OPINION Why is the Congressmember from the gayest city in America blocking legislation that protects lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender workers from workplace discrimination? That’s the question LGBT workers across the country are asking, and why LGBT workers picketed her office in the Federal Building and delivered a letter demanding that she not kill the Employee Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).
Most LGBT workers have no protections from workplace discrimination. ENDA would provide legal protection against discrimination nationally. In 29 states, it is still legal to fire someone solely because they are lesbian, gay, or bisexual. And in 38 states it is legal to fire someone solely for being transgender. The current version of the bill would outlaw discrimination on both sexual orientation and gender identity.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi repeatedly promised that she would schedule a vote on the law, but repeatedly broke these promises.
A 2006 study by the Guardian and Transgender Law Center found that 60 percent of transgender people in San Francisco earn less than $15,300 per year, only 25 percent have a full-time job, and nearly 9 percent have no source of income.
Only 4 percent reported making more than $61,200, which is about the median income in the Bay Area. More than half of local transgender people live in poverty, and 96 percent earn less than the median income. Forty percent of those surveyed don’t even have a bank account.
What this study reveals is that even in a city that is considered a haven for the LGBT community, transgender workers face profound employment challenges and discrimination. If this is true in San Francisco, imagine the figures in less queer-friendly towns.
A 2007 meta-analysis from the Williams Institute of 50 studies of workplace discrimination against LGBT people found consistent evidence of bias in the workplace. The analysis found that up to 68 percent of LGBT people reported experiencing employment discrimination, and up to 17 percent said they had been fired or denied employment.
Public opinion polling shows that Americans are overwhelmingly in favor of making sure LGBT Americans get the same employment opportunities as everyone else. In fact, the latest surveys show that nearly 90 percent of Americans support workplace fairness for LGBT workers.
In a few weeks, Congress will finish its legislative business for the year so members can return to their districts to run for reelection. Last month at a LGBT Pride event, Rep. Jackie Spier (D-San Mateo) announced to a stunned crowd that not only would we not get ENDA before the end of the legislative session but she doesn’t think we would get it for five years because we won’t have enough votes in Congress again to ensure passage.
That’s right, at this moment, members of Congress are planning on leaving town and going home to campaign for their own jobs — while leaving thousands of LGBT workers without protections for the next five years. When 90 percent of Americans support workplace fairness, it’s challenging to believe that Pelosi fears a backlash from the voters.
That said, it’s fair to say that Pelosi may get a backlash from LGBT voters if she continues to block ENDA from a vote. The time to pass ENDA is now. The American people support it; the politicians promised it. No more broken promises. We demand that the House speaker stop blocking ENDA and schedule a vote.
Gabriel Haaland is a member of Pride at Work.