By Selisse Berry
The Supreme Court’s decision declaring the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional went further than the federal government ever has in extending equal rights to same-sex couples.
California joined a dozen other states and the District of Columbia in granting equal marriage rights to roughly 30 percent of United States citizens. Other states are making progress and are poised to increase that number.
President Obama quickly praised the SCOTUS decision: “When it comes to how the state treats people, how the law treats people, I believe that everybody has to be treated equally,” he said, promising that the administration would move quickly to implement changes across federal programs.
Indeed, we’ve come a long way and we have much to celebrate, but here is some less-happy news: We still have no comprehensive federal law to protect LGBT workers or those who are simply perceived to be LGBT. In 29 states, anyone can be fired simply for being lesbian, gay or bisexual. In 34 states, it is legal to fire someone for being transgender.
On June 26, we celebrated a long-fought victory, but today we need to get back to work. The next frontier for LGBT rights is, quite literally, the workplace.
When I founded Out & Equal Workplace Advocates 16 years ago, only 5 percent of the nation’s largest companies included sexual orientation in their nondiscrimination policies. At that time, gender identity was rarely addressed at all. Today 88 percent of Fortune 500 companies include sexual orientation in their policies and 57 percent include gender identity. Corporate opinion, led by public opinion, is clearly on our side.
However, millions more workers—those who do not work for large, publicly traded companies—still suffer and live under the threat of harassment and dismissal.
Is it so strange to believe that people should be judged by the work that they do and never by their sexual orientation or gender identity? According to the Harris/Out & Equal Workplace Survey, 83 percent of U.S. adults agree.
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act has been introduced again this year. In fact, it’s been introduced in every Congress since 1994 save one, but this year could be different—if we care to make it so.
The bottom line? Washington should take its cue from corporate America. It’s time for the broken bargain in our nation’s workplaces to be fixed. ENDA is about to hit the floor of the Senate. If passed, the legislation will prohibit discrimination in hiring and employment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity by civilian, nonreligious employers with at least 15 employees.
ENDA currently has 53 cosponsors, short of the 60 votes needed to avoid a filibuster. We are close—just a few more supporters and the legislation will be sent to the House. The fight there will assuredly be tough, but after what we saw in June, we know there’s nothing we can’t do if we set our minds to it and work together.
To find out more and to engage in the process by contacting your elected representative go to: http://www.outandequal.org/enda.
Together we will see, that this time around, ENDA becomes law.
Selisse Berry is founder and CEO of Out & Equal Workplace Advocates.