NEW YORK — LGBT advocates across the political spectrum spoke at the LGBT group Freedom to Work’s first-ever “Situation Room” in New York City on Thursday, offering a variety of perspectives on the way forward to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
Below are notable snippets from the speakers from both of the two panels.
Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, announced his organization has expanded its work in submitting fictional matched-paired resumes to different companies to find anti-LGBT bias in hiring practices.
That consists of sending one resume from a well-qualified LGBT applicant to a company and another from a less qualified non-LGBT candidate to see who gets a call back to determine if anti-gay bias exists.
The group has already alleged anti-gay bias as a result of testing at the oil-and-gas giant Exxon Mobil, but Almeida said Freedom to Work is submitting resumes to 12 companies in 12 states.
“We are testing in Pennsylvania, we are testing in Ohio, we are testing in Michigan and Missouri, West Virginia, North Carolina, Utah,” Almeida said. “We are testing in all of the next battleground states where we expect to have a strong push, maybe not in the next six months, but in the next year, have a strong push and a real chance at passing a state-level ENDA law.”
This testing in additional states, Almeida said, could be used as a proof that anti-LGBT discrimination is happening as LGBT advocates make the case that a non-discrimination law is needed in states that currently lack them.
Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, in addition to expressing concerns about the religious exemption in ENDA, was critical about the lack of personal stories from LGBT people affected by workplace discrimination.
“I don’t think there’s been the same comparable, assiduous sustained focus on generating those stories, figuring out how best to tell them,” Wolfson said. “You need a campaign to give people the tools, the language, the encouragement, the impetus, the urgency of telling those stories.”
Almeida responded by saying finding personal stories can be difficult because individuals who sue after facing workplace discrimination often sign confidentiality agreements in exchange for making settlements with their employers.
But Wolfson said there are ways around confidentiality, including finding stories other individuals other than LGBT people directly affected by discrimination and the testing work that Almeida previously mentioned.
“There’s a set of stories where you might have that problem, but there are a lot of stories out there,” Wolfson said. “There are a lot of people, including business leaders and others who can talk about the values of non-discrimination. It’s a mix of things that we need to be putting forward.”
Melissa Sklarz, a trans activist and president of the Stonewall Democrats of NYC, devoted much of her remarks to distinguishing between the Democratic and Republican party on LGBT rights.
One noteworthy quip cast the Republican Party in a particularly ghoulish light amid competing views from the Tea Party and other more LGBT friendly factions of the party like Log Cabin Republicans.
“I take a look at it sort of like Frankenstein’s monster,” Sklarz said. “All their little things, they have a piece. They’re going to put the arms and the legs and all that. But now they’re in the operating room, and they’re fighting. Who puts in the brain? And it’s a mess.”
Gregory Angelo, executive director of the National Log Cabin Republicans, responded to Sklarz by saying he didn’t come to “litigate the differences” between the Democrats and Republicans.
Angelo identified in his remarks additional Senate Republicans who could be in play to vote in favor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act on the Senate floor: Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Dean Heller (R-Nev.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.). Each of the senators voted for reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act earlier this year.
“This is a bill that included protections specifically for LGBT individuals,” Angelo said. “The fact that gay and lesbian protections existed in that bill does not make, in our perspective, LGBT protections a poison pill for those senators.”
Kim Taylor, a New Jersey lesbian activist and first black woman named to the Log Cabin Board of Directors, touted a New Jersey law signed by Democratic Gov. James Florio (D) in 1992 protecting workers against discrimination based on their sexual orientation.
“Maintaing one’s viability as a self-sustaining worker is important,” Taylor said. “One needs to know that he or she will be free from bias, discrimination, harassment and bullying in the workplace based on who they are or whom they love … There is never a good reason to be discriminated against, and we must come to that understanding.”
Babs Siperstein, a Democratic trans activist and member of the audience, later noted that the 1992 New Jersey law protected only against sexual orientation discrimination. Gender identity wasn’t added until 2007.
Brad Sears, executive director of the Williams Institute at the University of California, Log Angeles, talked about the research that his institution produced on LGBT employment.
Sears brought up a report examining the wages that LGBT people earn compared to their straight counterparts and said similar gaps exist between gay men and straight male workers as are known to exist between women and men.
“What this research consistently shows is that there is a wage gap ranging from about 10 to 30 percent in the wages of gay men and their…counterparts,” Sears said.
Sears continued that other groups within the LGBT community are more disadvantaged in terms of wages, including LGBT people of color, transgender workers, women, couples with children and non-citizens.
The Williams Institute’s wage gap report — which found that lesbians make as about as much as straight women, but less than straight or gay men — can be downloaded here.
Dave Montez, acting president of GLAAD, touted the organization’s Spanish-language media capabilities and said his organization would employ those resources in Arizona, Florida and Nevada — states that have undecided senators on ENDA and large Latino populations.
“GLAAD is the only organization within the movement that has a dedicated Spanish-language media team,” Montez said. “We will deploy that team to help educate people in those states about why the Employment Non-Discrimination Act is important.”
According to Montez, Latinos represent 15 percent of registered voters in Nevada, 14 percent in Florida and the Latino population is just under two million and represents 30 percent of the state’s population in Arizona.