Joe Herron was always nice to the gay customers who came into the national retail store where he worked in a suburb of Columbus, Ohio. But his friendliness may have cost him a promotion, according to his mother.
Lyn Herron alleged that the district manager repeatedly refused to promote her son and, at one point, was overheard telling Joe Herron's direct supervisor that it had to do with Herron's sexuality.
"The district manager just looked at Joe's manager and said, 'Well, I think he's gay. And we don't have room for that here,'" Herron's mother told HuffPost.
While a Senate committee met Wednesday in Washington to vote on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) -- a bill that would bar employers from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity nationwide -- Lyn Herron and a handful of other mothers made their way to the Federal Building in Columbus to urge Ohio's Republican senator, Rob Portman, to help pass this long-debated legislation into law.
Portman's son is gay, and this spring, he became the first sitting Republican senator to support same-sex marriage. But the senator has not yet indicated where he stands on ENDA.
Portman did not respond to HuffPost's request for comment. In June, however, his spokesman Jeffrey Sadosky told the Washington Blade, "Sen. Portman is strongly opposed to discrimination and is looking at proposals to address it. He is concerned about excessive reliance on litigation as a tool for social change, and will continue to review the most recent version of ENDA."
The press conference in Columbus was organized by the advocacy group GetEQUAL.
"From coast to coast, LGBT Americans are suffering from not having federal workplace protections in place," said Heather Cronk, co-director of GetEQUAL. "We're looking to Senator Portman and other fair-minded Republicans to support this bill, to support their kids, and to support the idea that anyone -- regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity -- has the right to pursue the American Dream."
Herron's son, now 26, has since left his retail position and landed a job in the developmental disability field. But for Herron, the fight is not over. "I think people need to know that ENDA doesn't just protect you if you're gay. It affects every one of us," she said.
Gail Burkholder decided to join Herron at the press conference because, she told HuffPost, "I'm trying, like any good parent who childproofs their home, to look a few years ahead and say, 'What can I do to smooth the way for my kid and other kids?'"
Burkholder's son, a bisexual transgender 20-year-old, has yet to face discrimination in the workplace. "But he really hasn't worked yet," she said.
She also has a straight son. At the press conference, Burkholder planned to tell the crowd about both of her children and argue that they shouldn't be treated differently. "Both of my boys are over six feet tall, are studying the sciences in college and graduate school, and have found the person with whom they want to have kids and grow old together," she planned to say. "Please tell me which one can and should be legally fired because of who he is, rather than what he can do for his employer!"
On Wednesday morning, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions by a bipartisan vote approved the latest version of ENDA, which will now head to the Senate floor.