ACLU Calls on Congress to Protect Gay and Lesbian Employees, Pass Employment Protection Bill

February 27, 2002 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON — Citing instances nationwide of people being fired because they’re gay, the American Civil Liberties Union today urged a Senate Committee to support a long-awaited bill that it says is necessary to protect all employees from discrimination in the workplace.

“Simple fairness demands that we be judged based on how we do the job – not on prejudice or bias,” said Matt Coles, Director of the ACLU’s Lesbian and Gay Rights Project. “Gay men and lesbians should not be forced to hide in order to keep a job.”

Coles testified today before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee at a hearing on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a bill designed to prohibit discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation. He spoke on behalf of legal groups that handle anti-gay discrimination cases from Maine to Washington to Utah, including the ACLU, the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders and the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

The legislation is cosponsored by a long list of members of Congress, with 189 original cosponsors in the House and 44 cosponsors in the Senate. Lead sponsors in the Senate include Republican Sen. Arlen Specter (PA), Independent Jim Jeffords (VT), and Democrats Ted Kennedy (MA) and Joseph Lieberman (CT).

“This legislation affirms the basic principle that employment in the United States should not be based on one’s sexual orientation,” said Christopher E. Anders, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “Every employee deserves the equal right to be free from bias at his or her job.”

ENDA would add sexual orientation to the current list of federal employment protections, which already ban discrimination based on race, religion, gender, national origin, age and disability. The bill would prohibit employers with 15 or more employees from using a person’s sexual orientation in decisions such as firing, hiring, promotion or compensation. The bill would exempt the military and religious organizations — including affiliated religious schools and institutions of higher learning — and would not establish preferential treatment or quotas.

To date, it is legal to fire an employee because of their sexual orientation in 38 states. California, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Minnesota, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wisconsin have passed laws that outlaw sexual orientation discrimination.

Coles’ Testimony can be found at:

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