Two summers ago, I was having dinner with my parents and a few of their friends. After mentioning that, at the time, I was interning on the Obama campaign, the topic of conversation quickly turned to politics with the man sitting next to me, who for the sake of this post, I’ll call Mr. R, the father of one of my childhood friends.
Mr. R asked me what I thought about increased government oversight of the private sector. Responding with what I thought was a foolproof example, I referenced the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), legislation which would prohibit discrimination in hiring and employment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
He responded by saying that he believed that employers shouldn’t be forced to “condone that sort of behavior” of “those sorts of people”.
Though Mr. R had watched me eat countless pizzas, had watched me play (and lose) countless soccer games, had watched me grow up along his own son, he had failed to realize that the man I had become was a gay one. A part of a community that he, graciously, believed had the right to “ride in the same buses” and “sit at the same counter” as he did, but not to share the same place of work.
Though I wish I could recount an indignant and poised response that made Mr. R reconsider his (prejudiced) views, I, dumbfounded, excused myself from the table and did not make eye contact with him for the rest of the meal.
It was a harsh, but necessary reminder for me that, despite a year spent on a largely accepting campus or my job opportunities with progressive and supportive employers, people do exist that believe that, despite my qualifications, my sexual orientation automatically disqualifies me for employment. One of them was sitting at my dinner table.
Research confirms this. The Center for American Progress writes,
“Studies show that anywhere from 15 percent to 43 percent of gay people have experienced some form of discrimination at the workplace. Moreover a staggering 90 percent of transgender workers report some form of harassment or mistreatment on the job. These workplace abuses pose a real and immediate threat to the economic security of gay and transgender workers.”
This threat is only exacerbated for Black LGBT people, and other members of the LGBTQ+ community who don’t share my relative privilege as a white, upper middle class, cisgender male, who (at least sometimes) can ‘pass’ as straight.
Obviously passing ENDA would not rid our country’s employers of systemic prejudice, but institutionalizing these protections would be a powerful step towards fighting this discrimination against the 52% of the LGBT population that currently live in states that condone employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Despite the awaiting obstacle of the Republican controlled house, I am deeply grateful to the 64 senators, including nine Republicans, who took a collective step towards LGBTQ+ equality in approving this bill yesterday.
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