In 2007 when Congress voted on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), the bill was promising. It was set to prevent employers from discriminating based on a person’s sexual orientation. But the bill did not protect employers from discriminating against employee’s gender identity or expression – transgender protection had been removed by House Democrats because they thought they wouldn’t have enough votes to pass the bill with them. Now, the bill is at a stalemate and transgender men and women are left without federal support.
Don’t Forget the T
The reason it would have been difficult to get the necessary votes is because there is more resistance to protect people who are transgender. Protecting homosexuality alone is a much easier sell, as evidenced by the number of new states legalizing gay marriage, and the 64 regular LGBT characters on cable this year. However, only one of those characters is transgender: a kid named Cole, from “The Fosters” on ABC Family. As low as gay representation is in our culture, transgender representation is even lower, which makes it a concept that is harder to accept socially. If more Americans knew the ins and outs of being transgender, and had it normalized for them, it would be harder for our lawmakers to delay protecting their rights.
Although transgender people are more than twice as likely to hold advance degrees as the average American, the transgender unemployment rate is twice the national average. The correlation between high education and income is broken because of employer bias, or getting laid off when they come out. A typical company’s equal opportunity policy is not enough protection, and neither is the Civil Rights Act of 1964, whose language is too vague. Although 18 states prohibit gender identity-based discrimination, there are still 32 states where transgender men and women can legally be fired for being themselves.
Protection From the State
In 2009 and 2011, versions on the ENDA were introduced that did include gender identity language, but they are stuck in senate limbo. Still, some states are taking matters into their own hands. Alabama lawmakers recently named their state’s non-discrimination bill after Apple CEO Tim Cook, the maker of the iPhone and iPad who happens to be gay. The bill would protect Alabama citizens who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender from work discrimination at a state level since they are not yet protected at a federal level. LGBT workers are already protected in Illinois, and Cleveland City Council met this week to consider legislation that would add “gender identity and expression” to their existing employment discrimination city contracts. Another ordinance that was up for discussion would allow transgender people to use the public restroom that they identified with, instead of the gender assigned at their birth.
For now, it looks like the ENDA bill won’t be passed before the end of 2014, after which we will have a Republican House and Senate that likely won’t prioritize the bill. The ENDA has been introduced to every Congress since 1994, although there have been different versions of it. The most recent version would go far in protecting every American citizen from workplace discrimination, if it ever emerges from senate purgatory. There might be a chance that the bill could pass as an amendment to the defense authorization bill, an approach that has worked in the past, but at this point that is only a rumor.