An update on ENDA as the vote approaches

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The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), a bill that prohibits discrimination against LGBT workers in the United States, faces a vote in the Senate on Monday, November 4, and lawmakers and political organizations alike have come out to show where they stand.

ENDA makes it illegal to consider a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity in questions of employment, including firing, hiring, and promotion. ENDA has been introduced at every Congress since 1994 except one, and similar legislation has been discussed at the federal level since 1974. “Gender identity” was added to the bill in 2007 in order to protect the rights of the transgender community.

The vote on Monday, November 4, is widely reported as a sure win for the bill in the Senate, after Republican Senator Dean Heller (NV) voiced his support for the bill and became the 60th vote in favor of the legislation.

“This legislation raises the federal standards to match what we have come to expect in Nevada,” Heller said in a statement on Monday.

60 votes are needed in the Senate in order to move for cloture, a parliamentary process that calls for an end to debate around a bill when three-fifths of the Senate has expressed support for it. With Heller coming out as magic number 60, the threat of a filibuster, where a bill is “talked out of a vote,” is no longer looming over ENDA in the Senate.

While the bill is likely to pass the Senate floor before the end of the week, many speculate that it might not even make the floor of the House of Representatives.

Majority speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has said in a statement released on Monday, in an email sent by his spokesman Michael Steel, that he opposes ENDA, claiming it will lead to “frivolous legislation” and cost more American jobs by creating a financial burden for small businesses.

His stance on the issue is not supported by data collected by the United States Government Accountability Office; in a study of the twenty-two states that currently have statutes that specifically prohibit discrimination against LGBT workers, it found that “there were relatively few employment discrimination complaints based on sexual orientation and gender identity filed in these states.”

Supporters of the bill include the CEO of Apple, Tim Cook, who wrote a column in favor of ENDA in the Wall Street Journal, published Sunday, November 3. “Long before I started work as the CEO of Apple, I became aware of a fundamental truth. People are much more willing to give of themselves when they feel that their selves are being fully recognized and embraced.”

President Barack Obama, in a statement published by the Huffington Post, also came out in favor of the historic LGBT legislation, calling for equality in the workplace, and advocating for the inclusion of LGBT protections at a national level.

“We believe that no matter who you are, if you work hard and play by the rules, you deserve the chance to follow your dreams and pursue your happiness. That’s America’s promise,” he said in his piece.

Of the fear many LGBT workers have of being fired simply for who they are, Obama said: “it’s offensive. It’s wrong. And it needs to stop, because in the United States of America, who you are and who you love should never be a fireable offense.”

Many have critiqued the Republican party’s stance on the bill as out of step with the voting public, who in recent polls have come out in strong support of LGBT protections for workers. Even in states such as Mississippi, known for anti-LGBT sentiment, 63 percent of the population supports legislation similar to ENDA.

Speaking to reporters on October 30 about the possibility that House Speaker Boehner will thwart the bill in the House by keeping it from coming to the floor for a vote, minority leader Nancy Pelosi spoke about the Democratic strategy of making the issue “too hot to handle,” which helped bring the Violence Against Women Act to the floor earlier this year.

“I would think it would be ‘once burned, twice learned,’ and that they would, shall we say, save some time by taking it right to our committee and to the floor,” Pelosi said to reporters. “Ending discrimination is what we are all about as Americans, and we should not have discrimination in the workplace because of gender identity.”

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