Why It Does Matter: Congress Debates Anti-Discrimination Law for LGBT Employees

Photo by Troy Bennett, Bangor Daily News.

In a courageous op-ed published Monday, November 4, Congressman and gubernatorial candidate Mike Michaud announced that he was gay. “Allow me to save them the trouble with a simple, honest answer,” he wrote. “Yes, I am.  But why should it matter?” 

Rep. Michaud is right.  It shouldn’t matter.  Sexual orientation should have nothing to do with our evaluation of how well people do their job, whether that job is in Congress, or in a paper mill, or in an office.  

But unfortunately, it does matter.  At least for now.  Social views on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) issues are evolving quickly, but the fight for equality, tolerance and acceptance is far from over.  Discrimination against members of the LGBT community is still widespread in the workplace.

In one telling study, researchers sent two fake resumes to almost 2000 employers across the country.  The only difference between the resumes was that one showed the applicant had been part of an LGBT organization in college; the other did not.  Applicants without the LGBT organization listed had an 11.5% chance of being called for an interview, but those with the organization listed had just a 7.2% chance.  And results varied a lot regionally – the gap was much greater among employers in the South and Midwest than in the Northeast.

Reported discrimination against transgender individuals is even more common. According to one survey, about 90 percent of transgender individuals report experiencing harassment or discrimination in their workplace, up to and including termination.

In America today, sexual orientation and gender identity does still matter. But that’s why it was so important that Rep. Michaud made the courageous move he did. 

And that’s also why it’s so important that Congress pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), a federal law that would ban discrimination against gay, lesbian and transgender people.  Currently, federal law does not have any explicit protections for LGBT employees.  Since 1974, ENDA has been introduced in Congress dozens of times, but has failed every time.

Last week, the Senate voted 64-32 to pass ENDA, with 10 Republican Senators crossing party lines to support the bill – including Maine’s own Susan Collins, who is a leading sponsor of the bill.  Unfortunately, ENDA faces uncertain prospects in the House.  

This federal law is critical to ensuring equal opportunity and freedom from harassment for LGBT employees. Maine has its own state law protecting gay, lesbian and transgender employees, but many states do not.  Currently, in 29 states, it’s legal to fire, harass, or refuse to hire people just because they’re gay, lesbian, or transgender.  

Michaud is right in saying it shouldn’t matter if he’s gay.  But that doesn’t mean that discrimination is a thing of the past, or that we don’t need anti-discrimination laws.  Because, for those with no legal protection, it DOES matter.  After 40 years, it’s about time that we extend civil rights to all members of the LGBT community, regardless of where they live.

If you believe your rights have been violated, contact us.