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Pass ENDA now 

House defies historic LGBT legislation, despite American support

Imagine being fired for no other reason than simply being who you are. On Nov. 7, the U.S. Senate tried to outlaw that scenario by passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which makes it illegal to fire, to refuse to hire, or to otherwise discriminate against or harass someone based on their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. Its passage has been a long time coming; similar legislation has been proposed for nearly two decades. Ten Senate Republicans joined every Democratic senator to approve the bill.

Nine out of 10 Americans mistakenly believe it is already illegal to fire someone because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, which makes ENDA a common-sense policy. Without it, 33 states have no protections for people who are fired for being transgender, and in 29 states, you can be fired just for being lesbian, gay or bisexual. North Carolina is one of those states. Workers here can be legally harassed or fired for reasons that have nothing to do with job performance.

Up to 43 percent of the LGB community and 90 percent of the transgender community who responded to a national poll reported experiencing employment discrimination. ENDA would ensure that all workers are valued and judged because of their work output, not because of who they are or whom they love.

Speaker John Boehner has indicated that the legislation will not pass the House. It is incomprehensible that the House will not, as stated in the bill, "address the history and persistent, widespread pattern of discrimination on the bases of sexual orientation and gender identity by private sector employers and local, State, and Federal Government employers," especially when a majority of Americans support LGBT workplace protections. A recent poll by the Human Rights Campaign showed that nearly 80 percent of voters support protecting LGBT people from discrimination in employment. This included 70 percent of Republicans and 69 percent of seniors polled. There is a bipartisan sea change washing through our country, yet the House refuses to listen to its constituents and vote to protect citizens.

Because of the lack of leadership from politicians — the Senate took nearly 20 years to pass such anti-discrimination legislation and the House is now taking even longer — several companies have taken matters into their own hands. Eighty-eight percent of Fortune 500 companies have sexual orientation non-discrimination policies, and 57 percent have gender identity non-discrimination policies. In addition, more than 100 companies have joined the Business Coalition for Workplace Fairness, a group of leading U.S. employers that support ENDA. Several North Carolina-based companies, including Bank of America, Delhaize America, Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams, Replacements Ltd and Self-Help Credit Union belong to the coalition.

Although many companies, cities and counties have made efforts to help end workplace discrimination, many people are still fired for the wrong reasons. It is time for all companies, organizations, cities and counties to do what our national and state leaders do not: protect and build our economies by protecting our workers. In North Carolina, our businesses cannot entice the best and brightest workers without the protections that are offered in other states.

Lawmakers push back against ENDA because, according to them, it would result in countless lawsuits for companies. But that is simply false. Data collected by the U.S. General Accounting Office found that the number of complaints of sexual orientation discrimination filed in states with nondiscrimination policies was very low, ranging from 1 to 3 percent. Other studies have produced similar findings. But even if the results were different, would more lawsuits be a bad thing? Should we not punish companies that discriminate?

Workers are more productive when they do not have to hide their true selves for fear of losing their jobs. Passing ENDA or individual policies to end workplace discrimination is not just good for LGBT workers, it is good for the economy. It is the natural next step after the repeal of the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. Because not only should those in our armed services be protected, but all workers should be protected from harassment and discrimination. ENDA puts LGBT workers on the same footing as everyone else: to work free from discrimination, make a living, and support the American dream. Martin Luther King Jr. put it best: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

Alex Earles is a third-year law student at Charlotte School of Law. He is also the president of the law school's LGBT Legal Society. Previously, Alex has worked for LGBT rights at the national level for The Trevor Project as a law clerk and at Log Cabin Republicans.

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