Today the first ever hearing was held on the Employee Non-Discrimination Act.
The Hill blogged:
The state of the U.S. workplace for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people — transgender Americans in particular — is absolutely shameful. Thankfully, our nation is on the cusp of seriously addressing this injustice: Congress is currently considering the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would prohibit workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee held a hearing on the legislation today, and got an earful about the dire need to enact these fundamental protections.
Testimony in favor of the bill included the Obama administration itself.
Credit where it's due there. The Obama administration is the first to support workplace rights for all gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. The Obama DoJ spoke forcefully today, after angering people who feel like the administration ignored Maine.
The legislation isn't perfect but it's a good step.
Only a handful of witnesses spoke out against it - religion and public bathrooms were the main problem:
Restrooms and religion arose as the only objections today during the U.S. Senate’s first hearing on the inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).
The only one of seven witnesses to speak against the bill was Craig Parshall, Senior Vice President and General Counsel for the National Religious Broadcasters Association. He raised the concern about religious exemptions, as he did in September when the House held a hearing on the bill.
Yeah, it's US you have to worry about in bathrooms. Well, in fairness, ENDA covers more than just airport bathrooms. Moving on.
Most of the problems of discrimination can be addressed, but as Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), a supporter of the bill says:
Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, said "no legislation can cover every conceivable" scenario that might arise out of a claim of discrimination.
Harkin called ENDA "one of the most important issues of our day" and said the legislation must give "broad guidance to the courts" and strike a "balance" between the competing needs to address discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and the need to protect the free exercise of religion.
Jeff Merkley and Al Franken also testified in favor.
Unsurprisingly, the Gay and Lesbian Task Force's forthcoming study shows that transgender people receive the brunt of discrimination and that the poor economy is exacerbating the problem:
Preliminary data from the National Transgender Discrimination Survey of 6,500 transgender people in all 50 states indicate that transgender people experience unemployment at double the rate of the general population. According to the study, as the nation reels at a dispiriting near-10 percent rate of overall unemployment, transgender unemployment is likely to be in the 20 percent range or higher. Predictably, the study shows that high unemployment correlates with poverty, housing insecurity and poor health care access for transgender people.
How bad is this problem? Here's more:
Task Force testimony includes preliminary data from a forthcoming and groundbreaking survey on discrimination against transgender people in the United States conducted by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality. Data from this large-scale, first-of-its-kind survey show that discrimination in employment against transgender people is a nearly universal experience: 97 percent of the respondents reported being mistreated or harassed at work, and nearly half (47 percent) said they had lost their jobs, were denied a promotion, or denied a job as a direct result of being transgender.
Survey respondents experienced a series of damaging outcomes, many of which stem from the challenges they face in employment. Almost one-fifth (19 percent) of respondents reported becoming homeless because of being transgender. Transgender people also reported limited access to employer-provided health insurance: Only 40 percent of respondents reported access to employer-provided health insurance coverage as compared to 62 percent of the population at large.
It's that bad.
Something needs to be done. This can't pass soon enough.