious exemption in ENDA that treats LGBT people differently from all other protected classes of people. It is a dangerous standard that would allow LGBT people to be fired, regardless of performance, simply for who they are or who they love.

We are at a point in this country where LGBT people should not have to settle for anything but full legal equality. We should not have to settle for a nondiscrimination bill that has broad discrimination written into it. We took this stand to oppose ENDA with the broad religious exemption because a doctor, nurse, cafeteria worker, or janitor at a religiously affiliated hospital could be fired simply for being LGBT, based on someone else’s religious beliefs. We took this stand because LGBT workers who may think they are protected if an ENDA with a broad religious exemption is made law, but are in fact at risk of being fired. We took this stand because millions of fair-minded people of faith think discrimination is wrong and that using religion to justify discrimination is immoral and should be illegal. We took this stand because it is the right thing to do — for this generation and future generations.

I am glad to report that we have made progress. Thanks to pressure and support from LGBT people, allies, and community organizations, U.S. Rep. Jared Polis of Colorado showed leadership by introducing before the House Rules Committee new ENDA language that puts LGBT people on equal footing with other protected groups. The newly filed language contains the fair religious exemption we called for and therefore a stronger level of protection for LGBT employees across the nation.

As members of Congress enjoy their month-long summer recess — with so much vitally important business left undone, including an updated version of ENDA — they must not be permitted to forget the issue of discrimination.  LGBT people and our families deserve to receive equal protections. Period. We can’t let this issue slip off their radar screens for a second.

So over the next few weeks we all can do something to help stop discrimination. All politics is local and we all should reach out to our members of Congress as they spend time in their districts. Remind them that 43 percent of LGBT people overall have experienced at least one form of employment discrimination during their lives and this number jumps to 90 percent for transgender people. Remind them that at this moment in time, it’s legal to fire someone in 29 states because they're lesbian, gay, or bisexual — and solely for being transgender in 32 states. Remind them that the American public is overwhelmingly opposed to LGBT employment discrimination.  Remind them that strong and fair protections against discrimination are good for employees, good for employers, good for business and good for the country. And remind them that the opposite is also true: Discrimination delivers an unhappy workforce, depressed profits, poor productivity, and sluggish economic growth.

If they ask: “What can I do?” tell them to support an ENDA that has a fair and narrow religious exemption — one that treats LGBT people the same as other protected classes of people. Tell them we want to be treated equally: nothing more, nothing less.

 

REA CAREY is the executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund.