Openly gay U. S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) introduced a bill this week that would prohibit discrimination against LGBT employees across the country.
Frank is spearheading the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, HR 2981, again this year, after having drawn the ire of some members of the LGBT community last legislative session for agreeing to remove gender identity from the legislation. This version of the bill, however, extends protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Harry Gural, Frank’s press secretary, said the representative initially introduced the legislation June 19 but the list of cosponsors — 10 at the time — was incomplete, so he reintroduced the bill June 24 with more than 100 cosponsors, including all four Philadelphia U.S. representatives: Bob Brady (D-1st Dist.), Chaka Fattah (D-2nd Dist.), Patrick Murphy (D-8th Dist.) and Allyson Schwartz (D-13th Dist.).
Mara Kiesling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said the inclusion of gender identity in the bill is a necessity to alleviate some of the widespread employment bias that transgender people face.
“Day after day, we hear from transgender people who have lost their jobs for no other reason than plain and simple discrimination,” Kiesling said. “This includes people who have had long and distinguished careers who, after they transition, suddenly find themselves unable to find meaningful work, and young transgender people who are unable to get their first job. The Employment Nondiscrimination Act will be an important step in helping these folks get to work.”
ENDA was originally introduced in 1994 and has resurfaced every session except 2005-06. Frank introduced ENDA again in 2007, marking the first time the bill included the transgender community. The bill had about 65 cosponsors but eventually garnered 184.
Several months later, however, Frank introduced a new version of ENDA that lacked protections based on gender identity, noting the inclusive bill did not have the votes to pass. That bill did pass the House in November of that year, but was not taken up by the Senate.
D’Arcy Kemnitz, executive director of the National LGBT Bar Association, noted that while the inclusion of gender identity in the legislation may decrease its legislative support, it is “absolutely essential” that the bill include such protections.
“We look forward to working with legislators to preserve the bill’s strengths and fend off any efforts to derail this crucial piece of legislation,” Kemnitz said.
The latest version of the bill would ban discrimination in hiring and firing practices at both public and private companies, with exemptions for religious organizations and the military.
Federal law currently prohibits employment discrimination based on race, sex, age, religion, national orientation and disability.
Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, reiterated that LGBT individuals also deserve protection.
“Just like our friends, neighbors and coworkers, LGBT Americans work hard, provide for our families and contribute to our nation’s economy,” Solmonese said. “We all share the challenges of today’s economic downturn, but our community also faces arbitrary discrimination in the workplace, simply because of who we are and who we love. Congress must pass the Employment Nondiscrimination Act and ensure that all Americans, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity, get a fair chance to succeed at work.”
HRC estimates 85 percent of Fortune 500 companies prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, and about a third also cover gender identity.
About 12 states and 100 municipalities in the nation also extend such protections to LGBT employees.
“Our nation’s core principles, as well as an overwhelming majority of the American people, support full and equal rights for all our citizens, including those who are lesbian and gay,” Fattah said. “For far too long the law and administrative practice have discriminated against LGBT Americans, and it is way past the time to end this discrimination.”
Jake Kaskey, policy and outreach director at Equality Advocates Pennsylvania, said ENDA is a necessary step to protect employees in states that do not prohibit LGBT employment discrimination, such as Pennsylvania.
“For years, activists have worked at the state and federal level to educate our lawmakers on the urgent need to protect all of our citizens from discrimination,” Kaskey said. “This vital piece of legislation will ensure that all employees have access to a fair and equitable workplace.”
A bill now in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, HB 300, seeks to include sexual orientation and gender identity as classes protected from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations.