Last week, Senate Democrats and 10 Republicans voted in favor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which makes it illegal to hire or fire a person because of their sexual orientation or identity. “Let the bells of freedom ring,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.).
However, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is opposed to ENDA, which makes it unlikely that the measure will receive a vote in the House of Representatives.
That’s a shame. Speaker Boehner and many conservatives base their opposition to ENDA on inaccurate information. ENDA would simply give gay, lesbian, and transgender workers the same rights as other Americans. Not only is it supported by a majority of Latinos, it is supported by a majority of voters.
A spokesman for Boehner said in a statement that he is against ENDA “because it will increase frivolous litigation and cost American jobs, especially small business jobs.” But a report this year from the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office found that states with LGBT employee protections had “relatively few employment discrimination complaints based on sexual orientation and gender identity filed.” Researchers report that 96 percent of corporations on the Fortune 500 list have already implemented ENDA-like provisions for their workers. And Apple’s CEO Tim Cook just penned an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal in support of ENDA. The title says it all: “Workplace equality is good for business.”
An aide for Speaker Boehner told the Huffington Post that, “We have always believed this (ENDA) is covered by existing law.” Not true. Just 22 states have their own laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation, while only 18 include sexual identity.
Three states with large Latino populations – Texas, Arizona, and Florida – do not protect LGBT Americans from discrimination. Neither do seven out of the ten states with the largest Latino population growth in the 2010 Census. That’s why the League of United Latin American Citizens(LULAC), the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) and the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) have all signed a letter urging Congress to pass ENDA.
Hispanics and other Americans recognize that ENDA is necessary. 83 percent of Latinos support employment non-discrimination protections for LGBT people, according to a 2011 study by the Movement Advancement Project, while more than 70 percent of all voters favor them as well.
Eighty percent of Latinos believe that LGBT people suffer discrimination. Sadly, they are correct. Consider that a 2012 report by UCLA Law School found “persistent and pervasive” discrimination against LGBT employees in the workplace. Or that one Latina is currently suing her former employer after they allegedly fired her for having a bumper sticker from a gay organization on her car.
To be clear, ENDA will not interfere with anyone’s First Amendment right to freedom of religion. It contains a broad exemption for religious organizations, churches and businesses with less than 15 employees. Ralph Reed of the Faith & Freedom Coalition was fear-mongering when he wrote in USA Today that “Employers, including schools, would be required to allow men to show up for work dressed as women, or women as men.”
If Republicans really want something to worry about, they might think about how their opposition to full equality for the LGBT community risks losing the youth vote. As the Republican National Committee’s own 2012 “autopsy” report concluded, “Already, there is a generational difference within the conservative movement about issues involving the treatment and the rights of gays — and for many younger voters, this issue is a gateway into whether the party is a place they want to be.” The last thing the GOP needs is another issue (besides immigration reform) that they refuse to act on.
Speaker Boehner should allow a vote on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. It does not create special rights for anyone. Rather, it guarantees all Americans equality in the workplace.
NBC Latino contributor Raul A. Reyes is an attorney and member of the USA Today Board of Contributors.