As happy as I am to hear that ENDA, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, is again being discussed in the media and, more importantly, in Congress, I am saddened that it is even necessary. America is an advanced culture in almost every way. Our military is powerful and the most efficient in the world, and our economy is the largest on planet. We are advanced in the areas of technology and education, though we have slipped slightly. But how, in a country and culture as evolved as we are, can there still be a need for a bill to protect human rights?
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is planning to bring the bill up for a Senate vote again. This bill has failed several times in the past, but with a Democratic majority in the Senate, a Democratic president, and a nation with a more progressive mentality, the bill has a better chance of passing than ever before.
Basically, this bill states that employers will not be able to discriminate against anyone on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. (Existing federal laws already prohibit employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, or disability.) It's sad that there has to be a law in place to protect these rights, but I guess all we have to do is look at history to see that morality doesn't always come naturally to politicians or the general population. The government cannot control the minds of the people, but it can, to a certain degree, control their behavior. And unfortunately, many modern Americans do need a law to teach them not to act like assholes.
Conservatives feel that this bill will only add to the moral decay of a nation that is already going to Hell in a hand-basket. But this bill shouldn't be seen as deciding whether it is "right" or "moral" to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or gender-nonconforming. Its intent is simply to mandate that employers, no matter what they may believe about these issues, act like, you know, nice human beings.
Historically, African Americans and women, along with other minority groups, have been discriminated against. Politicians who represented the people of America were afraid of the chaos that they imagined would ruin our nation if those with dark skin or vaginas were allowed to vote and treated equally. But we've made a lot of progress on these issues in the last 50 years.
LGBT people have always been discriminated against too, but most of these cases were not headline news, since the majority of America's LGBT persons were still hiding in the closet, sadly. It is easier to hide one's sexual orientation or gender identity than it is to hide one's sex or skin color, and many LGBT persons did choose to hide for fear of losing their jobs, their families or even their lives. Today, nearly 4 percent of Americans identify as LGBT. Do LGBT people make up a larger percentage of the population today than they did in the 1950s? Probably not. Are there more LGBT people who are choosing to live authentically? Absolutely!
So now that LGBT people are slowly emerging from the closets of America, conservatives are feeling threatened: What if these people take over the military? What if they are allowed to get married? The planets will surely fall out of alignment, and bunnies will grow fangs and terrorize our neighborhoods! What if these people are allowed to be in my workplace? What if I am required to hire them?! Will I get hit on by a gay person? Will my customers flee if they suspect that I have hired an LGBT person? Will I learn that LGBT people are just people, and that they have talents and a good work ethic and can perform just as well on any given task as their non-LGBT counterparts? After the fear has passed and the world has not imploded, these employers might actually grow a heart that would make the Tin Man proud.
Many critics of ENDA, like Janice Crouse of Concerned Women for America and voices from other right-wing groups, complain that LGBT people are undermining the fibers of our economic structure. They say that the acceptance of homosexuality and alternative gender identities in our culture (and I would assume that they mean the workplace as well) has accelerated the divorce rate and left many people in broken homes. Yes, broken homes are unfortunate and do tend to be detrimental to all parties, including children. And yes, single-parent homes and broken families do tend to need greater assistance from the government, but I don't think that can be pinned on the LGBT community.
What is illogical to me is the right wing's passion for stopping ENDA. They are trying to stop the deterioration of the culture and dependence on government assistance by putting up road blocks in the fight for equality. Do they not realize that providing equality for all workers will likely reduce the number of people on welfare? Some, even many, have been refused a job or fired because of their race, their sex, their age, and yes, their sexual orientation or gender identity. ENDA is likely to help end the widespread occurrence of that type of discrimination and get many qualified workers back into the workforce and off government programs.
Equality shouldn't require a vote or a congressional conversation, but apparently it does. A qualified worker's ability to find a job shouldn't be hampered by an employer's fear or prejudice, but unfortunately it is. Government can only control actions, not attitudes. Though we still have a battle to fight in the streets, if ENDA does finally pass, the battle in the workplace will finally be won. Changing the hearts and minds of those who oppose LGBT people's right to equality may not be as easy. It will take time, conversations, relationships and understanding to bring true equality. I encourage every reader to open your heart and mind to join the fight that will likely last beyond my lifetime. But one person at a time, this fight can be won through personal dialogue and relationships with people who may be prejudiced not because they are wicked but because they are ignorant and afraid.