Openly gay Democratic Reps. Barney Frank of Massachusetts and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin this week joined Republican Reps. Deborah Price of Ohio and Christopher Shays of Connecticut to introduce a measure that would protect LGBT people from discrimination in employment.
The bill would add sexual orientation and gender identity to existing legislation prohibiting employment discrimination based on race, religion, gender, national origin, age and disability.
The bill, called the Employment Nondiscrimination Act or ENDA, had bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate in 1996 but still fell one vote short of passage in the Senate. It was reported to the full Senate in 2002 by a bipartisan vote in the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions but was not scheduled for floor time before the 107th Congressional Session was adjourned.
In introducing the bill, Baldwin noted that her home state was the first to adopt employment protections for gay and lesbians 25 years ago.
“Since then, 16 states have done the same,” Baldwin said in a statement released Tuesday, April 24. “We call on Congress now to set a new and higher standard. With the support of House leadership and members of both parties, I am hopeful that this Congress will close this loophole in existing laws and pass a truly comprehensive and inclusive bill to outlaw employment discrimination.”
In that same statement, Pryce said the legislation is “first and foremost about fairness,” and Shays called it a “common-sense” bill that would allow “working men and women [to be] judged on the basis of their performance at work.”
Frank said the similar law passed in Wisconsin has “caused none of the problems that opponents inaccurately claimed it would .”
A statement released Tuesday by the Human Rights Campaign pointed out that 87 percent of Fortune 500 companies already include sexual orientation in their nondiscrimination policies, and that 10 times as many of those companies now include gender identity in their policies as in 2001.
So far, the HRC statement said, 20 Fortune 500 companies have joined the Business Coalition for Workplace Fairness in support of ENDA.
A number of LGBT rights advocacy organizations issued statements on Tuesday in support of the organization, as have non-gay organizations, including Out and Equal Workplace Advocates, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund and the AFL-CIO. The National Center for Transgender Equality also applauded the legislation, with the executive director, Maura Keisling, calling it “a tremendous civil rights advancement for transgender communities.”
Transgender advocates had criticized some earlier versions of ENDA for not specifically including protections based on gender identity.
“I am pleased to stand here today and watch the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community move forward together,” Keisling said in a statement released Tuesday.
The Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, a national organization that works to elect openly-LGBT candidates at all levels of government, released a statement on Tuesday praising Frank and Baldwin for their leadership on ENDA.
“Barney Frank and Tammy Baldwin are the staunchest allies we have because they are part of our community,” said Victory Fund president and CEO Chuck Wolfe. “They won’t just be part of the debate, they’ll be the subject of the debate/ When lawmakers talk about the ramifications of this bill, they’ll be looking into the faces of two openly gay officials whose lives will be directly impacted by it, and that’s powerful.”
The statement released by the four senators who introduced the measure this week noted that ENDA “makes clear” that preferential treatment and quotas are prohibited and that lawsuits cannot be based on statistics about the sexual orientation or gender of employees.
The statement also said that members of the Armed Forces, veterans’ preferences and religious organizations are exempt from ENDA, and that the legislation does not require employers to offer domestic partner benefits.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, April 27, 2007.