On Thursday, Nov. 7, I turned on C-SPAN just as the 51st Senate vote on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) was being recorded, and more votes were still coming in! As we all know, it passed. After 40 years of languishing on the table, this bill was finally moving forward. Though the much more difficult House of Representatives still lies ahead of us, this is truly a time to celebrate.
At the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance (NQAPIA) we applaud the Senate's passage of S. 815. The Senate's 64-32 vote represents historic progress in the march for full equality under the law for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. And, most importantly, for the first time, a body of Congress has passed ENDA legislation that includes protections for transgender people.
Asian, South Asian, Southeast Asian, and Pacific Islander Americans (AAPI) who are LGBT face unique challenges and will benefit from this legislation. According to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, a full 98 percent of AAPI LGBT respondents experienced at least one form of discrimination in their lives, with 75 percent reporting discrimination based on sexual orientation. The Williams Institute reports that the unemployment rate for AAPIs who are LGBT (11 percent) is higher than it is for non-LGBT AAPIs (8 percent).
The Senate vote represents an important victory for the LGBT community. In 29 states you can still be fired simply for being gay, lesbian, or bisexual, and 34 states still lack employment protections for transgender people.
However, we are concerned about overreaching religious exemptions in ENDA and are glad that the Senate voted down some of the more extreme provisions. As the bill moves to the House, we'll continue to push for the strongest protections possible that are not unnecessarily watered down in the name of "religious freedom." Help us keep the drum beat going!