Marriage is nothing without job protections

Still no employment protections in 29 states for gay, and 34 states for trans, employees…

By Cathy Kristofferson, April 3, 2013

ediespinThe title of this post – Marriage is nothing without job protections –  is something a fellow activist said on a conference call last night.  It made me think back to being in D.C. last week at the Supreme Court DOMA hearing and watching our community be enthralled, as it should be, with Edie Windsor the amazing 83 year old lesbian impressing even herself by suing the U.S. Government to make her marriage to Thea Spyer matter.

During Edie’s press conference she lifted her lapel and showed everyone the circled diamond pin from her wife Thea that she still wears today.  She explained that Thea gave her that pin instead of an engagement ring because back then, some 46+ years ago, Edie refused to be out of the closet.

Well, in the ensuing four plus decades we may have progressed to where we can sue the U.S. Government to recognize that our marriages deserve to be judged equal, but really how far have we come when in 29 states you still can’t wear your wedding ring to work because it could get you fired?  Or in 34 states if you are transgender.

Less than half of the states in this country provide some level of employment protections.  In the rest of this country it is still no engagement or wedding rings, no photos on the desk.

There are two current avenues of employment relief being pursued by queer activists.  A fully inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) and an executive order (EO) to protect all employees of federal contractors.

ENDA-Exec-Order-at-WH1Back in 2008, then candidate Barack Obama, made a campaign pledge to sign such an executive order which would bar federal contractors from discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation thus protecting an estimated 22 million workers.  That’s nearly one quarter of all American workers.

Five years, and two elections later, we are still without.  Initially the excuse for no executive order was that President Obama preferred to allow Congress to pass a fully inclusive ENDA.  This coming at time when we have a Republican led do-nothing Congress is interesting to say the least.  Most of us remember when we had Democrat-led House and Senate, and President, yet were unable to pass a fully inclusive ENDA.  One hundred and ten members of Congress recently signed an open letter to President Obama urging him to sign the federal worker executive order to get some protections in place:

With a majority of American workers living in states that have not passed laws granting LGBT employees legal protections from workplace discrimination, an executive order will provide broad protections that will level the playing field.  March 20, 2013 Letter to Pres. Obama from Congress

Now, we hear Obama is waiting to see what comes of the Supreme Court trials, and is now also waiting for the 2014 mid-term elections as he dreams of campaigning to take back the House.  Always waiting and dreaming.  So aren’t we?

employment-non-discrimination-lawsThe Employment Non-Discrimination Act which would provide uniform protections to all American workers – straight, gay, or transgender – has been introduced in every Congress since 1994.  It would provide similar workplace protections for sexual orientation and gender identity to those currently afforded to women, people of color, veterans, seniors, and the disabled.  It has one gone nowhere legislatively despite enjoying a 73% approval rating among voters (2011 Center for American Progress poll).

Currently 21 states, D.C. and various local municipalities provide laws and regulations for an odd patchwork of unequal protections which is why we need federal law to provide full and adequate protections to all gay and transgender Americans.

Perhaps now while sitting around waiting for the Supreme Court to issue their rulings on both California’s Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act it would be a great time to get back to the job of calling for employement protections for all of us.  First with the simple stroke of Obama’s pen for the Executive Order protecting workers of federal contractors, and then for the hard push of working with both houses of Congress and the President for a fully inclusive ENDA allowing everyone the security to wear their wedding rings and proudly display their wedding and family photos at least while at work.

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