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ENDA: House committee hears from Gay victims of job discrimination
ENDA: House committee hears from Gay victims of job discrimination
WASHINGTON - A string of Gays and Lesbians told a House committee on Wednesday of being fired solely because of their sexuality and called on Congress to enact the Federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

The bill was introduced in Congress in April. If passed and signed by the president it be illegal to fire, refuse to hire or refuse to promote an employee based on the person's sexual orientation or gender identity.

Brooke Waits, a Texas cell phone company employee, told the committee of being terminated because anti-Gay job discrimination. Waits fought back tears as she described being fired the day after her supervisor looked at her personal cell phone and saw a picture of her kissing her girlfriend on New Year's Eve.

Michael Carney, a Springfield, Massachusetts police officer said that he made a conscious decision to remain in the closet after witnessing an incident at his police academy graduation party.

Carney said that he saw a fellow officer come out of the men's room with a bloody nose. The man had been beaten by a police supervisor because he had brought a male friend to the party.

Things have improved in Springfield, mainly because Massachusetts has a state law barring discrimination that includes Gays. Carney's appearance, in full uniform, before the committee had the endorsement of police commissioner Edward Flynn.

Still, said Carney, countless Gay, Lesbian and transsexual workers across the country are in states without protections.

"It is time for a federal law that would make it illegal to fire a GLBT person just because of who they are," Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese told the committee.

"ENDA will bring the value of meritocracy to a community that has had to do without it for too long."

The legislation is sponsored by Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), Rep. Deborah Pryce (R-OH), Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), and Rep. Christopher Shays (R-CT). Frank and Baldwin called on the committee to advance the measure.

"One's sexual orientation or gender identity simply must not bar a person from the opportunity to achieve his or her potential, to support her family, or to contribute to his or her community," said Solmonese.

"Civil rights laws have improved job opportunity for millions of Americans, raising standards of living and providing hope of a better future for each successive generation. ENDA will bring the GLBT community, at last, under the protection of federal civil rights law. The time has come to pass it."

In 31 states, it's still legal to fire someone because they're Gay; in 39 states it is legal to fire someone for being Transgender.

The bill has the endorsement of leading Democrats and major labor groups.

In May the Transport Workers Union of America became the latest union to announce its support for the measure. The union represents 130,000 workers nationwide.

The extent of workplace discrimination became evident in June when a study was released showing employment harassment remains at nearly the same level it did a decade ago.

The study, by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, found that 15 to 43 percent of Lesbian, Gay, or Bisexual people experienced employment discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The numbers are remarkably similar to conclusions from a survey of studies conducted in 1992, which found that 16% to 68% of LGB respondents reported experiencing employment discrimination at some point in their lives.

Transgender individuals reported similar levels of discrimination, with 20 to 57 percent of trans respondents experiencing employment discrimination based on their gender identity.

The existence of sexual orientation employment discrimination is not benign, the authors of the study said in their report.

The survey also found that Gay men consistently earn 10% to 32% less than their similarly qualified heterosexual counterparts.

Nevertheless, 92 percent of Fortune 500 companies now include workplace protections based on an employees' sexual orientation, according to the report - up from 51 percent in 1995.

A majority of Fortune 500 companies provide benefits to same-sex domestic partners. Over the past year 17 companies have added the benefits bringing the total to 267 - or 53 percent of Fortune 500 companies.

Since Jan. 2006, the number of Fortune 500 companies that include gender identity in their non-discrimination policies went from 78 to 125.

In 2003, only eight companies had such policies.

Attorney Larry Lorber said many businesses fear passage of ENDA will add an additional burden on businesses already struggling to understand and comply with federal employment laws.

Another lawyer, Mark Fahleson, expressed the concerns of some faith-based groups that the legislation's "religious exemption" provision is overly complex.

The committee has not scheduled a vote on the bill.

Courtesy of 365Gay.com

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