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What’s ‘Unnecessary’ About Protecting LGBTs from Job Discrimination?

What’s ‘Unnecessary’ About Protecting LGBTs from Job Discrimination?

House Speaker John Boehner told journalists last week that a bill protecting LGBTs from workplace discrimination is “unnecessary.”

On Thursday, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said he believes there is “no need” for the Employment Non Discrimination Act (ENDA), a bill that would create a federal law banning anti-LGBT workplace discrimination. This is really only a repeat of his earlier line that ENDA will cause more frivolous lawsuits. This idea has been thoroughly debunked a number of times, yet Boehner appears to be sticking to his story that ENDA isn’t needed.

His latest comments, made in response to a question from the LGBT news service the Washington Blade, come amid growing pressure to bring the bill to a House floor vote now that the U.S. Senate has passed the bill with bipartisan support.

Boehner is quoted as saying:

“I am opposed to discrimination of any kind, in the workplace and any place else. But I think this legislation that I’ve dealt with as chairman of The Education & The Workforce Committee long before I was back in the leadership is unnecessary and would provide a basis for frivolous lawsuits. People are already protected in the workplace. I’m opposed to continuing this. Listen, I understand people have differing opinions on this issue, and I respect those opinions. But as someone who’s worked in the employment law area for all my years in the State House and all my years here, I see no basis or no need for this legislation.”

Why ENDA is Necessary

In 29 states it is still legal to fire someone because of their sexual orientation, including in Boehner’s own state of Ohio. Despite the Obama administration making clear that federal law does protect trans workers (they’re covered under sex discrimination), there are no explicit federal protections and so trans people remain vulnerable in at least 33 states.

To put that in context, about 52% of LGBTs in the United States live in states that do not offer explicit statutory workplace protections. As such, they risk being fired, denied work and denied promotion, all because of their sexuality or gender identity or expression.

In particular, the trans community continues to suffer high levels of unemployment.

In February of this year, CNNMoney spoke to a number of trans people hit hard by the recession, including Rebecca Juro who despite applying for almost 100 jobs and going on dozens of interviews has been unemployed for the past four years. She attributes that fact, in part, to her being trans. She claims some prospective employers have even “laughed [in her] face.”

A 2011 National Center for Transgender Equality and National Gay and Lesbian Task Force study, called Injustice at Every Turn, found that among a 6,000 national sample of trans people, the jobless rate was close to 14%. That’s double the national figure. Those rates also doubled for trans people of color. Of course, with higher unemployment comes a raft of other issues, like higher rates of homelessness, and particularly high rates of health problems such as depression and suicidal thoughts or acts.

Putting Boehner’s Resistance to ENDA in Context

The US Senate passed ENDA at the beginning of November with a bipartisan and veto proof majority of 64 to 32. Several Republican senators, including John McCain (R-Arizona) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), supported the bill as a basic matter of fairness.

While in the House no official headcount of support for ENDA exists, Democratic legislator Jared Polis (Colorado) is on record as saying he is confident that there are enough votes in the House to at least bring ENDA to the floor.

The Huffington Post quotes Polis as saying:

“I’ve had a number of discussions with both Republicans and a few Democrats that aren’t on the bill that they’re ready to vote for the bill, if not put their name on it [as co-sponsors],” Polis said in an interview. “We’re confident we can show the speaker and the majority leader that the House is ready to pass this important legislation and protect gays and lesbians from discrimination.”

A number of other legislators, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, have said they believe there is support enough to pass ENDA.

ENDA will need 218 votes to pass on a floor vote in the House of Representatives. The bill currently has 194 co-sponsors. That doesn’t include legislators that might favor the bill but don’t consider it a piece of legislation they would like to put their name to.

Key among the co-sponsors are five Republicans. They include Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), Jon Runyan (R-N.J.), Chris Gibson (R-N.Y.), and Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.).

ENDA’s strong — and some say much too broad — religious exemptions have meant that Republican support has been easier to find than in previous years and, while it may not be an aspect of the bill all LGBT rights groups favor, it does appear to have boosted ENDA’s chances. In fact, it appears that ENDA has at least a reasonable chance of passing if it is brought to a floor vote. That is, if Boehner will allow the bill to reach the floor — something he has not yet said he will do.

Boehner’s messaging on the topic has been dismissive until now, but it seems he can no longer ignore ENDA. Above we see him making appeals to history and authority — that he has presided over employment law for a number of years and therefore that we should just trust his judgement that the bill isn’t needed. Given the raft of evidence to the contrary, it seems the Speaker is woefully misinformed or being willfully blind to the issue.

If Boehner does refuse to bring ENDA to the floor, it will scupper what is ENDA’s best chance in literally years, but it will probably cost the Republicans dearly.

Boehner will yet again betray the fact that he is operating only for the benefit of the ultra religious conservative wing of the Republican party. This is something that Democratic lawmakers are ready to seize upon to demonstrate just how out of step the Republican Party has become when compared to national public opinion which, whether leaning Democratic or Republican, favors ENDA’s basic employment protections for the LGBT community.

However, Boehner may still be able to save face by allowing the bill to a floor vote as a matter of procedural fairness while at the same time protesting the bill as unnecessary. This ENDA fight definitely isn’t over yet, but the senate vote in favor of the bill was a blow to House Republicans and a direct challenge to Speaker Boehner. It remains to be seen whether he’ll do the decent, and very necessary, thing and let the bill come up for a vote, but the chances of an ENDA victory have improved dramatically in recent weeks and that is, itself, something to celebrate.

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Photo credit: Thinkstock.

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64 comments

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3:46AM PDT on Jul 8, 2014

Thank you

1:12PM PST on Dec 26, 2013

Before I joined the ranks of the transgender community, I read the book "The Uninvited Dilemma" by Kim Elizabeth Stuart which contained a great deal of valuable information. Such as her learning that of the many trans people she interviewed of all educational backgrounds and family and economic situations, a whopping 35% of them were unemployed at the time of their interview. Thirty Five percent of ANY group of people is an enormous amount.
I have been unemployed for 8 years; 2006 thru 2008 due to being diagnosed with epilepsy and getting it under control, 2009-10 the job market was still in the tank and since trying to get re-employed since 2011 has been a nightmare. I wish I did not have to work, but if I don't I run the risk of not having a roof over my head. And if that were to happen (to ANY trans person especially one with epilepsy and other health problems) I would probably be dead in 48 hours. Still I remain determined to get a job.

12:00PM PST on Dec 2, 2013

Signed petition.

7:30PM PST on Nov 23, 2013

animals don't do stupid things, its MAN, crap for brains!

3:18PM PST on Nov 21, 2013

Ye Gods...another classic from this man.
What, pray tell, is he doing in governance when it's obvious he hasn't a clue what that means.

10:01AM PST on Nov 21, 2013

What Mr Boehner is stating is scientific fact. The protection that LBGTs benefit from operates on the same law of physics that insures that victims of 'legitimate rape' will not get pregnant.
It's all based upon the Imanahole principle. This law of physics states that anything a Republican imagines is in actuality reality. It goes so far as to prove that the earth was made in six days. The earth is only 6,000 years old. That giving the wealthy more money and taking away money from the poor insures that everyone has everything they need. The Supreme court proved it by gutting the Voting Rights Act and with the Citizens United cases. It's so simple. I just don't understand why everyone doesn't get it. TTFN. I have to go explain to a bunch of poor children the benefits of having less food so that rich people get the money they desperately need to help the rest of us. Whatever would we do without the Republican party, the wealthy and John Beohner. Gives me the willies thinking about it.

9:49AM PST on Nov 21, 2013

@Adam says While discrimination is disgusting in any form, it makes me uncomfortable allowing government giving government the authority to tell someone how to run their business. This is a power I have an a consumer that's being taken away from me, and you. Please be careful what you ask for.

Nope your argument is flawed Adam as usual. I have yet to see you really use critical thinking on issues. It isn’t the government telling someone how to run their business, it is the government supporting the constitution in granting rights to people, and preventing business owners from discriminating.


What you are claiming as your right and power to discriminate against people because their sexuality and mate preference doesn’t match the mold you insist it must have to be acceptable isn't anintrusion into how someone runs their business. It is a power that is anti-American, anti-social, and inhumane.

No one is telling you that you have to make that burger out of chipmunk meat, or that car out of plastic, or that chair out of fishbones and super glue or that you have to make more of them/less of them, than your business model supports.

Always reframing the question so that it appears to be intrusive government has been your method for too long.

9:25AM PST on Nov 21, 2013

Discrimination is always wrong and still going on everywhere. So protection is still needed, for many groups of people. It is sad and upsetting, but yes, it is needed.

8:52AM PST on Nov 20, 2013

When legislation isn't specific ways around it are usually found, this has been proved over and over again. Discrimination, prejudice and bias come in many forms and a variety of actions.
Hope Boehner does the right thing. If he knows the law as well as he says he does, then he'll know no workplace discrimination has been successfully reduced without targeted legislation.
Interesting article and comments, thanks for sharing.

7:16AM PST on Nov 20, 2013

Tim L.
12:52PM PST on Nov 19, 2013
The whole issue of LGBT rights really should be a no-brainer: You pay taxes;therefore, you should be afforded the same rights as everyone else. The very fact that we are arguing and debating these issues just proves what a mean spirited country this is, thanks to the conservatives. I guess hatred really is a conservative family value.
.

Your comment is well put ,Tim!
Thank You...

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