I remember as a teenager in 1991 being stunned after hearing about the case of Cheryl Summerville who was fired from a Cracker Barrel in Georgia for not demonstrating “normal heterosexual values” or as the separation notice read: “This employee is being terminated due to violation of company policy. This employee is gay.” I was even more stunned to learn that such a termination was not against the law. Since that time I have rarely thought about Cheryl, in fact, when I have driven by a Cracker Barrel I have only vaguely remembered the case and assumed that it was resolved, though I still refuse to eat at Cracker Barrel.
Well here it is 2009 and I am loath to realize that I now reside in a state, Florida, which joins 38 other states in allowing members of the LGBT community to be fired simply for having the audacity to be gay. That’s right…38 states. In these states gay and lesbian Americans have no recourse if they are fired because of their sexual orientation. And let us not forget that 29 states allow companies to refuse to hire someone because they are gay or lesbian.
We constantly hear talk on the television and radio about the militaries’ “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Policy but we never hear about the same policy being allowed in the majority of the states. And just like the military this lack of protection is harmful to those who are discriminated against and to the very fabric of what this country purportedly stands for.
Job discrimination, for any reason, is un-American, unfair, and unwise. Our nation’s economic success depends on having the most qualified, dedicated, and competent people as part of the workforce, regardless of sexual orientation. Too many gay and lesbian Americans still face job discrimination because of their perceived or actual sexual orientation. This should not be allowed to happen in our modern society.
This issue goes to the core of what it means to live in a free society. Freedom depends on people having the opportunity to pursue any career they wish. Any person’s progress in the workplace should depend solely on his or her skills and ability, not their sexual orientation. If a workers is afraid to come out, afraid to be who they truly are than it will no doubt affect their mental and physical well being. I know that I would not like going to work every day knowing that I am living a lie. Such restrictions cannot fail to inhibit workplace happiness, let alone civic happiness.
In many cases corporate America agrees. According to the Human Rights Campaign, “among the Fortune 500, 328 companies (65%) have non-discrimination policies that include sexual orientation.” Even Wal-Mart, which defines conservative old-fashioned American values, now offers protection for its gay and lesbian employees.
Thus it is with pride that I have since learned that the “Florida Competitive Workforce Bill” prohibiting anti-LGBT discrimination at work, in public accommodations and in housing will soon be introduced by Dan Gelber (D-Miami Beach) of the Florida Senate and Kelly Skidmore (D-Boca Raton) of the Florida House of Representatives.
Currently Chapter 760 of Florida Statutes protects against discrimination in the aforementioned areas on the “basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, handicap or marital status.” The Florida Competitive Workforce Bill will add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity and expression” to this statute.
Now I know the anti-gay opponents out there will make their case that this is giving special rights to gays but as I previously showed it would just be extending the rights we give to other discriminated against groups to them. Plus there is nothing in the legislation related to quotas or preferential treatment. Nor will it likely require companies to provide same-sex partner benefits (thought in my mind it should because that too is a form of discrimination).
This tired argument was made against anti-discrimination measures taken to protect the rights of blacks in the 1960s. For example, the opponents of a proposed open housing law in Detroit organized a successful voter initiative against such laws protecting African-Americans in 1964 by arguing that “such anti-discrimination measures conferred “special privileges” on African-Americans.” (See THOMAS SUGRUE, THE ORIGINS OF THE URBAN CRISIS: RACE AND INEQUALITY IN POSTWAR DETROIT.)
Others may suggest that this will increase law suits from litigious gays but that is not evident when one looks at the states which do protect against anti-LGBT discrimination. A 2000 General Accounting Office report stated that there is, “no indication that these laws have generated a significant amount of litigation.”
Of course the most common criticism will come from the religious right who will claim that such protections come at the expense of their religious freedom.
In opposing previous failed federal legislation aimed at protecting the LGBT community, Carrie Gordon Earl, Senior Director of Focus on the Family Action stated, “Too often it is religious liberty that’s at stake when homosexuality is promoted in our society. The rights of people of faith who adhere to a biblical view of sexuality should not be crushed.”
These defenders of the popular prejudice, lacking any recognizably rational basis for the distinctions they draw, all too often resort to claiming they are endorsed by millennia of moral teaching. Religion has all too often been used to excuse past discrimination. Many slaveholders would use the biblical reference of the “Mark of Cain”–the African slaves’ blackness–as religious support for their enslaving the African American.
Furthermore, in 1856 Reverend Thomas Stringfellow, a Baptist minister from Culpepper County in Virginia, put the pro-slavery Christian message succinctly in his “A Scriptural View of Slavery:”
“…Jesus Christ recognized this institution as one that was lawful among men, and regulated its relative duties… I affirm then, first (and no man denies) that Jesus Christ has not abolished slavery by a prohibitory command; and second, I affirm, he has introduced no new moral principle which can work its destruction… “
These are just some of the many examples one could cite to show how religion was used to discriminate against people of color so I am more than little apprehensive to take religious opposition to slavery…whoops I mean homosexuality as a viable concern, particularly when my church, the Unitarian Universalists happily accepts members of the LGBT community and endorses full rights for those of that community.
Moreover, Carrie is in the minority even among his anti-gay bretheren, as a 2002 Gallup poll showed that despite 44 percent of people opposed homosexuality, 86 percent (including those opposed to homosexuality) said homosexuals should have equal rights in terms of job opportunities.
I urge all people, even those who do not live in Florida to sign this petition in support of the Florida Competitive Workforce Bill because it is simply the right thing to do.
Related Care2 Blog:
Sign this Care2 petition to urge the Senate to pass the inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
UPDATE: Since someone mentioned this topic in the comments I thought it might be a good idea to include a link to a new blog about the Catholic Church Using D.C.’s Homeless as Pawns in Gay Marriage Debate