By sheer coincidence the congressional hearing I attended last week on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA, Senate Bill 811) prominently featured the State of Minnesota. I hold Minnesota near and dear to my heart as a student there and as the child of Minnesotans. ENDA would “prohibit workplace discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation,” protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals (LGBT), from being fired, demoted, or refused employment because they are LGBT.
Senator Al Franken, a member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP), introduced witness Ken Charles, the Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion at General Mills, whose headquarters are in Minneapolis. After Senator Franken noted that he is himself a Cheerios guy, Mr. Charles testified to the success of General Mills’ ENDA-like anti-discrimination policies, a point of pride for Senator Franken and me, with our connections to Minnesota. Citing the prosperity of General Mills as a result, Mr. Charles provided the most tangible example of ENDA’s potential success and effectiveness for businesses. Senator Franken also noted Minnesota’s ENDA-like state legislation has successfully been in place since 1993. The passage of ENDA would protect an entire minority population without imposing a burden on others. We’ve been through this before with the Civil Rights Act.
At the hearing, HELP Committee Chairman Senator Harkin submitted to the hearing record a letter signed by 37 organizations and religious denominations representing a range of religious and belief systems. As it was written in this letter:
“Many of our sacred texts speak to the importance and sacred nature of work – an opportunity to be co-creators with God – and demand in the strongest possible terms the protection of all workers as a matter of justice.”
The 37 signatories demonstrated support for this legislation across religious divides, united by a belief in fairness, equality, and religious freedom. With appropriate religious exemptions, ENDA is a measure that protects the rights of all American citizens, balancing the religious freedom right of religious groups to make hiring decisions consistent with their faith, and our core principles of equality.
Where discrimination is practiced dehumanization ensues, as Kylar Broadus, the first transgender individual to testify before the Senate, shared during his testimony. Mr. Broadus, who underwent a female to male transition, spoke of the troubles he faces as a direct result of previous workplace discrimination; layoffs, harassment, inability to earn a living wage and humiliation are his reality because he does not fit quietly into the normalized boxes of society. Mr. Broadus’s skills and talents were never evaluated in his workplace once his gender identity became known.
When ENDA finally passes, LGBT individuals will be protected from workplace discrimination. This protection will have to go up against other legislation infringing on the equality of LGBT citizens, like the numerous marriage amendments that constitutionally define marriage as the union of one man and one woman. In Minnesota, such a marriage amendment will be voted on in November. General Mills announced its opposition to the marriage amendment in Minnesota to complement their support for ENDA. The end of the fight for LGBT equality is not in sight. Taking action to become educated on legislation in support of and against LGBT equality is a crucial part of the battle.
The HELP Committee hearing can be viewed here and you can contact your Senators to ask that they support ENDA here. For a discussion between Rev. Gaddy and Kylar Broadus on last week’s broadcast of “State of Belief,” click here.