Will direct action be what it takes to get job protections?
By Cathy Kristofferson, May 11, 2013
While nationally the fight for job protections has gone quiet since the re-introduction last month of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) 2013, local activists in Texas have been fired up, and have taken direct action steps that may be needed across the country as a whole, including in D.C.
As we reported here on OBLOGDEE, the bill was initially met with press releases and pronouncements ‘condemning’ the religious exemption’s wide scope, where it in effect legalizes discrimination against the LGBT community, in a bill designed to stop discrimination.
Now the Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill seems to have have taken all the ‘press air,’ though today there was a good editorial in the New York Times, that said in part:
It is one thing for religious groups to further their religious mission by favoring people of their own faith in hiring, as Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act permits. It is quite another to allow the firing of a lesbian physician or transgender nurse when a hospital that is not affiliated with a religious group happens to merge with an institution that is. Under Title VII’s religious exemption, houses of worship and religion-affiliated entities are subject to the law’s prohibition against discrimination based on race, sex and national origin. ENDA’s religious exemption should treat sexual orientation and gender identity in a similar fashion. To do otherwise would leave too many jobs outside of ENDA’s protections.
Perhaps our community should consider that lack of action in D.C, and more should heed the call for action on our part. Texas could well prove a good example.
Activists in Texas have their Civil Disobedience manuals out! And for good reason. Their state is one of those 39 where it is still perfectly legal and common practice to fire someone, refuse to hire someone, or deny someone an otherwise deserved promotion based solely on their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. The statistics tell a typically sad story:
– An estimated 431,000 members of the Texas workforce identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.
– 26% of transgender Texans report being fired solely based on their gender identity.
– 12% of lesbian and gay Texans report being fired because of their sexual orientation.
– 37% of gay and lesbian Texans report being harassed at work due to their sexual orientation.
Currently Texas has “The Fair Employment Act” (SB 237) which would add the much needed job protections. However it is languishing ‘in Committee’ and at risk of ‘not coming out’ (so to speak) before the end of the legislative session. Amazingly, the Texas legislature meets for only 140 days on odd numbered years. The current term ends in May. Three of the four required Senate votes to get the bill out of committee are there. So somehow someone needs to convince the 4th. GetEQUAL Texas is working to make that happen.
GetEQUAL TX has embarked on a series of arrestable non-violent civil disobedience actions to raise awareness. The people of Texas support these job protections measures. It seems to me, though, that the State of Texas is not really in the mood for change and is playing some serious hardball with the activists.
There have been two such actions to date. The first was a sit-in at four Texas State Senators’ offices whom they are targeting for being that 4th vote to get the bill out of committee.
Extraordinarily high Bail was set for the 5 activists at $1,500 A PIECE! Criminal trespass is actually a minor misdemeanor , bringing the total to a whopping $9,500 – yikes for grassroots activists. (And umm, criminal trespass in a public building during normal office hours..?)
Their second action stopped traffic in front of the State Capitol with a banner stretched across a road reading ‘We Work Together’. The 5 activists arrested for this action were held for 31 hours before being released. For a Class 3 misdemeanor. Wow!
Nationally, GetEQUAL has launched a “Workplace INclusion: Winning LGBT Workplace Protections (WIN)” campaign to kick off a week of action across the country to draw attention to need for workplace protections for LGBT employees. The actions will end May 14, the anniversary of Bella Abzug’s Equality Act of 1974, which was the first piece of pro-LGBT legislation in the U.S.
Actions like those in Texas on a scale befitting Washington D.C. may just be what it will take to the get attention required to secure job protections for the LGBT community. Work needs to happen on the bill around those religious exemptions during this mark-up phase. The LGBT community needs your voice now – any way you choose to participate because if we all go to sleep and expect when we wake up ENDA will have passed on its own we are indeed in dreamland. Call your Congress people and demand your full equality. Reach out to your local GetEQUAL or favorite LGBT rights organization. Or find a local labor union, such as SEIU, who has an ENDA campaign. See what you can do to join the fight for ENDA NOW!
- The Special Rights Battleground of ENDA and Immigration Reform
- Understanding those very grave concerns about ENDA’s religious exemption
- The Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2013 will be introduced with problems
- $300 billion in federal contracts granted where no LGBT job protections exist
- Marriage is nothing without job protections