Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) joined Sens. Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) to introduce an inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act today that would prohibit workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
President Obama has already declared his full support for the bill.
Only twelve states and the District of Columbia currently prohibit workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, while eight other states have laws that only protect a person from discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Sen. Kennedy – a longtime champion of LGBT rights – could not be present on Capitol Hill for the momentous occasion due to medial constraints, but celebrated the bill’s introduction in a statement released by the Human Rights Campaign:
The promise of America will never be fulfilled as long as justice is denied to even one among us. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) brings us closer to fulfilling that promise for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender citizens. I'm proud to join Senators Merkley and Collins in introducing this important legislation.
Out & Equal Workplace Advocates, an LGBT organization devoted to assuring safe and equitable workplaces for LGBT people, also applauded today’s legislation:
Out & Equal has worked tirelessly for more than a decade to assure that the nation's leading corporations provide policies and protections for its LGBT employees in the absence of federal protections. The federal government is now poised to do what major corporations have been doing for years -- protecting employees from discrimination.
The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, which dedicates itself to building local LGBT activism in rural enclaves, small towns and cities nationwide, was the first national organization to advocate for federal nondiscrimination protections when it worked with then-U.S. Reps. Bella Abzug and Ed Koch to introduce a sweeping bill in 1974.
Rea Carey, Executive Director of the Task Force, declared ENDA an historic win for the LGBT community and its allies:
For decades, a majority has supported protecting their friends, family and neighbors from [anti-LGBT] discrimination. They know it's wrong to deprive lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people of the ability to earn a livelihood and provide for their families simply because of who they are. We are on the cusp of seeing those dark days come to an end, and today's introduction marks an important step in that direction.
According to Washington Blade the bill marks the first piece of transgender-inclusive legislation ever considered by the U.S. Senate, making it especially significant for the transgender community. Mara Keisling, Executive Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), reflected on ENDA's tremendous impact on transgender people in a statement released today:
Hardworking transgender people deserve the right to go to work without the fear of being arbitrarily fired. We want to apply for a job and be confident that we’ll be evaluated based on our qualifications. Our work should be judged on our skills and our expertise, the same as everyone else. ENDA is simply about basic equality in the workplace and freedom from discrimination.
A similar bill was introduced in the House last June by Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) and currently has 152 co-sponsors.
GLAAD will continue to monitor the media's coverage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.