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It's Time for Congress to Help Bring LGBT Employees Out of the Shadows at Work

LGBT Americans find their livelihoods are placed in jeopardy when they take the bold step of coming out.
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Alex Gorinsky was a well-regarded account manager for five years at a Texas finance leasing firm, consistently getting positive performance reviews and merit pay raises, until he brought Jon, his partner of three years, to the 2006 company Christmas party. Gorinsky, 34, was laid off three weeks later.

The firm cited vague "performance-related" reasons for his termination, but had to admit that his sales quota numbers were "solid."

So what was the problem? It is the same problem many American workers deal with day-to-day when they have to hide themselves in order to protect their jobs.

Congress is considering approving a federal ban on job discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender workers. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., a leading proponent of ending employment discrimination for LGBT Americans, is working with a bipartisan group of House members on getting the bill passed through the House within the next couple of weeks. But the opposition is intense among anti-gay groups, and the Senate remains a big challenge.

LGBT Americans find their livelihoods are placed in jeopardy when they either take the bold step of coming out or when the facts of their lives are inadvertently discovered.

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2007, or ENDA, would make it illegal for employers to make decisions about hiring, firing, promoting or paying an employee based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Religious organizations and the military would be exempt. The bill is modeled after other federal civil rights laws that already ban job discrimination based on race, color, national origin, gender, religion, age and disability. Currently, 20 states and the District of Columbia prohibit workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation, and 12 states and the District of Columbia prohibit workplace discrimination based on gender identity. But, clearly, not everyone is protected against arbitrary discrimination, which unnecessarily puts their livelihoods at risk.

By passing ENDA, Congress can ensure everyone can enter and succeed in the workplace without regard to sexual orientation or gender identity. Simply put, this law would allow all American workers, who stand side-by-side at the workplace, to also stand on the same footing in the eyes of the law.

Members of the House of Representatives need to hear the real stories of real Americans who have experienced discrimination, and it's even more important to call your senators because the bill's opponents can make use of an array of procedural tactics to block even bills supported by a majority of senators. Anti-gay activists are certainly waiting in the weeds to stall and scuttle any bill that comes up.

Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., plans to introduce the legislation soon.

''It's always harder to pass bills in the Senate than in the House, but until we pass this bill, there will be a gaping hole in federal civil rights legislation,'' Kennedy, chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, has said.

Meanwhile, many hardworking lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans continue to be fired and refused jobs and promotions because of their sexual orientation and gender identity.

Before transitioning from male to female, Diane Schroer was a U.S. Army Special Forces officer who logged 450 parachute jumps into some of the world's most dangerous places during 25 years of service, receiving numerous decorations, including the Defense Superior Service Medal. Schroer was later handpicked to head up a classified national security operation.

After retiring from the military, Schroer applied for a job with a large federal agency library as a senior terrorism research analyst; received an offer shortly after the interview and accepted the position. Prior to starting work, Schroer went to lunch with the new boss and explained she was transgender and would like to begin the job as a woman. The next day, the director called Schroer and rescinded the offer because she wasn't a "good fit."

Is there a more clear-cut example of discrimination or a more compelling reason why Congress should pass this law?

In Schroer's case, our government passed up the most qualified person for a position to help combat terrorism -- someone who spent 25 years in the trenches -- just because that person happened to be transgender.

Janice Dye was dismissed from the training program at an oil change service center after being forced to undertake the impossible test of completing an oil change in 10 minutes without any help. Co-workers later told her they had overheard management say, "we won't let that lesbo-bitch get that job."

Jacinda Meyer got a raise after only nine months on the job as an insurance agent, but her supervisor fired her soon after learning that she was a lesbian.

And the list goes on and on, affecting people from all walks of life in jobs ranging from fast food workers to healthcare workers to lawyers. Right now, it's legal in 30 states to fire or refuse to hire someone because of his or her sexual orientation, and in 38 states to do so based on one's gender identity. Yet according to a recent poll, 89 percent of Americans believe that gay men and lesbians should have equal rights in the workplace.

These are just a few of several stories we tell in "Working in the Shadows," a new report by the American Civil Liberties Union.

With the passage of other civil rights statutes, Congress has seen fit to stop arbitrary discrimination in the workplace. It's now time for Congress to help bring LGBT employees out of the shadows at work and pass ENDA. All Americans should have an equal shot at achieving the American dream.

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