On Tuesday, July 27, dozens of activists rallied in front of the San Francisco Federal Building to demand passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA. ENDA would ban workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
The activists - including members of SF Pride at Work, One Struggle One Fight, GetEqual, and the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club - called on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to put ENDA for a vote in the House of Representatives. Pelosi has called ENDA a "priority" but has failed to schedule a vote on the legislation in the Democratically controlled House. With the legislative season about to end, ENDA supporters are worried that the landmark bill will miss its best chance for passage.
Speakers talked about the LGBT community's urgent need for ENDA. "Every single day, we see people who have to choose between their gender and their job," said Kristina Wertz of the Transgender Law Center.
Currently, it's legal in 29 states to fire someone solely because they are lesbian, gay or bisexual. And in 38 states, it's legal to fire someone solely for being transgender. Even in San Francisco, transgender workers face profound employment challenges and discrimination. A 2006 study by the San Francisco Bay Guardian and the Transgender Law Center found that 60 percent of transgender people in San Francisco earn less than $15,300 per year, only 25 percent have a full-time job, and nearly nine percent have no source of income.
Chanting "Hey Pelosi, can't you see, we want ENDA with a 'T'" and "Don't get fired, get fired up," activists picketed the building while a smaller group went inside to speak with Pelosi's representatives and to deliver an open letter signed by nine LGBT groups.
Text of the letter:
An Open Letter to the House Speaker on ENDA
We are writing to express how extremely troubled we are that the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) has not yet been scheduled for a vote by the full House of Representatives. We believe a floor vote must be scheduled for ENDA immediately.
It would be devastating for LGBT workers for this Congress to not complete its work on ENDA before the end of this session. ENDA would be historic in the number of LGBT people who would benefit from its passage. During this economic crisis, it is more important than ever to prohibit the often impoverishing effects of workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Most LGBT workers have no protections from workplace discrimination. ENDA would provide legal protection against discrimination nationally. Over and over we have been promised that a vote would be scheduled on ENDA, and these promises have been repeatedly broken. In 29 states, it is still legal to fire someone solely because they are lesbian, gay or bisexual. And in 38 states it is legal to fire someone solely for being transgender. The current version of the bill would outlaw discrimination on both sexual orientation and gender identity.
A 2006 study by the San Francisco Bay Guardian and the Transgender Law Center found that 60 percent of transgender people in San Francisco earn less than $15,300 per year, only 25 percent have a full-time job and nearly 9 percent have no source of income. Only 4 percent reported making more than $61,200, which is about the median income in the Bay Area. More than half of local transgender people live in poverty, and 96 percent earn less than the median income. Forty percent of those surveyed don't even have a bank account. What this study reveals is that even in a city that is considered a haven for the LGBT community, transgender workers face profound employment challenges and discrimination.
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.
Public opinion polling shows that Americans are overwhelmingly in favor of making sure LGBT Americans get the same employment opportunities as everyone else. In fact, the latest surveys shows that nearly 90% of Americans support workplace fairness for LGBT workers.
As you know, in a few weeks, Congress will finish it’s legislative business for the year so that they can return to their districts to run for re-election. Last month at a LGBT Pride event, Congresswoman Jackie Spier announced to the LGBT community that not only would we not get ENDA before the end of the legislative session, that she did not think we would get it for five years because we won’t have enough votes in Congress again to ensure passage. It is ironic that Congress plans on leaving town and going home to campaign for their own jobs while leaving thousands of LGBT workers without protections for the next five years. When 90% of Americans support workplace fairness, it is challenging to believe that anyone fears a backlash from the voters. The time to pass ENDA is now. The American people support it, the politicians promised it. No more broken promises. We demand that a vote be scheduled now.
SF Pride at Work, One Struggle One Fight, Queer Today, GetEqual, Harvey Milk Democratic Club, El/La, Transgender Law Center, National Center for Lesbian Rights, EQCA, and National Pride at Work