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LGBT worker
rights bill goes to Congress

LGBT worker
rights bill goes to Congress

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The federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act would make it illegal to fire, refuse to hire, or refuse to promote an employee based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Legislation was introduced Tuesday in the U.S. House of Representatives that would make it illegal to fire, refuse to hire, or refuse to promote an employee based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

The federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2007 is sponsored by representatives Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Barney Frank of Massachusetts, Deborah Pryce of Ohio, and Chris Shays of Connecticut. The former two are Democrats, the latter two Republicans.

Only 17 states and the District of Columbia now ban sexual orientation-based discrimination in the workplace, though 87% of Fortune 500 companies include sexual orientation in their corporate nondiscrimination policies, according to the employee rights law firm of Outten and Golden.

Only five states have laws banning discrimination based on gender identity, although courts or agencies in some other states have interpreted other antidiscrimination laws to apply to transgender people.

"Twenty-five years ago, my own state of Wisconsin was the first in the nation to add sexual orientation to antidiscrimination statutes," Baldwin said Tuesday in a written statement. "Since then, 16 states have done the same. We call on Congress now to set a new and higher standard."

Efforts to amend federal civil rights statutes to cover antigay discrimination date from 1974, when congressional Democrats Bella Abzug and Ed Koch introduced the first Equality Act. Activists had high hopes for a similar bill 20 years later, but those hopes were dashed when the midterm elections of 1994 ushered in the Republican "Contract With America." When Democrats retook Congress in November 2006, they vowed to reintroduce this and other rights bills.

Most small businesses, the military, and most religious organizations are exempt under the 2007 iteration of the bill, the first to add protections for trangender people.

"For many Americans, ENDA could be as important as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans With Disabilities Act," Outten and Golden said in a written statement. "As a practical matter, it will not impose a significant burden on corporate America." (Barbara Wilcox, The Advocate)

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