Economic security is at the forefront of everyone’s mind during a recession. For the LGBT employee or job seeker, employment anxiety is an issue that transcends the business cycle.
People change jobs. People get transferred. People seek out new opportunities. Without consistent federal protections, LGBT employees and job seekers face more uncertainty than their heterosexual counterparts. They, after all, rarely worry about losing their economic rights simply by transferring to a new city, crossing state lines or changing companies.
It remains legal in 29 states to discriminate based on sexual orientation, and in 38 states to do so based on gender identity or expression. The patchwork of states and municipalities have outlawed discrimination on the basis of a person’s sexual orientation (including the smaller minority of those that include gender identity or expression) is wholly inadequate. You simply cannot wish away this geographic reality.
GOProud’s Jessica Lee argues that we shouldn’t spend so much political capital on passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, but work on a more “practical approach” focused on tax inequities and other smaller steps that might provide incremental benefits for “as much of the LGBT community as possible.” (Question for Jessica: Which “part” of the community do you recommend we leave behind?)
I couldn’t disagree more with that approach.
ENDA is a fundamental brick in the foundation of LGBT civil equality. Once in place, a wide range of “practical” opportunities open up that will have an impact on healthcare, taxes, marriage equality and the general public’s attitudes toward LGBT people.
Our political opponents know and understand this, which is why they are fighting so hard against it. They understand that once basic discrimination is outlawed, other forms of inequality start to fall from their own weight.
Passing ENDA is hardly, as trans blogger Corrina Cohn calls it, “perfume” on a symptom. What Ms. Cohn fails to understand is that attitude follows behavior more often than not. Negative behaviors such as those driven by prejudice do not simply wither away – especially when they continue to be nurtured or worse, excused.
Will workplace discrimination fade away simply because the Human Rights Campaign publishes an annual Corporate Equality Index (CEI)? Hardly. As wonderful a benchmarking tool as the CEI is, affecting change in the workplace takes a great deal more effort. It requires committed, top-down leadership. It requires education and outreach. It requires enforcement of policies to change negative behaviors. It requires straight allies who stand up for us. And it requires courage and fortitude for LGBT people (and their families) to come out – and to continue to push for policies and practices that are inclusive for everyone.
This is how it has already worked in corporate America. First, a company bans harassment based on sexual orientation and gender identity. They, it includes sexual orientation and gender identity in employment non-discrimination policies. As employees become more comfortable being “out” at work, non-LGBT co-workers attitudes shift. Policies are updated to include recognition of LGBT families. These relationships and attitudes extend from the workplace into the community at large and the ripples continue.
And for those companies that have gone down this path? They are more competitive in their respective markets, find it easier to find and retain employees and generally have a more productive (and happy) workforce. The communities where they are located have greater economic stability and this all feeds on itself.
This is what ENDA will help enable. This is why we must pass it NOW. For so many reasons, ENDA is the best use of our energy and I hope that Lee, Cohn and GOProud will join the rest of us in fighting to make it happen.
Mike Craig is co-chair of Out & Equal Houston. As the former president of Chevron PRIDE, he helped secure Chevron’s endorsement of ENDA and is the principle author of “Transgender@Chevron.”