A new survey has revealed that, out of all the issues facing the LGBT community, LGBTs appear most concerned with workplace rights and employment protections. How should this inform political action, what is the danger in this kind of survey?
Pew Research Center released results of its comprehensive national survey on the attitudes and experiences of the LGBT community in America today, sampling 1,197 people from across the United States who self-identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual and/or as transgender (LGBT).
The research broached many different topics including general happiness, belief that America is moving in the right direction, and how socially accepted LGBTs feel. Of particular interest to many commentators and rights groups will be what issues the LGBT community considers a priority, and the breakdown for that is interesting:
So what, if anything, does this tell us? It certainly shows that while marriage equality is important, workplace protections and specifically the Employment Non Discrimination Act (ENDA) is also a top ranking concern.
ENDA has languished in Congress, in some form, for 17 years despite the fact that workplace protections receive overwhelming support from a clear and strong majority of the public, a fact that holds true across most major demographics.
In fact, many people are ignorant of the fact that it is still completely legal to fire someone for being gay in 29 states and in 35 states for being trans. In particular, trans people continue to suffer wide discrimination not just in the workplace but also with housing, credit and public accommodations.
Even so, politicians like Senator Mark Rubio (R-FL) would still oppose ENDA because of their, one must presume, willful failure to recognize the worth in enumerating specific communities that face discrimination.
Sadly, the Employment Non Discrimination Act has little to no chance of passing in this Congress despite President Obama’s calls and the Senate majority’s support.
It’s the Republican Party’s fault, the cry sounds, and certainly the Party of No is the chief retarding force today, but let’s not forget that when Democratic lawmakers held Congress after the 2008 elections they decided there was only time and energy enough to prioritize and pass the Hate Crimes Prevention Act and the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal, which left ENDA out in the cold.
So this poll offers a brief snapshot of what are key issues for the community and emphasizes the need for concerted action particularly where ENDA is concerned.
There is one thing, however, that this kind of illuminating poll should not be allowed to do.
It should not be allowed to open the trap of believing political capital is in such short supply that advocating for one civil rights issue, say same-sex marriage, must necessarily exhaust capital that might have been spent on another.
It is certainly true that the marriage equality push has been favored by big LGBT rights organizations and that this has caused other issues to fade from public attention.
This, for instance, has led to high profiled campaigns like the one in New York that legalized marriage equality in 2011 while the state level trans employment bill GENDA still isn’t law, despite being passed six times by the state assembly.
Few would argue that we can, or should, simply parse what issues are more important than others because when it comes to civil rights like these, they all matter and form a complex web. For instance a Defense of Marriage Act repeal isn’t just about gay marriage, but also encompasses immigration reform, health care benefits and more.
Put simply, all of the rights and solutions to issues mentioned in the poll above should already be a reality. The community has long been told that incremental progress working on priority issues is how results should be gained–but the problem is, these issues are all a priority.
A new drive by a growing coalition of organizations (135 at the time of writing) recognizes this. Called the Act On Principles pledge, it asks Congress’ LGBT Caucus to file an omnibus bill to cover most if not all the major LGBT rights issues, as taken from the pledge page:
- Public Accommodations (Title II, 1964 Civil Rights Act)(e.g., restaurants, hotels, theaters)
- Public Facilities (Title III, 1964 Civil Rights Act) (e.g., courthouses, jails, hospitals, parks)
- Federally-Funded Programs (Title VI, 1964 Civil Rights Act) (e.g., adoption, police, schools, homeless youth, health care)
- Employment (Title VII, 1964 Civil Rights Act; 1978 Civil Service Reform Act; 1991 Government Employee Rights Act; 1995 Congressional Accountability Act; 10 U.S.C. Ch. 37) (e.g., civilian and military government, private sector)
- Housing (Title VIII, 1968 Civil Rights Act, aka the Fair Housing Act) (e.g., rental, purchase, finance)
- Education (Title IX, 1972 Education Amendments Act) (e.g., schools, bullying)
- Credit (1974 Equal Credit Opportunity Act) (e.g., credit cards)
- Federal Marriage Equality (based on gender, SO) (e.g., 1967 Supreme Court Decision, Loving v. Virginia)
- Immigration, Disability, and Family Leave (Uniting American Families Act (proposed), the American With Disabilities Act, and the Family and Medical Leave Act)
The pledge, while still allowing for steady gains at the local and state level, casts off the notion that equality need be an incremental process.
It rejects the falsity that progress on equality must, by its nature, be a slow grind, saying that this bill must be filed by no later than 2014, the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act.
Most important of all, it recognizes that extinguishing the inequity and inequality in current law and regulation by arbitrarily assigning priorities is facile.
Get real, though, an omnibus bill like this has no chance of passing, we might say. Certainly, while the current Republican leadership still holds the House and Democratic lawmakers fail to show the courage of their convictions, this regretfully is true.
This won’t always be the case, however, and what an omnibus bill does allow for is a concentration of political power and a reform package that brings to a head the fight for equality by demanding action from lawmakers in a way that does not allow for compromise.
What a bold thing to ask, and what a priority to decide on–equality and recognition, no caveats, no compromise. Now.
Image credit: Thinkstock. Poll data image courtesy of Pew Research Center.