This week, I got an email from the Human Rights Campaign with the subject line It happened today! The first line of the email declared:
Today I witnessed something just a year ago seemed nearly impossible. The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).
Now, I knew this bill was on the table this week – I received no less than seven emails from various mailing lists urging me to contact my congressmen and tell them to vote Yes! to ENDA.
ENDA, in case you don’t know, is a bill proposing federal protection in the workplace against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. What this means is that if it passes, it will be illegal to fire (or not hire) someone because he or she is gay. This is a very good thing. Do you know how many states currently allow discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation? Here, maybe this will help you (map courtesy of Wikipedia):
It’s a little small, so let me clarify:
The purple states offer protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation as well as gender identity (which means they include transgendered individuals) in both the public and private sectors: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Iowa, Illinois, Maine, Minnesota, New Jersey (woot!), New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.
The pink states offer the same protections, but only in the public sector – so private corporations are free to discriminate: Indiana, Kansas, Pennsylvania and Ohio.
The dark blue states offer protection for sexual orientation only in the public and private sectors: Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York and Wisconsin.
And the teal states offer protection for sexual orientation only in the public sector only: Alaska, Arizona, Delaware, Michigan, Montana and Virginia.
So, if you can count, that means 20 states – a little less than half – do not offer any protection against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Which means it’s perfectly legal to fire someone because he or she is gay. Or transgendered.
The version of ENDA that passed the House this week does not include protections for gender identity. While I’m thankful that some form of federal protection is going through, I confess that I’m more than a little disappointed about the transgender-exclusive version that’s currently floating its way through Congress. After all, it was our transgender brothers and sisters who really kicked off this push for equal rights for queer people in 1969 – and we have repeatedly left them out of the picture when it comes to reaping the benefits.
Perhaps I’m just spoiled – I live in a fairly progressive state which offers me all sorts of protections and rights. But at the same time, these are protections and rights I deserve, simply for the fact that I am a living, breathing human being. So why should I be thankful that the government is giving me something that I am inherently entitled to?