In June, several lawmakers received a visit from Kristin Beck, a Florida native who, after serving for more than 20 years as a male U.S. Navy SEAL, recently revealed her identity as a transgender woman.
She was at the Capitol to talk about workplace discrimination among the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, specifically to lobby on behalf of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a bill that was dormant in the Senate for 17 years after being defeated on the floor by one vote in 1996.
“I do hope we can come to a conclusion to end this prejudice against this small part of America’s nation, because it really has a big impact,” Beck told Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and the chief counsel to Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., along with several of the state’s House representatives.
Bolstered by the momentum of two Supreme Court victories, and on the heels of a year marked by a flurry of Republican lawmakers coming out in favor of gay marriage, Beck and the LGBT community are hoping for a similar triumph with ENDA. And it looks like their message is beginning to get through.
The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee cleared the bill (S 815)Wednesday on a bipartisan 15-7 vote, and Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has said he intends to bring the legislation to the floor swiftly.
“I look forward to taking up the Employment Non-Discrimination Act soon, to prohibit such job discrimination across the nation,” Reid said in June.
The bill would prohibit employers from firing, refusing to hire or discriminating against those employed or seeking employment, on the basis of their perceived or actual sexual orientation or gender identity.
Such federal protections are already in place prohibiting discrimination based on race, religion, gender, national origin, age and disability. And while some states and cities have their own laws on the books — and more than 88 percent of Fortune 500 companies already extend workplace protections based on sexual orientation and 57 percent on the basis of gender identity — the LGBT community is not explicitly protected from workplace discrimination by any federal law.
According to a June 13 poll by the Pew Research Center, 21 percent of LGBT adults say they have been treated unfairly by an employer in hiring, pay or promotions. In addition to workplace discrimination, LGBT employees face wage disparities; studies show that the transgender population is disproportionately affected.
Indeed, a joint study by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality found that 26 percent of transgender people lost a job because they were transgender and 50 percent were harassed for being transgender.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.