Is a 'Magic Wand' Needed To Fix Anti-Discrimination Bill?

In a wide-ranging interview with Salon’s Josh Eidelson, Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), the first openly LGBT member of the U.S. Senate, was asked several questions about efforts to protect LGBT people from workplace discrimination, including the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).  Sen. Baldwin was also asked for her views on the scope of ENDA’s sweeping religious exemption. Her answer:

Legislating is the art of compromise, and so the version that was introduced in the U.S. Senate has fairly – let’s say a large religious exemption.  If I were to have a magic wand, I probably would use the same language that applies to race and gender discrimination. But that wasn’t the language that was included in this draft.

Let me state clearly that Sen. Baldwin has been and remains a steadfast champion for LGBT people and equality under the law in Congress. The fact that she recognizes just how broad (in the view of the ACLU and others, too broad) the current exemption is, and her desire to ideally see something that would treat LGBT discrimination in a similar manner to race and sex discrimination, are positive signs that it can and will be narrowed. Right now, the bill would give religiously affiliated organizations a blank check to engage in employment discrimination against LGBT people.

Happily, what is needed to actually narrow ENDA’s religious exemption, is not a “magic wand,” but rather for ENDA’s sponsors (just four Members of Congress, all of whom are stalwart supporters of LGBT rights) to realize that narrowing the religious exemption language won’t doom the bill (doing so is also essential to not leave too many jobs, and LGBT workers, outside the scope of ENDA’s protections).

Look, I’ll concede that things may have been different 20, 10, and maybe even five years ago. But the political compromises that may have been necessary to advance ENDA back then are no longer needed. The tide has turned so rapidly on LGBT rights that recent gains weren’t even imaginable just a few years ago. 

This sea change has benefited ENDA specifically. A national poll released last month by a respected Republican pollster put support for ENDA at 68 percent, including 56 percent among Republicans. The American people support and believe in protecting their LGBT colleagues from workplace discrimination. 

So if ENDA does not pass both the House and Senate in the current 113th Congress (something Sen. Baldwin herself conceded was unlikely), what ENDA’s sponsors must do is ensure that the religious exemption is narrowed when the bill is introduced the next go around in 2015. I promise, this won’t require a “magic wand.” And that’s not just because magic wands don’t exist.

Federal legislation to protect LGBT people from workplace discrimination is way beyond overdue, but in getting ENDA over its final hurdles in Congress, it is critically important to ensure that the religious exemption within it does not needlessly dilute critical protections and treat LGBT discrimination as different, somehow more legitimate, than other forms of discrimination.

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Anonymous

It's laughable that people talk about civil liberties as if they really exist. I've seen first hand system after system designed to protect those liberties and laws against discrimination work in the favor of the powerful, not the individual. Take me for example. I work for the State of California at Napa State Hospital, where almost 3 years ago a fellow worker was strangled and murdered, left face down in the muddy rain dead. The administration of this hospital should have taken a stand for safety and been more mindful and sensitive to the extremely difficult job these workers face every day. Instead, they postured and grandstanded, pretended to care and make changes, but really all they did was make a payoff to the family of the murdered worker and continued to do and act as they always had. I suffer from depression. It's bad enough that I needed FMLA to take time off. When I was threatened for even having FMLA in the first place by a substandard supervisor, I took my complaint higher. I was almost immediately retaliated against however by being forced to transfer to another unit and a different shift. I resisted, filing a complaint with the EEO there on grounds. Little did I know they were taking my information directly to the administrators I was complaining about. Soon after I was placed on administrative leave and under false charges and false investigation by the very person I had leveled my original charges of retaliation against. Nothing was done because the charge against me was absolutely ridiculous. It amounted to my admitting I had done as charged but that it fell within our administrative directives pertaining to how near I needed to stay to a patient who was on suicide watch. The doctors order stated 10 feet but the investigation said I strayed farther than "arms distance". Although this comflicted with the directive stating workers should remain a safe distance from patients while on close watch, the so called investigation drug out for months and months and months. I later discovered that no special investigations team had been assigned the case because there was no crime or fault to begin with . The "investigation" was called an "administrative investigation" which left open ended questions regarding the morality and fairness at the very heart of those administrators in Napa State. I forwarded my complaints to the Department of Fair Employment and Housing to investigate. They stated they could find no evidence of wrong doing, but I wondered how they could find anything at all when they never called a single witness I had given them and conducted the investigation completely from Los Angeles by phone instead of using their Elk Grove location which is minutes from Napa. Then it dawned on me that both the Department of Mental Health and the "Fair housing" department were both State departments and no matter what discriminatory, harassing, retaliatory or outwardly aggressive acts I was forced to endure, no one and I mean not one single person was going to stand up for me and others like me with a disability. Again I say it's laughable to go on and on about these so called civil liberties I keep hearing about. They probably look great printed in the dusty tomes they sit in now but as a practice they are as common as a herd of wild unicorns. Everyday I go to work for the people of California, I wonder if those same people knew they support with their tax dollars, the behavior and attitudes that would allow these type of cheap, mean spirited and illegal acts against the very workers who have given their lives to do what we do. I wonder if they would care that at the heart of the "freest country" in the world, the laws protecting the little guy are going up in smoke. If it's allowed to exist, it will be allowed to grow. Be prepared to face the same no matter where you are, because tyranny grows best in the dark ignorant places of society.

Anonymous

It's laughable that people talk about civil liberties as if they really exist. I've seen first hand system after system designed to protect those liberties and laws against discrimination work in the favor of the powerful, not the individual. Take me for example. I work for the State of California at Napa State Hospital, where almost 3 years ago a fellow worker was strangled and murdered, left face down in the muddy rain dead. The administration of this hospital should have taken a stand for safety and been more mindful and sensitive to the extremely difficult job these workers face every day. Instead, they postured and grandstanded, pretended to care and make changes, but really all they did was make a payoff to the family of the murdered worker and continued to do and act as they always had. I suffer from depression. It's bad enough that I needed FMLA to take time off. When I was threatened for even having FMLA in the first place by a substandard supervisor, I took my complaint higher. I was almost immediately retaliated against however by being forced to transfer to another unit and a different shift. I resisted, filing a complaint with the EEO there on grounds. Little did I know they were taking my information directly to the administrators I was complaining about. Soon after I was placed on administrative leave and under false charges and false investigation by the very person I had leveled my original charges of retaliation against. Nothing was done because the charge against me was absolutely ridiculous. It amounted to my admitting I had done as charged but that it fell within our administrative directives pertaining to how near I needed to stay to a patient who was on suicide watch. The doctors order stated 10 feet but the investigation said I strayed farther than "arms distance". Although this comflicted with the directive stating workers should remain a safe distance from patients while on close watch, the so called investigation drug out for months and months and months. I later discovered that no special investigations team had been assigned the case because there was no crime or fault to begin with . The "investigation" was called an "administrative investigation" which left open ended questions regarding the morality and fairness at the very heart of those administrators in Napa State. I forwarded my complaints to the Department of Fair Employment and Housing to investigate. They stated they could find no evidence of wrong doing, but I wondered how they could find anything at all when they never called a single witness I had given them and conducted the investigation completely from Los Angeles by phone instead of using their Elk Grove location which is minutes from Napa. Then it dawned on me that both the Department of Mental Health and the "Fair housing" department were both State departments and no matter what discriminatory, harassing, retaliatory or outwardly aggressive acts I was forced to endure, no one and I mean not one single person was going to stand up for me and others like me with a disability. Again I say it's laughable to go on and on about these so called civil liberties I keep hearing about. They probably look great printed in the dusty tomes they sit in now but as a practice they are as common as a herd of wild unicorns. Everyday I go to work for the people of California, I wonder if those same people knew they support with their tax dollars, the behavior and attitudes that would allow these type of cheap, mean spirited and illegal acts against the very workers who have given their lives to do what we do. I wonder if they would care that at the heart of the "freest country" in the world, the laws protecting the little guy are going up in smoke. If it's allowed to exist, it will be allowed to grow. Be prepared to face the same no matter where you are, because tyranny grows best in the dark ignorant places of society.

Vicki B.

This might be just me, but why does a sexual orientation come up on a job in the first place? I was told you don't tell people about your personal life when you're at work, so I don't understand why the employer thinks they have the right to go butting their nose into people's outside life so much that they even discover that you're gay.
I'm trying to say that straight vs. gay is a big 'Who cares' moment when you're determining how well they work for you.

When I was a newsletter editor, the founder never mentioned such a thing, but he lived in Los Angeles and was in show business for 20 years before he started the foundation for which I worked on their newsletter.
The only thing he said would make him wonder is if we kept getting arrested or something similar.

I can't believe that every politician in the United States think they're the ones who get to have any say in the matter of a person's PERSONAL life.

Note: The founder was so open-minded that he made me enter two versions of a story into the newsletter, and to put the other version in Spanish, which helped me retain Spanish better and pleased the kids who knew Spanish better than English.

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