In 1994, the first installment of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), a bill protecting gay, lesbian and bisexual individuals from workplace discrimination, was introduced to Congress. It didn’t pass.
In the years following, the bill has been regularly reintroduced to Congress, each time without passage. Until now.
This April, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) reintroduced ENDA and it passed the Senate 64-32 on November 7, 2013. Unlike previous versions of the bill, specific protections for transgender employees were also included in the legislation.
House Speaker John Boehner sees “no basis or no need for this legislation.” However, recent bipartisan support for ENDA signals growing support for economic equality in the workplace.
The significance of ENDA goes further than civil rights, benefitting the economy as a whole.
A Well-Documented Need
In the year 2013, a person can be fired for being LGBTQ in 29 different states. Additionally, five states do not specifically protect transgender workers, according to a map released by Upworthy.
Additionally, “21% of LGBT respondents had been treated unfairly by an employer in hiring, pay, or promotions,” found a Pew Research Center survey, analyzed by UCLA law school’s The Williams Institute.
Though numerous local communities have passed their own non-discrimination ordinances, including the tiny town of Vicco, Kentucky, the lack of nationwide protections for LGBTQ employees has significant negative impacts on their daily lives and on the potential workforce.
As Equality Matters explained in a July 2013 article, the cost of firing an employee for being LGBT ranges from $5,000 to $10,000 for an hourly employee up to $211,000 for an executive, due to recruiting and staffing costs.
Discrimination in the workplace also exacerbates income inequality. In 2011, The National Center for Transgender Equality and The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force released “Injustice At Every Turn,” a detailed report highlighting the experiences of 6,450 transgender and gender non-conforming individuals.
Key findings concluded the respondents were four times more likely to have household incomes below $10,000 per year compared to the general population.
The report also found that high unemployment rates negatively impact access to high quality healthcare.
Most alarming is the fact that in transgender and gender non-conforming populations, rate of HIV infection are 4 times the national average. At the same time, 28 percent have postponed medical care due to discrimination, and another 48 percent have postponed care due to an inability to afford it.
The Task Force report also found that because individuals were denied access to stable employment, 16 percent of respondents resorted to underground economies, including prostitution and selling drugs, to supplement their incomes. This is double the rate of the general population.
ENDA’s Connections to Other Workplace Bias
As importantly, organizations like Freedom to Work have brought together diverse individuals from non-profit advocacy, public policy and government to champion a workplace free of bias for all LGBTQ individuals, including people of color and/or immigrants.
The renewed focus on ENDA has revealed how LGBTQ workplace discrimination connects with racial bias in a report by the Movement Advancement Project.
LGBTQ workers of color have a higher rate of unemployment than their white counterparts, said the report.
This disparity is caused by poor public school education, higher rates of incarceration, increased rates of youth homelessness, lack of access to college education and hiring bias in many work environments.
As future employment non-discrimination efforts develop, the strong push by LGBTQ advocates has also revealed a relationship to immigration reform.
The Century Foundation looked at the importance of immigration reform in increasing the minimum wage by focusing on the employment practices of big box retailers throughout the country.
Though it might take some time before ENDA, immigration reform and minimum wage laws are in place, support for measures outlawing workplace bias is stronger than ever.
Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) summed this up in his first public address since suffering a stroke. Kirk said these measures are about “fighting for liberty and human dignity.”
An Uncertain But Hopeful Future
President Obama recently commented on ENDA, remarking, “who you are and who you love should never be a fireable offense.
However, even given Obama’s support, the Senate vote and public opinion polls stating 73 percent of voters would like to see ENDA, the future of the bill is uncertain.
Power to put the bill to a House vote ultimately rests with Speaker Boehner.
As Politico reported, it seems unlikely the House will pass any other bills before the end of 2013. There is no timeline for when the bill might be introduced in 2014.
However, despite the bill stalling in the House, nobody doubts the bill will eventually pass, unlike in 1996. It’s now a question of how long Boehner can ignore evolving public opinion.