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October 23, 2009
Federal job bias bill gets its second House hearing
Washington, D.C.--The full House Education and Labor Committee heard testimony on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act on September 23.
The bill prohibits businesses with 15 or more employees from using sexual orientation and gender identity as the basis for discrimination in employment.
This is the second time the committee considered on the bill. The first was in 2007, paving the way for the bill to pass the House with gender identity protection removed, causing a near split of the LGBT movement.
All three openly gay members of Congress were in the room for the testimony.
Barney Frank of Massachusetts and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin testified for the bill. Jared Polis of Colorado sits on the committee.
Ohio Democrats Dennis Kucinich and Marcia Fudge, both of Cleveland, are also members of the committee.
The arguments for and against the measure were familiar, with proponents, mostly Democrats, arguing that workplace discrimination against LGBT people exists, has been documented to be widespread, and that only half the nation’s population is covered by laws in localities and 21 states, creating the need for a federal law. Only 14 states bar discrimination by gender identity.
The Ohio House passed its LGBT Equal Housing and Employment Act in September, though the bill has little chance of passing the Ohio Senate.
Opponents do not dispute that sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination exists. Instead, they complain that the bill is complicated, won’t be understood, and creates another special class of people protected by civil rights law.
Federal law currently bars discrimination by race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. ENDA opponents rarely advocate repealing these classes and seldom object to them, though objections to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 were similar to those raised around ENDA today.
Opponents also claim that ENDA would be a burden to religious organizations whose discrimination against LGBT people is a principle, even though they are clearly exempt.
Frank addressed those issues head on, after they were raised by ranking GOP member John Kline of Minnesota’s opening statement.
“Trying to get a job and join the military have not been the hallmarks of radicalism,” Frank said, responding to the Republican’s inference that job bias protection is a radical idea.
Frank said that opponents of non-discrimination laws have always said they “harbor no ill will” against the group involved, “but worry about the disruptive effects” of protecting them.
“In every case where we voted against discrimination,” Frank said, “they always predict disruption and it never happens.”
U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission acting chair Stuart Ishimaru, representing the Obama administration, testified for passage of the bill, saying that “prejudice is often overcome by exposure to other people,” adding that has been the case when laws have been enacted to protect every discriminated-against class.
Ishimaru also addressed another Republican sticking point--the use of the word “perceived” when referring to sexual orientation and gender identity would be difficult to enforce.
“Of course not,” Ishimaru said.
Kucinich expressed concern with the 15 employee exemption, since an increasing number of businesses are small.
“Maybe five would be a better number,” Kucinich said.
Yale Law School professor William Eskridge also testified for ENDA telling the committee about the history of employment discrimination, especially in the federal government, and how laws have helped remedy it.
Vandy Beth Glenn testified for the bill. She was fired from her job as an editor with the Georgia General Assembly for transitioning from male to female.
Glenn was told by her supervisor that she was fired because co-workers would think her transition is immoral. She has filed a federal suit against the state.
“In its legal papers, Georgia’s attorneys claim that other people’s potential prejudices against me were a good enough reason to fire me,” Glenn said.
“But several of my coworkers already knew that I’m transgender, and they accepted me. And when the state’s attorneys asked the judge to dismiss my case, he refused, writing that “the anticipated reactions of others are not a sufficient basis for discrimination.”
Polis spoke about the state of Colorado having no difficulty enforcing its law that includes transgender protection.
Fudge said she’s pleased that Ohio is “moving the direction this Congress is moving” with anti-discrimination bills.
“I implore my colleagues to do the right thing and pass this bill,” Fudge said.
Testifying against ENDA was National Religious Broadcasters attorney Craig Parshall.
He is the husband of noted homophobe and gay baiter Janet Parshall, who hosts the radio show Janet Parshall’s America.
He defended discrimination.
“Christian ministries that object to those sexual preferences which are in clear violation of the standards of the Bible are standing on a long and well-worn road,” Parshall said.
“Those doctrines are proscribed in both the Old and New Testaments and have endured for several thousand years. The rights to preach and practice those beliefs spring from a Bill of Rights that is two hundred and twenty years old, and in turn which reach back to hundreds of years of English common law.”
“Against all of that comes [ENDA] and similar measures, which can claim to have newly-minted a set of sexual orientation and gender-identity privileges which, at most, are just a few decades old in their very recent cultural currency,” Parshall said.
ENDA is predicted to move in the House before the end of the year.
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