Ted Kennedy once declared, "The promise of America will never be fulfilled as long as justice is denied to even one among us." In a country whose citizens love to talk about how America is all about equal rights, liberty and justice, these bold words find themselves at home. So can somebody please explain to me why so many members in the House of Representatives are opposing an anti-discrimination bill and threatening its passage?
Let's just all take a moment to let the implications of that sink in. Our government still can't determine if it's truly ready to take a stance against discrimination? We're still incapable of combating as little as most forms of discrimination in non-religious occupations, let alone all forms? Doesn't that go against our commitment for equal rights? Liberty? Justice? We still have to fight and wrestle with our own representatives to get them to move against discrimination in our own country? Are sirens screaming in anyone else's moral standards?
To make matters worse, different versions of this bill have been introduced to Congress since 1994. In other words, for more than my entire lifetime, America's lawmakers have struggled time and time again over the passage of an anti-discrimination bill. How embarrassing.
There's a reason why I haven't yet explained what, exactly, this bill is. The reason? People get so hung up over the actual group of people it affects without seeing it for what it is at the bottom of it all: an anti-discrimination bill.
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) is a piece of legislation that would protect LGBT workers from discrimination in the workplace. It's an anti-discrimination bill that anyone with scruples ought to support. You don't have to advocate gay people to support the bill. You just have to support anti-discrimination. Stop seeing it as a "gay thing" because it's not; it's a discrimination issue. I don't care what your views are on same-sex marriage or sexual orientation; if you believe you shouldn't be discriminated against because of your gender, race and so on, you should be supporting this bill. It's as simple as that. Anti-discrimination is a basic moral standard; nobody should face discrimination. Why do we have to make this so complicated?
There's also a reason why I haven't mentioned which party makes up the biggest opposition for this bill (even though it's pretty obvious, considering history). It's because party affiliation is by no means a vindication for opposing anti-discrimination. However, it is the Republican party, which controls the House, that is threatening ENDA's passage. That's not to say all Republicans and Republicans only are against ENDA. There are ten Republicans in the US Senate who espoused ENDA, reinforcing the fact that party affiliation does not matter when voting on something so clearly discernible. Passing ENDA, in the words of John McCain, is the "right thing to do," and as Senator Collins (R) rightfully said, "The workplace is simply no place for discrimination."
Opposing the anti-discrimination bill not only goes against what America stands for, but it's also just completely backwards and regressive. You have to be living under a boulder in the deepest trenches of the ocean not to see that the American people have drastically changed their attitudes towards people of all sexual orientations in the past decades. For example, while support was once considerably lacking, 53 percent of all Americans and at least 70 percent of young people now support same-sex marriage. That's regarding something as monumental as redefining marriage in the American government, not something as simple as repeating and reinforcing the American promise against discrimination. As statistics show, young people are overwhelmingly supportive of people of all sexual orientations and gender identities. Considering the fact that the youthful are also America's future and its only way forward, these statistics are, moreover, a compelling sign that opposing bills such as ENDA is a backwards denial of the inevitable future.
ENDA has its flaws and exemptions that even apply to non-religious occupations, but it is nonetheless an important step in the right direction. It's finally getting Congress to start acknowledging that LGBTs should be legally protected from workplace discrimination, which is a door that we need to fully open and step through before we can finish eradicating LGBT discrimination.
Some people have contended that ENDA would only be superfluous because most businesses in America already have similar policies against discrimination. Others (I'm looking at you, Boehner) have insisted that ENDA is "unnecessary and would provide a basis for frivolous lawsuits" and that "People are already protected in the workplace." But for our government not to explicitly recognize the right of its people to obtain and hold jobs regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity is, in my opinion, as outrageous and contemptible as the government enthusiastically supporting discrimination. By not acting, America faces the corollary of allowing employers to continue discriminating against LGBTs and circumventing the consequences, leaving LGBTs susceptible to job insecurity.
For the record, Boehner, I'd rather have a million "frivolous lawsuits" than have you wasting time in the House embracing your frivolous fallacies and fairytales. If people are already protected in the workplace, why has the Center for American Progress (CAP) reported that 15-43 percent of gay workers and 90 percent of transgender workers have "experienced some form of discrimination and harassment at the workplace"? Why is it that only 21 states and D.C. prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, and only 16 states and D.C. protect gender identity discrimination? The hard, cold fact is that all people are NOT already protected in the workplace. Furthermore, over 70 percent of Americans, including most Republican voters, support laws that make discrimination based on sexual orientation illegal, and even 71 percent of people in Boehner's home state of Ohio feel likewise. If Boehner would actually do his research before speaking, he'd also know that ENDA wouldn't create a multitude of "frivolous lawsuits"- in states that have already banned such discrimination, only 1.8-6.7 percent of all discrimination claims were actually based on sexual orientation, according to the non-partisan Government Accountability Office (GAO).
U.S. Congressmen: Whether or not you vote yes or no on ENDA today, ENDA will pass one day. Like it or not, America is learning to embrace LGBTs. Look at the trends in American support for LGBTs. Look at the growing number of states who are legalizing same-sex marriage. Look at the polls. Look at the future population of voters. My generation of teens and today's young adults celebrate individual expression, and we're widely known for being hugely incompatible with any negligible repression of who we are. As much as it might scare conservatives, we love LGBTs. We're the future, and to move forward and keep up with the times, Congress will one day have to pass ENDA. It's not a question of "if." It's a matter of "when." Maybe you will continue to be backwards and regressive, keeping with the outdated beliefs of older generations. Maybe you will refuse to represent and continue to alienate the majority opinion of America and America's future. Maybe you will keep ENDA from passing today, but don't expect to win the battle in the end.
Tomorrow lies with America's future. Any history lesson can teach you that much.
There is no legitimate reason why our lawmakers can't get past their qualms and absolutely ridiculous fear of LGBTs to pass something as basic as an anti-discrimination bill. After the historic passage of ENDA in the US Senate, I hope the House of Representatives gets the message and understands where the future lays. Open your eyes, or the future will move on without you. I'm proud of our Senate for finally recognizing that LGBTs are also people who deserve to have their rights recognized and protected. America should protect all of its citizens, and until America does, don't expect us to stop pushing for change.
Above all, never stop expecting America's younger generations to keep paving the way forward. This is our world, and we will not let the people of America's yesterdays keep us from it.