I live in Tennessee. I have a job here…. Two jobs actually, and both of them have things posted like the picture above that are there to inform workers of their rights. If you have a job where there are employees, you have probably seen things like this posted in your workplace. For those of you reading on your phones, this says, “Tennessee Law Prohibits Discrimination in Employment. It is illegal to discriminate against any person because of Race, Color, Creed, Religion, Sex, Age, Disability, or National Origin in recruitment, training, hiring, discharge, promotion, or any condition, term, or privilege of employment.” Then under that, it says, “If you feel you have been discriminated against, contact the Tennessee Human Rights Commission in your region.”
You may or may not notice that there is one distinction that is conspicuously missing from that list of things for which it is illegal to discriminate. Tennessee is one of 20 or so states that has no protection for people who are discriminated against because of sexual orientation or gender identity. That means if you are a highly qualified person who happens to be gay and the employer you are interviewing with finds out about your same-sex marriage from “one of them liberal states,” they can decide that is enough reason to “go in another direction.” Or, if you are a model employee who is continually passed over for promotion and you suspect that it is because you are a lesbian, you have no legal recourse. Or, if you are transgender and your employer finds out, they can fire you for it. Legally. The reason they can do this is because both homosexuality and gender identity are still not covered under federal civil rights laws.
If you are fired because of your Race, Color, Creed, Religion, Sex, Age, Disability, or National Origin, GOOD NEWS–There are federal laws that are designed to protect you! But as far as protecting the rights of the LGBT community, the federal government has decided to “leave it up to the states” as to whether they want to protect the rights of their non-straight citizens. Some states have done a really good job of this; others have not (Here are some really informative maps of how each state is doing on LGBT civil rights). That’s good news if you’re gay and living in California, Illinois, or New Jersey, but if you’re discriminated against because you’re gay and you live in Texas, Alabama, or right here in Tennessee, you’re out of luck. But here’s the thing: Without a federal law mandating it, most of these 20 states (the ones that don’t provide any civil rights protections to people who are LGBT) probably wouldn’t demand civil rights protections for minorities either! There might be some states who would rather keep their schools segregated…. This fact doesn’t mean that the right thing to do is to leave the choice of whether or not to consider the rights of minorities up to those states in which the majority of the population is bigoted.
Well…. Just like in most things, there is good news and bad news in the new civil rights movement. Good News: If you haven’t heard, the Employee Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) just passed this week in the Senate by a 2:1 margin. Seven republican senators joined 54 democrats to advance this legislation that adds sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of things employers can’t fire you for. Amazing, right? That in these hyper-partisan times, democrats AND republican senators could come together to get the 60 votes it takes to pass this. So encouraging…. but there’s also some Bad News: In order to give the LGBT community the same protections the rest of us have, the republican-controlled House has to pass ENDA as well. And with John Boehner and Eric Cantor coming out against it, even though the majority of the people of this country support ENDA, it will almost certainly never come up for a vote.
You see, this is what happens when there is an issue where politicians know the right thing to do, but doing the right thing will “upset their base.” A lot of these people represent districts where coming across as “Pro-Gay” can be a fast track to a primary upset, so…. Let’s just not vote on it. Or, even grosser, they chose to not vote on it if they suspect that there is enough support to pass the law. And then they hide behind reasons for not supporting it, like believing the law will “increase frivolous litigation” and “cost American jobs” (as John Boehner said…. Well, he didn’t say it–He bravely conveyed it through an “official spokesperson”). Imagine all the “frivolous litigation” that could have been spared without the passage of all that Civil Rights legislation over the years! Imagine all the “American jobs” that could have been spared had we not decided to protect the rights of all those minorities, or the elderly, or the disabled! But…. I guess that depends on who you consider “Americans.”
Here’s what I think is the most interesting thing about the picture at the top of the page: It’s that second sentence on the workplace sign explaining worker’s civil rights–the one that says, “If you feel you have been discriminated against, contact the Tennessee Human Rights Commission in your region.” If you’re discriminated against, who do you call? The Tennessee HUMAN RIGHTS Commission. And this makes sense, because that’s what this is about–Human Rights. If a person is discriminated against based their Race, Color, Creed, Religion, Sex, Age, Disability, or National Origin, it is a violation of their human rights. Because regardless of these things that make us different, and regardless of whether the majority of the House agrees, humans have certain rights. So that leaves us with the question: Are our Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender brothers and sisters human, or not? Do they, despite their differences, have certain rights as well?
The answer is yes. People have been working on passing ENDA for decades. This tacit approval of discrimination against the LGBT community has gone on long enough. But this cannot be a fight that the LGBT community fights on its own. There are not enough voices (especially in some of these places with representatives refusing to even let this come up for a vote–places where coming out can still legally get you fired). They need allies. Be an ally–Call John Boehner and tell him to bring ENDA up for a vote (his number is 202-225-6205). And they don’t just…. I keep saying “they.” Screw that. WE don’t just need allies who are democrats, but we need allies who are republicans. I know for a fact that there are more than a few republicans who read my stuff–If you are a republican (especially if you are living in a district with a republican House Representative), call your representative. Tell him or her that you believe in fiscal responsibility and smaller government and being able to buy guns at gas stations and whatever else…. But it is time that we, as a country, protect the rights of ALL of our citizens. It’s not just that “they” need this…. WE need this!
“It’s offensive. It’s wrong. And it needs to stop, because in the United States of America, who you are and who you love should never be a fireable offense.” ~ Barack Obama
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