(UPDATED 3:17 PST) Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) held a hearing Tuesday, June 12, on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) in the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee. ENDA would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in workplaces with 15 or more employees.
Even though ENDA is not expected to pass out of this Congress, given the antigay conservative makeup of the House, the hearing is a very big deal for several reasons. One key reason, revealed during the LGBT Caucus at Netroots Nation this weekend, is that even 8 out of 10 progressive Democrats don’t know what ENDA is, indicating how much work remains to be done:
The (unscientific) poll taken by this site BackStonewall.com randomly asked this question to a random sampling of attendees over the four days of Netroots Nation and a mind boggling 80 percent of them did did not know what ENDA (The Employment Non-Discrimination Act) was. Even more shocking was the fact that many were under the belief that LGBT employment discrimination protections were already in place under the 1964 Civil Rights Act and all were unaware and disgusted when they learned that ENDA has been stalled in Congress for over 20 years and LGBT Americans can still be fired for simply being who they are.
However, the tone of the hearing and the pro-ENDA remarks by a number of US Senators also indicate that incredible progress has been made at the political leadership level over the past several years. For instance: Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA): “All Americans deserve to feel secure in the workplace. Discrimination. based on sexual orientation and gender identity should not be tolerated.” Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR)”We’re within reach (of passing ENDA)….This discrimination is wrong – it is morally wrong – and we must end it.” Sen. Harkin concludes
#ENDA hearing: “This is an issue we have to get over as a country. This has no place in our society.” (Please check out the Transgender Law Center’s Twitter feed for a good quick 140-character overview of the hearing.)
Additionally, at a time when President Obama is facing a tough re-election with the message “We Can’t Wait!” for jobs – his administration told a handful of LGBT leaders that Obama – who supports ENDA – would not sign an executive order banning LGBT job discrimination in federal contracts. According to MetroWeekly, the administration then defended the executive order decision by saying “the time is right” to pass ENDA. But on June 6, when Obama raised an estimated $3 million at two LGBT fundraisers in LA, a significant “thank you” for his public support for marriage equality, he talked a lot about the economy but mentioned nothing about ENDA, let alone taking a leadership role in advocating for its passage:
And so, in successive waves, the history, the scope of this country has always been to further broaden the meaning of citizenship to include more and more people; to give better and better expression to our highest aspirations; to make the country more fair and more just and more equal. That’s what wars were fought about. That’s what the civil rights movement was about. That’s what the women’s movement was all about. That’s what the workers’ movement was all about — this constant progression to include more and more people in the possibility of the American Dream. And so this is just one more step in that journey that we’ve taken as a nation….
And so even before the election, we understood that we had a lot more work to do, that we had to recapture that sense of possibility and fairness — the notion that anybody in America can make it if they try; that if you’re willing to work hard and take responsibility, that you can buy a home, start a business, raise a family, not have to worry about going bankrupt because you get sick, send your kids to college so that they can do even better than you can — and that that opportunity is available for everybody, regardless of what you look like or where you come from, what your last name is, who you love.
That’s what we were fighting for in 2008. And we didn’t know at the time that we were going to have this extraordinary recession and that 4 million jobs would be lost before I was even sworn in, and 800,000 jobs would be lost the month I took office.
And so it’s been a challenge and it’s been a struggle for a lot of Americans all across the country. The good news is it turns out that Americans are tougher than tough times. (Applause.) Americans are tougher than tough times. (Applause.) And so small businesses kept their doors open and kept folks on payroll, even if it meant that the owner of the small business wasn’t pulling any salary in for a year or two, living off savings or credit cards. It turns out that the 55-year-old who lost their job in an assembly plant, they were willing to go get trained and find a new job in a hi-tech industry or working as a nurse, or some new door opened.
There were those who said we should let Detroit go bankrupt, but because we made a bet on American workers and American businesses, GM is back on top and the American auto industry has recovered. (Applause.) Businesses got back to the basics, so that we’ve created more than 4 million jobs, more jobs in manufacturing than at any time since the 1990s — 800,000 jobs just this year alone. (Applause.)
(UPDATED) M. V. Lee Badgett, Research Director at The Williams Institute, was among those who gave testimony at the ENDA hearing Tuesday. Badgett said, in part: “Decades of social science research have demonstrated that employment discrimination against LGBT employees occurs across the country and evidence suggests that a federal prohibition on such conduct would reduce discrimination.”
Click here to read The Williams Institute’s data-based reasons why signing the executive order is important, including these findings:
For over seventy years, Presidents have issued executive orders requiring workplace protections from discrimination, including employees of federal contractors. These orders have not been overturned by courts, Congress, or subsequent Presidents
• A federal executive order that requires contractors to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity would protect up to 16.5 million more workers.
• Over ninety percent of the country’s largest companies, including federal contractors, state that diversity policies are good for their corporate bottom line.
• Among the top 50 federal contractors, 81% include sexual orientation in their non-discrimination policies and 44% include gender identity.
• Among the largest private defense contractors, state laws or private policies already cover 95% of employees against sexual orientation discrimination, 69% of employees against gender identity discrimination.
• Ordinances that require city and county contractors to prohibit sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination do not burdening governments or businesses.
• As recently as 2008, the GSS, a national probability survey representative of the U.S. population, found that 27% LGB respondents had experienced at least one form of sexual orientation-based discrimination during the five years prior to the survey
• When surveyed separately, transgender respondents report even higher rates of employment discrimination and harassment than LGB people. In a 2011 survey, 78% of respondents to the largest survey of transgender people to date reported experiencing at least one form of harassment or mistreatment at work because of their gender identity.
Raw Story reported on the hearing and how attorney and professor Kylar Broadus, founder of the advocacy group Trans People of Color Coalition, was “the first-ever openly trans person to give testimony to the Senate:”
In short, Broadus called his experience living as a female who most people thought was actually male, “humiliating and dehumanizing, to say the least.”
“[My] transition was actually a matter of living the truth and sharing the truth with the world, rather than living a lie every day and pretending to be somebody I was not,” he said. “…Even though I had female on my driver’s license, nobody ever saw that. When I would go in to do anything, they would always relate to me as male and never understood I had a female gender marker. Obviously it was tough to navigate security. It was tough to navigate employment, where you have to have matching documentation for your employer.”
ThinkProgress also has an excellent report, including pulling this video:
California-based Transgender Law Center Executive Director Masen Davis also submitted testimony to the committee, in which he talked about a survey the center conducted:
The State of Transgender California reveals that transgender people who responded to the surveyhave remarkably high education levels. Respondents are almost twice as likely to hold a bachelor’s degree as the general California population.
Ninety-four percent of the transgender respondents over the age of 25 hold a high school diploma or equivalent compared to 80% in California generally. Overall 46% of transgender people hold a Bachelor’s degree or higher compared to 29% of the general California population.Nonetheless, transgender people are disproportionately represented below the poverty line. According to the most recent state census, approximately 11.7% of people 18-64 years old inCalifornia live below the national poverty level of $10,400 for single adult households. Yet 1 in4 transgender people in California earn wages below the national poverty level.
This disconcerting trend continues, even at higher education levels. The average income for all individuals with a Bachelor’s degree residing in California is over $50,000. The average yearly income for transgender respondents with a Bachelor’s degree is below $30,000 – 40% lessthan the average college graduate in California.
Chad Griffin, who started as the new President of the Human Rights Campaign on Monday, June 11, also submited testimony, that said in part:
But our nation’s failure to protect LGBT Americans in the workplace does not simply deny equal opportunity to those struggling to succeed in the workforce today. It tells young lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people that their futures are not as limitless as their peers’ – that before they have even had a chance to dream, some doors are already closed to them. Earlier this month, HRC released a report entitled “Growing Up LGBT in America” based on a nationwide survey of more than 10,000 LGBT-identified young people. The survey starkly demonstrates how we are failing LGBT youth, who broadly encounter harassment, bullying, ostracism and rejection. And while they are also resilient, a large majority believes they must leave their hometowns to find happiness, compared to less than a third of their straight peers. Forty-one percent of LGBT youth believe they must move to a new city or town simply to have a good job.
… Over the past half-century, our nation has moved steadily closer to making the American Dream a reality for all Americans. Congress and the President have recognized that race, sex, national origin, religion, age and disability are irrelevant to the ability of a person to do a job and have enacted laws to address discrimination based on those characteristics. These civil rights laws have improved job opportunities for millions of Americans, raising standards of living and providing hope of a better future for each successive generation. Congress must act to ensure that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans have access to that same opportunity.
In his closing remarks at the hearing, Harkin seemed almost exasperated, saying this issue of clear anti-LGBT discrimination must be confronted “as a nation” and then the country must “move on.” He noted that the same concerned argument that the law would violated the religious liberties of employers that was made during the ENDA hearing was also made in 1964 when Congress passed the Civil Rights Act. “We’ve been down that road before. This has no place in our society. I wish we had done this a long time ago. People should be judged on their talents, on who they are as individuals….We just should not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, period. The time is now to say to all Americans, no matter who you are, if you’re will to work and contribute – you’re important to us.”
ENDA has bi-partisan support and Log Cabin Republican Executive Director R. Clarke Cooper has even called for GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney to support it:
Today, 4.3 million LGBT Americans live in the 31 states without basic protections from workplace discrimination. In rural Texas (or the swing states of Florida, Ohio, or Pennsylvania) same-sex marriage is a beautiful dream, but especially in this job market, the fear of losing a paycheck for being gay or transgender is very real. By showing support for ENDA and the federal contractor executive order, Romney can counter the president’s “bread and circuses” distraction and turn the conversation about LGBT equality back to the economy. It’s a message that unites Americans, provides real benefits for millions of LGBT people, and plays to Romney’s strengths as a candidate. Romney has a record of supporting these protections, and for practicing nondiscrimination in his own leadership roles, so this step is entirely in line with the governor’s own evolution. Even for gay voters, in 2012 it’s still about the economy. We’re not stupid; stop the distractions and put the spotlight back on jobs.
On Tuesday, June 12, after the ENDA hearing, Tico Almeida executive director of Freedom to Work, issued a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to hold a floor vote on ENDA this summer:
June 12, 2012
The Honorable Harry Reid
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510
Re: Bring ENDA to a Vote on the Floor of the U.S. Senate This Summer.
Dear Senator Reid:
The Freedom to Work Advocacy Fund writes to thank you for your strong and repeated commitment to passing a fully inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), and to remind you of a promise you made in the fall of 2009 when you gave the following statement at a fundraiser of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Americans:
“The Senate will soon outlaw discrimination in the workplace by making it illegal to fire, refuse to hire or refuse to promote anyone simply based on his or her sexual orientation or gender identity. It’s called the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and I’m committed to passing it out of the Senate and sending it to President Obama for his signature.”
Almost three years have passed since your promise that ENDA would pass “soon,” but still no Senate vote has been scheduled on this bi-partisan legislation introduced by Senators Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) and Mark Kirk (R-Illinois). Thankfully, Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) today convened a Committee hearing in favor of the legislation, and ENDA could easily pass out of the Committee by a strong bi-partisan margin through a successful mark-up.
Thus, we respectfully urge you to bring ENDA to a vote on the floor of the U.S. Senate this summer so that LGBT Americans do not have to wait any longer to know which of their Senators support their freedom to work without harassment or discrimination on the job, and which Senators still find it acceptable for Americans to be unjustly fired simply because of whom they love or their gender identity. After decades of delay on this critically important legislation, LGBT Americans need to know whether our elected officials stand with us. We deserve a vote.
Freedom to Work understands that some radical Senator may launch a filibuster to block the ENDA legislation that is supported by super-majorities of the American people, in the same way that your attempt to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act for women was filibustered just last week. However, we commend your strong leadership in bringing forward that legislation to make sure women receive equal pay for equal work, and we believe ENDA deserves the same opportunity to be brought before the full United States Senate for consideration. Indeed, ENDA has more bi-partisan support and more Republican sponsors than the bill you brought to the floor last week.
We also note that the Obama Administration has stated its position in favor of passing ENDA through the Senate even if passage through the House of Representatives remains unlikely at this time. Specifically, at the beginning of the current Congress, reporter Chris Johnson of the Washington Blade had the following exchange with President Barack Obama’s counselor and press secretary Robert Gibbs at the White House press briefing:
Washington Blade: Does the administration see value in passing ENDA in one chamber of Congress to build momentum for complete passage at a later time?
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs: Yeah, I think there’s no doubt that whenever you get something done in one [chamber], you’re closer to certainly seeing it come to fruition, so, yes, obviously.
We agree with the Obama Administration on this point, and we believe the time is now right to build momentum for ENDA. Therefore, the Freedom to Work Advocacy Fund thanks you for your leadership promoting workplace fairness for all Americans, and we urge you to put timely action behind your strong words by scheduling a full Senate vote on ENDA for this summer.
Founder and President Freedom to Work Advocacy Fund
cc: The Honorable Chairman Tom Harkin
The Honorable Senator Jeff Merkley
The Honorable Senator Mark Kirk
Honorable Members of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions
The pressure is now on both straight and LGBT leaders to grasp the disconnect between the souring rhetoric about fairness and history and the reality that many LGBT Americans experience in real life and hopefully come to the same conclusion Sen. Harkin did that the nation must confront this issue and “move on.” If America really is about fairness and the right of every individual citizen to have a job – surely the executive order and the passage of ENDA should be a place where political opponents can find common ground.
UPDATE: CHRIS GEIDNER OF METRO WEEKLY SPOKE WITH HARKIN AFTER THE HEARING:
The Senate Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions Committee held a hearing this morning into the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which has been pending in Congress off and on since 1994. Although a majority of the committee is co-sponsoring the legislation, HELP Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), after the hearing, would not commit to a mark-up session on the legislation, which would be the next step forward for the bill before a committee vote.
“I’m going to poll my committee and see,” Harkin said, noting that his first priority is getting legislation addressing the powers of the Food and Drug Administration — passed in May by the Senate — “put to bed,” which will require working with the Republican-led House to reach agreement on the final bill.
If a committee vote can be held, though, Harkin said, “I wish we could have a floor vote. I would like to see a vote on this because I think it’s something the American people ought to know where we stand on this issue. Listen, this is not an issue that bothers me. It might be difficult for some people, but it’s not difficult for me.”
UPDATE: THE FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL just posted their position on ENDA. Essentially, FRC and other antigay groups insist ENDA is a job-killer for small businesses that refuse to comply on the basis of their religious liberty and their constitutionally protected religious right to discriminate. As noted earlier, the religious liberty and “moral conscience” argument is an old one, used to argue against the Civil Rights Act of 1964. But the Religious Right Noise Machine has become adept at spin so it is important to understand how the haters think. In that vein, here is FRC’s justification via Tony Perkin’s email newsletter:
It wasn’t too long ago that homosexual activists said they just wanted “to get the government out of their bedroom.” Now we know why: they wanted to put their bedroom in the workplace! Today, for the first time in three years, a Senate Committee agreed to hold a hearing on a bill that would create special employment protections for individuals based on their sexual behavior or orientation. At the very least, it will force people out of business. At its worst, it will bully into silence every American who disagrees with homosexual behavior.
If that doesn’t frighten you, it should. Under the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (or ENDA), the government will put businesses on the defensive– forcing them to explain why they didn’t hire or promote employees who openly identified as gay, lesbian, or transgender. Essentially, Congress would be establishing a caste system, where the special protections of homosexuals trump the First Freedoms of any employer. Although some people defend it as an innocent piece of anti-prejudice legislation, ENDA builds the bridge to every last piece of the same-sex agenda–including marriage. “If we can get ENDA enacted and signed into law,” the President’s head of the Office of Management and Budget said, “it is only a matter of time before all the rest happens. It is the keystone that holds up the whole bunch, and so we need to focus our energies and attention there.”
With it, the Left can take a hacksaw to every God-given freedom protected by the Constitution–including the ability to speak openly about your beliefs. Like the contraception-abortion mandate, it puts employers in the position of deciding between their faith and their jobs. And unlike past versions, this legislation would extend those special protections to transgenders. In other words, businesses and public organizations would have to bend their dress codes and change their bathroom and shower policies to accommodate men who dress like women and visa-versa. Can you imagine walking into your child’s classroom and meeting a teacher dressed in drag?
Apparently, Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), and Susan Collins (R-Maine) can. They’re the driving force behind today’s Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee hearing, which features the first-ever Senate testimony from a transgender witness. In a letter to Sen. Reid, demanding this debate, the four senators wrote, “Employees should be judged on their skills and abilities in the workplace–not their sexual orientation or gender identity.” We agree. That’s why these laws, giving them special protections, are unnecessary.
To help people understand exactly what’s at stake, FRC produced an important documentary that your church, family, and friends need to see. It takes you behind the scenes of communities where laws like ENDA already exist and exposes how destructive the legislation will be, particularly to the faith community. In the video clip below, you’ll hear from a Christian ministry that was ordered to conduct “homosexual sensitivity training” as a result of laws like this one. If President Obama is reelected, ENDA will almost certainly be his top priority. Do your part to protect true religious freedom. Contact the ranking members of the HELP Committee (right sidebar) and tell them to stop trying to punish employers with moral conviction.