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U.S. Senate Holds First Hearing on Fully-Inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act

(WASHINGTON D.C.)– The Human Rights Campaign and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force praised the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee today for holding the Senate’s first-ever hearing on a version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) that includes both sexual orientation and gender identity. The lead sponsors of the measure are Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Susan Collins (R-ME).

“We applaud the leadership of Senators Merkley and Collins in support of fairness and equality for all LGBT people and thank Chairman Harkin for holding this important hearing,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese, who also provided written testimony for the hearing. “For the first time in history, the Senate is moving forward with legislation to protect Americans from arbitrary discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Like our neighbors and coworkers, LGBT people simply want a fair chance to succeed and support our families.”

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund also submitted testimony to the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee that underscores the critical need for passage of ENDA.

“We are on the heels of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act being signed into law. Without understating the importance of this monumental victory, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community needs ENDA, and we need it now,” says Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. “The path that too often ends in victimization begins with bias and discrimination in the workplace. ENDA must be a top priority as we press forward in the movement for equality.

“Our friends, families, neighbors — even strangers — have long believed that workplace discrimination against LGBT people is wrong. No one should be prevented from earning a livelihood and providing for their families simply because of who they are,” adds Carey. “ENDA reflects the core U.S. values of fairness and equality. People recognize that our nation as a whole benefits when everyone is allowed to contribute their talents and skills, free from discrimination, which is all ENDA seeks to do.”

The Task Force testimony included 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.

“These figures show how devastating bias and discrimination are to the transgender community,” says Carey. “Federal employment protection is the key to providing stability and a fair playing field for transgender people. Our data show that many of the severe problems transgender people face, including housing insecurity and lack of health insurance, are rooted in job loss or in workplace harassment and bias that force productive transgender employees off of the payrolls and onto the streets.”

A 2007 meta-analysis from the Williams Institute of 50 studies of workplace discrimination against LGBT people found consistent evidence of bias in the workplace. The analysis found that up to 68 percent of LGBT people reported experiencing employment discrimination, and up to 17 percent said they had been fired or denied employment.

“The bottom line: The state of the workplace for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people — transgender Americans in particular — is absolutely shameful,” says Carey. “We need ENDA now.”

ENDA would address discrimination in the workplace by making it illegal to fire, refuse to hire or refuse to promote an employee based on the person’s sexual orientation or gender identity at companies with 15 or more employees. The legislation was introduced in the U.S. Senate on August 5 of this year; a House version was introduced on June 24 and the House Education and Labor Committee held a hearing on the measure on September 23.

ENDA is supported by a broad range of civil rights, religious, civic and professional organizations, including the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, NAACP, AFL-CIO, Service Employees International Union, AFSCME, National Education Association, National Employment Lawyers Association, Anti-Defamation League, Religious Action Center, Unitarian Universalist Association, United Church of Christ, American Civil Liberties Union, and many others.

Currently, federal law provides legal protection against employment discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, national origin, age and disability, but not sexual orientation or gender identity. In 29 states across America, it is still legal to fire someone based on his or her sexual orientation, and in 38 states, it is still legal to fire someone for being transgender.