By Bob Allen
Thirty-seven faith groups wrote senators June 12 urging passage of a bill that would prohibit workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism coordinated the letter signed by faith groups, including the Alliance of Baptists, supporting the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. The bill, currently being considered by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, contains an exemption for religious institutions.
“As a nation, we cannot tolerate arbitrary discrimination against millions of Americans just because of who they are,” the letter said. “Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people should be without fear.”
The coalition affirmed ENDA as “a measured, common sense solution that will ensure workers able to earn a living, provide for their families and contribute to our society are judged on their merits, not on their sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Signers cited “broad” religious exemptions that they said protect faith-based institutions from being forced to violate their consciences while “ensuring that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are protected from baseless discrimination in the workplace.”
Testimony June 12, however, framed the debate as religious liberty versus gay rights.
Craig Parshall, vice president of National Religious Broadcasters, told senators that the religious exemption is inadequate and would “impose a stunningly heavy constitutional burden on religious organizations, and would interfere with their ability to pursue their mission.”
Kylar Broadus, reportedly the first openly transgender person to testify before the U.S. Senate, told the committee that he was harassed and ultimately forced to leave his high-paying job after telling his employer he would be making a gender transition from a woman to a man, and it took him a year to find another job.
“People lose their careers,” said Broadus, founder of the Trans People of Color Coalition. “It’s over when people find out you’re transgender.”
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act would prohibit nonreligious employers with at least 15 employees from discriminating “based on the actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity of a person.” Observers say it has little chance of passage. ENDA has been introduced in every Congress since 1994, and in 2007 a version passed in the House but died in the Senate.