In New York City a group calling themselves Queer Nation are pretty pissed off, and for good reason. Queer Nation has been around since the early 1990s, actually, but a revival is in play, and it's been ramping up for some time now. I first heard about the revival when I watched a group of Queer Nation activists storm the embassies of Uganda and Russia this year. It was very cool, and it's great news for all LGBTQ people that Queer Nation is back. For example, without Queer Nation I may have never heard of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). I may have heard about it, even supported it based on the policy position of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). HRC supports it, so why shouldn't I? Then I read a Queer Nation flyer mailed to my inbox the other day. As the name implies, ENDA is supposed to end discrimination against LGBTQ employees, but it doesn't. In fact, ENDA does just the opposite: It sanctions discrimination based on religion.
ENDA has an exemption that allows religiously affiliated employers to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. That means schools, hospitals, charitable organizations, and any employer who tithes or professes to (and of course any church that receives federal money in the form of tax breaks) can fire any LGBTQ person for being who we are. ENDA will not protect you from discrimination at all, because any employer can be thunderstruck and born again, fire you, and stay within the law when and if ENDA passes the U.S. House of Representatives.
But the real question is why the HRC supports it. That makes no sense to me at all. ENDA is no end game when it comes to employee discrimination, and the HRC should know this too. ENDA actually protects religious employers from you, LGBTQ nation. But if we include gender identity and sexual orientation in civil rights legislation, like the Civil Rights Act of 1964 did for race, that will protect LGBTQ people from all forms of discrimination. To say ENDA doesn't go far enough doesn't even cut it. ENDA links church and state, and it allows the church to win by a tightly wound nose hair. How is this a human-rights victory, HRC?
Queer Nation wrote a fantastic policy position, asking all of us to contact members of Congress at house.gov and demand that the federal government enact comprehensive civil rights legislation that includes gender identity and sexual orientation. We are not a protected class, and ENDA doesn't go far enough. ENDA's wording is so dicey that an organization like the HRC can even be fooled. But don't you be fooled. Without explicit protections, and as long as there are exemptions for the church, we will always be second-class, separate but not equal citizens under federal law.
Without Queer Nation, I may never have known that ENDA offers no comprehensive protections at all. That means no protection in housing, no protection in public accommodations, no protection in education, no protection in any federal programs. Instead, ENDA enshrines legal discrimination under federal law, paving the road of good intentions right to hell.
How do you use a term like "non-discrimination" and make exemptions? HRC, same question: How do you use a term like "human rights" and support a campaign for ENDA, which concretizes human failure and discrimination? We must stop ENDA now and let the HRC know it too. Human rights are not special rights, and there should be no religious exemptions for anyone.
Where LGBTQ people are concerned, ENDA is a bus that passes you by in the bitter rain. What's worse, with its exemptions for religiously affiliated employers, ENDA jumps the curb and runs you right over. Shall we overcome? Or shall we continue to place faith and money in organizations like the HRC, only to be denied and ultimately betrayed? My bet, my time, my money, and my faith are better spent on a group like Queer Nation, a group that understands the meaning of the word "equal."
Contact your congressperson today and make sure they understand that religious exemption is a deal breaker. ENDA's days are numbered. If it passes the House, President Obama will sign it. But ENDA isn't a beginning; it's the end of the line for anyone concerned about human rights in America. I think it's time to go to a Queer Nation meeting. If there's no Queer Nation in your town, why not start your own chapter? It's worth the effort, because the bus has plenty of seats left in the front. Check Queer Nation out online, read their position on ENDA, stay informed and take action to end employee discrimination for good.