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Jessica Arevalo Headshot

You Say Marriage, I Say Jobs

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The civil rights movement in the United States today has an LGBTQ agenda, and it is gaining momentum. On May 9, President Obama declared his support of same-sex marriage and following suit, the NAACP passed a resolution endorsing same-sex marriage as a civil right. But with all of this attention on marriage equality, we may be ignoring an even more important right: the right to work.

As a longtime organizer and advocate for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer rights, it concerns me that the main issue in today's news is marriage equality. Our community faces daily civil rights violations not limited to school bullying, hate crimes, homelessness, deportation, unemployment, and employment discrimination. With the consequences of these issues so dire, how did the focus of our civil rights struggle become marriage?

There are many benefits to equal access to marriage. It legitimizes queer love as just as valuable as straight love. It allows same-sex couples to have equal rights as married couples from filing joint taxes to being able visit each other in the hospital. But with marriage usually comes weddings, and with the average price of weddings in 2012 hovering around $26,000, who can afford to get married? The employed.

With a national unemployment rate at 8.2 percent, and LGBTQ people facing additional socioeconomic inequalities due to discrimination in the workplace, doesn't it make sense that employment rights should be the number one issue of the LGBTQ community? Don't we need jobs more than marriage?

Only 12 states and the District of Columbia have laws that specifically ban workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Another eight states have laws that ban discrimination based on sexual orientation, but not gender identity.

Even with these patchwork laws, there are still 30 states where you can get fired for being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer.

The LGBTQ community also experiences high rates of discrimination in the workplace. Fifteen to 43 percent of LGBTQ workers have experienced some form of discrimination on the job according to the Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy Study. That number jumps even higher when looking at the transgender community, where 90 percent has encountered some form of harassment or mistreatment at work.

Last month, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled that employment discrimination against a transgender individual is prohibited under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (the federal law that prohibits employment discrimination based upon race, religion, sex, color, and national origin). This important civil rights victory, which went into effect May 21, is the result of a discrimination complaint filed by the Transgender Law Center on behalf of Mia Macy, a transgender woman who was denied a job after outing herself as transgender.

Even with the success this week of including transgender workers under Title VII, there is still no federal law that protects people from losing their job based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.

On June 12, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions will hold a hearing on ENDA -- the Employment Non-Discrimination Act -- a federal bill that prohibits discrimination in the workplace based on a person's sexual orientation and gender identity. It would make it illegal for employers to refuse to hire or fire an employee because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or heterosexual.

Marriage equality is important, but I challenge the LGBTQ community to work together to prioritize legislation that encompasses a wider range of our community. Not everyone wants to get married. But everyone needs a job.