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Historic Workers' Protection Bill Passes in Senate, Will Protect Many in Asian American & Pacific Islander Community

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The historic Senate passage on Thursday of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), a critical measure that would safeguard lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) workers from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, is tremendous progress in the fight for legal equality for all.

This bill is long overdue. Consider an alarming statistic: In 29 states, workers can still be fired on the grounds of sexual orientation and 33 states, without explicit legal protections, where you can be fired for being transgender. LGBT communities of color also are affected, including Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs), who face higher rates of unemployment--11 percent--than their heterosexual AAPI counterparts, according to the Williams Institute.

As the first openly gay Executive Director of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA), AFL-CIO, I am proud to lead an organization that protects the rights of all workers. We work to advance social and economic justice for all, no matter one's self or perceived identity.

APALA has a history of fighting for legal equality. Most recently, at our 12th Biennial Convention in August, we passed a significant and historical resolution on transgender rights. And as part of the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans, we work closely with the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance to uplift LGBT voices within the AAPI community. We advocate legislation that ensures broad protections and ends discrimination.

The bill's approval was undoubtedly a win--ENDA was first introduced in 1994 but never received a vote before this week. And as our friends at the National Center for Transgender Equality remind us, this is the first gender identity inclusive ENDA that has been voted on in either chamber of Congress ever.

The bill, however, also included broad religious exemptions that would reach beyond places of worship. Workers in private institutions, such as schools and hospitals, could be subject to prejudice. Many LGBT and civil rights organizations, including APALA, support further narrowing of these exemptions as the bill moves to the House. Employment decisions should be based solely upon a person's qualifications and job performance, and no individual should be a target of prejudice.

Now that ENDA has passed the Senate, House leaders should also take a similar stand against discrimination. APALA urges the House to schedule an immediate vote on the measure.

Our elected leaders need to remember what our country stands for: equality for all. I hope they can remember this nation's promise to all Americans and pass a version of ENDA that does not limit the right of any worker in any workplace.

Cendana is the first openly gay and youngest-ever Executive Director of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA), AFL-CIO and is a member of the Executive Committee for the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans. He is a proud member of the National Writer's Union, UAW Local 1981. Cendana was named one of Washington, D.C.'s most influential 40-and-under young leaders, one of the 30 Most Influential Asian Americans Under 30 & awarded the Next Generation Award from Metro Weekly, which recognizes the accomplishments of LGBT activists & artists under the age of 30. Previously, he served as the first openly gay Asian American president of the United States Student Association.