AYINDE J. STEVENS
Student Voice Editor
Last week, the U.S. Senate made a bold statement in passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA. The bill, which passed with a vote of 64 to 32, with 10 Republicans from states ranging from Nevada to New Hampshire, is the latest step in the multi-decade push for equality within the LGBT community.
The bill will make it illegal to discriminate in the workplace against someone who is either Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender.
This bill also marks the first time that transgendered people are included in any successful non-discrimination bill on the federal level. It would protect 7 million private sector employees and 1.2 million who are local, state or federal government employees who identify as LGBT, according the Williams Institute at UCLA Law.
The passage of this bill will also take a big load, psychologically, off the LGBT community since many face anxiety over many things, such as having steady employment and a place to live.
The bill’s passage in the Senate would not be possible without Republican support. The Senate, which has taken on the role of trying to at least get something done in Washington, with at least some form of bipartisan support is encouraging.
The 10 Republican senators who voted “yes” included Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine and John McCain of Arizona, to the surprise of many.
In regards to both Collins and Murkowski, who, along with Kelly Ayotte, single-handedly saved our country from default by getting Congress to avoid it, are perhaps the biggest unsung heroes of the 113th Congress. They really ought to have a better share of the credit.
The bill has had one of the longest hauls for a bill and in fact it’s been waiting to escape the gilded cage of the U.S. Capitol, in some form or another, since the 1970s.
It was first proposed in the House of Representatives by the late Congresswoman Bella Azbug and the late Congressman Ed Koch as an addition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, however, that addition went nowhere.
The bill was revived in 1996 but came short by one vote and in 2007, even with a Democratic majority in the House, where it passed, it lost traction. This was due to many LGBT advocacy groups withdrawing their support when the House dropped the protections for transgendered people from the bill.
This time, the pendulum has shifted in favor of the LGBT community and their allies.
It has been nearly 35 years since the death of Harvey Milk; 20 since Hawaii first ruled that their state must allow equal marriage (but are now finally going to get it); 19 years since the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which five months ago was overturned; and nearly three years since “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” was sent packing.
Today 14 states allow for the freedom to marry, but there is still work to be done. ENDA is the next logical step for equality, however, it is not without its critics and challenges of the utter baseless variety.
One such group actually thought that this bill, should it be law, would allow gay/transgendered people to teach children in drag. Clearly this group never realized that teachers who work in either public, private or parochial schools have their own dress codes. Never once before college did I see my teachers wear jeans and that included Fridays. I’ve never seen my female teachers in a dress except for prom. I mean, these groups are really running out of ideas to scare people.
In the House, where the bill is likely to stall out, Speaker John Boehner thinks the law will lead to frivolous lawsuits. To which, Mr. Speaker, I must ask since when was suing for equal rights and respect
frivolous? The speaker should be reminded that his state just let the rights of transgendered people who work in the public sector lapse just like that. Their state doesn’t even have a law on the books to protect LGBT people in the private sector.
However, before I get too high and mighty I must admit that my state is just as lopsided as his, with much of the downstate supporting protections while the upstate areas do not.
Andrew Cuomo, the governor of New York, was willing to support gay marriage, but neither he nor the New York State Legislature is willing to do something about this.
So yes, Mr. Speaker, we need this bill and we need it now.
Finally, the passage of ENDA will allow for greater choices for employment for LGBT people across the country and will end this patchwork-quilt of states either in support or against this particular form of discrimination, making our corner of the world a better place.