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Mottet: Why We Need the Employment Non-Discrimination Act

Americans all over the country are out of work, with many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people — transgender Americans in particular — facing tough times because of workplace bias. Thankfully, our nation is on the cusp of seriously addressing this injustice: The House is forecasted to soon consider the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would prohibit workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

[IMGCAP(1)]Many LGBT people only survive in the workplace by pretending they are not LGBT. For those who do come out to their employer, discrimination too often is the result.

A 2007 meta-analysis by the Williams Institute of 50 studies of job discrimination against LGBT people found regular evidence of bias in the workplace. LGBT people reported various discriminatory behaviors, including overt discrimination (up to 68 percent in the surveys), firing or denial of employment (up to 17 percent), denial of promotion or negative performance evaluation (up to 28 percent) and even verbal or physical violence (up to 41 percent).

For transgender workers specifically, widespread bias makes their quest for jobs even more bleak. Preliminary data from a forthcoming, groundbreaking survey on discrimination against transgender people in the U.S. from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality shows that discrimination in employment is a nearly universal experience. Ninety-seven percent of our sample (approximately 6,500 transgender people) report being mistreated or harassed at work. Almost half (47 percent) lost their jobs, were denied a promotion or denied a job as a direct result of being a transgender individual. These statistics are shocking to most people, but they are not surprising to those of us in the community: We know from our friends and family members that discrimination is the rule, not the exception.

To be a strong country, to compete in the global economy, we must have an economy and work ethic that means that all people are hired, evaluated and promoted on the basis of their work performance, not on their personal characteristics. Just as non-LGBT people have tremendous talents, LGBT people are a resource that our nation can no longer afford to squander.

And yes, passing ENDA is also the right thing to do. People should not have to become homeless, like 20 percent of our sample, because of the bias of others. Having to lie at work about one’s significant other in order to keep one’s job is not a moral situation, either. The protections ENDA offers the LGBT community are life-saving for many, soul-saving for others.

Last week, the Traditional Values Coalition — an organization labeled as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center — provided to Roll Call readers a parade of horribles that it claims ENDA would cause. The reality is those claims have been widely discredited and are simply scare tactics. ENDA is a measured response to a serious problem modeled after successful state laws.

Americans support nondiscrimination in the workplace, including ENDA, because they aspire to workplaces where people truly are judged by their contributions to the workplace, not on personal characteristics. LGBT people simply want to be included in the American dream of equal opportunity for all.

Congress must act to ensure that LGBT people no longer become homeless and live in fear because of legal discrimination. The LGBT community needs Congress to make discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity part of our country’s history. To build a more perfect union, Congress must act now.

Lisa Mottet is the Transgender Civil Rights Project director at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

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