Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said on Monday, October 28, that the Senate will vote on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which will protect LGBT workers from discrimination in the workplace, before the holidays.
With the advent of same-sex marriage and the rise of equal rights campaigning by the LGBT community in this past year, ENDA has received a new push in support from lawmakers and gay and lesbian political groups alike.
The legislation was narrowly defeated in 1996, and has not been brought back since. In 2013, the bill has gained support from the Democratic party, and in July it passed a Senate committee with Republican Senators Orrin Hatch of Utah, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Mark Kirk of Illinois all voting in favor of the legislation.
ENDA extends protections for workers currently provided by the federal government based on race, religion, gender, national origin, age and disability to sexual orientation and gender identity.
It prohibits employers, agencies, and unions from using a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity as the basis for decisions around employment—such as firing, hiring, raises, or promotion.
Currently, twenty-one states and the District of Columbia have passed legislation protecting the rights of LGBT workers, with the remaining twenty-nine having no protective legislative measures for gay, lesbian, and transgender employees in those states, and thirty-three states having no protections for transgender people.
The bill is not likely to gain much support in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, but could serve to show just how out of step the GOP is with the American public. A recent poll by Americans for Workplace Opportunity showed that 80 percent are in favor of protections for LGBT workers.
A 2011 study by the Williams Institute, a national think tank at UCLA dedicated to conducting research on sexual orientation and gender identity law and public policy, showed that among LGB employees, 47 percent had experienced discrimination at some point in their lives, and 27 percent had experienced discrimination in the five years prior to the study.
“Not only does research document the pervasiveness of sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination, but also the negative impacts of discrimination on LGBT people,” says the press release for the study.
“Because of discrimination, and fear of discrimination, many LGBT employees hide their identities, are paid less and have fewer employment opportunities than non-LGBT employees.”
The group advocates for federal legislation protecting LGBT workers, which would cover up to 16.5 million workers in the United States. Over 90 percent of companies and federal contractors in the United States that have anti-discrimination policies in place report that it’s good for their bottom line.
“We tried, it failed in the House of Representatives before, but we’re going to take it up here again,” Reid said on October 28.