Ensuring Opportunity for All Americans

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

This week, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions will hold a hearing on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would protect gay, lesbian, and transgender Americans against workplace discrimination. Although it may seem obvious that no person should be fired because of their sexual orientation or gender identity -- according to Gallup, 89% of the country believes that gay and lesbian Americans "should have equal rights in terms of job opportunities" -- in nearly 30 states across the country, a person can still be legally fired for being gay. And despite the fact that 71% of Americans agree that "how an employee performs at their job should be the standard for judging an employee, not whether they are transgender," only 12 states and DC protect employees from being fired because of their gender identity.

So if Americans overwhelming support employment discrimination laws protecting the LGBT community, why have we not yet passed those protections on a federal level?

We think that despite the supportive poll numbers, there is an underlying ambivalence on this issue among many Americans, and that ambivalence is rooted in one simple but important concept: joining versus changing. In our public opinion research, we've found that if people think that an LGBT equality measure -- from relationship recognition to workplace protections -- is intended to allow gay, lesbian, and transgender Americans to join a traditional institution, rather than change it, they are much more likely to be supportive.

In order to make the case that ENDA is about allowing gay, lesbian, and transgender Americans to join the workplace, rather than to change it, advocates must emphasize three things about the bill:

  1. ENDA conforms to the traditional rules of the workplace.

It creates a level playing field for all employees, is careful not to create or imply any special rights for gay, lesbian, and transgender employees, takes the lead of America's most successful businesses, and has an explicit exemption for small business owners.

  • ENDA does not change the rules for the religious community.
    It contains a strong exemption that makes clear the bill does not apply to a broad range of religious organizations, including churches, religious schools, religious hospitals, or religious social services agencies.
  • ENDA furthers core, traditional American values. It is consistent with core American values like meritocracy (hiring and firing employees based on workplace performance), religious liberty (exempting religious organizations from the bill), and the Golden Rule (treating others as we'd like to be treated).
  • We think that if proponents succeed in convincing policymakers and Americans that ENDA is about allowing gay, lesbian, and transgender people to join the workplace, they will be able to overcome the lingering ambivalence and finally pass a bill that ensures all employees will be judged on the basis of their workplace performance and behavior.

    To that end, we offer a memo that aims to help advocates frame the issue in a way that speaks to people's core concerns, and a fact sheet that answers frequently asked questions about the legislation, including how it will impact the business community, nonprofits, and people of faith. We hope that these resources will help aid in the passage of ENDA, ensuring that every person is judged at work on the job they do, and nothing more.

    After all, that is the American way.