by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
The U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee held a hearing on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) on June 12. Sen. Patty Murray of Washington state, one of the senior Democrats on the committee, used the occasion to reaffirm her support for the bill.
ENDA would add protections for LGBT workers to federal civil rights legislation, making it illegal to fire or refuse to hire or promote workers because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
'It is time to put a stop to this kind of discrimination once and for all - it's simply unacceptable,' Sen. Murray said at the hearing.
'That's why I am proud to be an original co-sponsor of this important legislation. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act will demand employers evaluate the performance of an employee on the basis of their work, not their sexual orientation.'
A version of ENDA that omitted protections for Transgender workers passed the House in 2007, but Murray is committed to an inclusive bill that covers both sexual orientation and gender identity, her staff said.
'Senator Murray is very committed to passing an inclusive ENDA with protections for gender identity as well as sexual orientation, and she will keep pushing for it to pass,' Murray spokesperson Kathryn Robertson told SGN in an e-mail.
'These provisions are in the Senate ENDA bill this time,' Robertson added.
For the first time, the Senate committee heard testimony from a Trans person. Kylar Broadus, founder of the Trans People of Color Coalition in Columbia, Missouri, described the discrimination he faced as a Transgender man.
'At work, when I decided to actually transition, I had been there for a number of years, and I'm a workaholic, and it was disheartening to me that all this could be pulled out from under me because people weren't comfortable with the person that I am,' Broadus said.
Others who testified in favor of ENDA were M.V. Lee Badgett, research director of the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles; Samuel Bagenstos, a law professor at the University of Michigan; and Ken Charles, vice president of diversity and inclusion at the breakfast foods company General Mills.
During the hearing, Murray asked Charles and Broadus to discuss their experiences as - respectively - an executive and an employee, and to talk about workplace inclusivity and its potential impact on business.
In her statement to the committee, Murray called on her colleagues to act swiftly on the measure.
'This legislation has bipartisan support, and there is no reason it cannot be passed quickly through this committee,' the senator said. 'We need to work together to strengthen protections for our workers, and to ensure an environment of equality at workplaces across America.'
ENDA has had a checkered history in Congress. First introduced by Rep. Bella Abzug (D-N.Y.) in 1974 as the Equality Act, it originally covered discrimination in housing and public accommodations as well as employment. Rep. Ed Koch (D-N.Y.), later mayor of New York City, became the bill's prime sponsor in 1977.
In 1994, the measure was revised to include only workplace discrimination and was renamed ENDA.
In 2007, after Democrats recaptured control of the House in the 2006 midterm elections, language protecting gender identity was added, but it was subsequently stripped from the version of the bill that passed the House on November 7, 2007.
There are currently no federal protections for LGBT workers. Sixteen states, including Washington, have legislation protecting sexual orientation and gender identity. Another five protect sexual orientation alone. In the remaining 29 states, it is perfectly legal for employers to discriminate or retaliate against LGBT workers.
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