Gay Americans continue to be discriminated against in the workplace. Although the Civil Rights Act of 1964 bans discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, etc., it does not protect against discrimination due to sexual orientation. In 29 states, as well as under federal law, it is currently legal to refuse to hire an individual because he or she is gay. Employers can even refuse to hire an individual when they think the individual is gay.
On November 7th, the United States took a major step towards protecting equality in the workplace by approving the Employee Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). The bill, which seeks to ban workplace discrimination based on gender identity or sexual preference, passed the Senate by a vote of 64-32. “Yay” voters included 54 Democrats and 10 Republicans.
ENDA has been discussed in almost every Congress since first being introduced in 1994. It failed by a 50-49 vote in 1996—just one vote shy—and was not voted on by the house. Until this year, it had not been put to a full Senate vote since. So, are gay and lesbian employees finally protected? Not exactly.
ENDA still has to pass through the House of Representatives. House Speaker John Boehner says he is not even planning to allow a vote, as he believes this legislation will increase frivolous litigation and cost American jobs, especially small business jobs.” Of course, such an assertion is a nonsensical abstraction unsupported by even a pretense of evidence. And speaking of Speaker Boehner’s fanciful beliefs, he “always believed this is covered by existing law.” “This” is sexual orientation discrimination, and no, he’s wrong on that account too, as it is not covered.
A June 2013 survey by Pew found that 21% of the LGBT community has been treated unfairly by an employer due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.