The Human Rights Campaign supports the Employment Non-Discrimination Act for a very simple reason. It will guarantee millions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in all 50 states explicit, reliable protections from discrimination in the workplace. We call on our allies in Congress to improve this bill’s overly broad religious exemption. A strong ENDA is worth fighting for because we cannot ignore the urgent need of countless LGBT people who do not have the luxury of waiting for these protections.
All of us in the LGBT movement knew that passing ENDA wasn’t going to be easy in the 113th Congress. In fact, we knew it would require the biggest legislative campaign in the history of this movement. We all knew the bill wouldn’t be perfect, because legislating always involves compromises. But we also knew that there were two red lines we would not cross. The bill had to be inclusive of the entire LGBT community, and it had to ensure that private employers could never cite a religious reason to fire or refuse to hire an employee.
But regardless of whether or not ENDA passes in this session of Congress, it is time for the LGBT movement to throw its weight behind a fully comprehensive LGBT civil rights bill. A bill that, at long last, would bar discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in all core civil rights categories — including housing, public accommodations, credit, education, and, if ENDA fails to pass, employment. This is a visionary idea that Congresswoman Bella Abzug brought to Congress in 1974. Its time has come.
In the year and a half since the current version of ENDA was introduced, we have significantly moved the needle on Congressional support for LGBT equality. Thanks to a massive coordinated campaign, Americans for Workplace Opportunity, the LGBT movement has brought together dozens of allied organizations, hundreds of leading American corporations, and the support of millions of LGBT Americans and our allies to fight for essential workplace protections. Together, we have also secured a record number of bipartisan cosponsors for a fully inclusive ENDA. That progress will be carried forward.
ENDA gives hope to LGBT people from Alabama to Montana, Americans who face discrimination on the job each and every day, that a more hopeful future is possible. Those of us in states with strong nondiscrimination laws can never forget or disregard the urgent need of our LGBT brothers and sisters in states without them.
But we also can’t ignore that somewhere in between the introduction of this version of ENDA and today, a revolution has happened in the fight for LGBT equality. We’re at one of those moments you read about in the history books, and it turns up everywhere you look. From the tireless advocate-president who sits at the Resolute desk in the Oval Office every day, to the transgender teenager in the heart of Mississippi who, today, can look with hope to Laverne Cox on TV. Public opinion is rocketing forward toward support for equality. A new pro-equality court ruling is issued almost every day. Straight Americans in the heartland today weep supportive tears at the weddings of their gay and lesbian neighbors. Together we have all worked to shift the ground beneath our feet, and an overwhelming national sense has emerged that the tide of history is turning toward full equality for all.
We cannot and will not ignore the imperative of this moment. As long as this Congress is in session, we will fight for ENDA — with a narrowed religious exemption — because these workplace protections will change millions of lives for the better. But this movement has a responsibility to also chart a course for the future. The gay man in Alabama who gets kicked out of his apartment because his partner moves in — or the transgender teenager in Arkansas who gets shamed for using the right restroom — is just as deserving of legal equality as the lesbian in Montana who gets fired because of who she is.
In other words, it’s time for full LGBT civil rights to come out of the closet. We all agree that, at the end of the day, full federal equality is the only acceptable option, nothing more, nothing less. The campaign for a strong ENDA continues with more urgency than ever before, but we’ve got to dig in for the fight of our lives.
Chad Griffin is the president of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization.