Monitor Board of Contributors: Provide workplace protections for sexual orientation, gender identity

Last modified: Friday, August 16, 2013
In the late 1970s, I was a college student working part-time as a data processing clerk for a jewelry manufacturer in New York City. One day, my boss asked me to attend a conference with him in a distant city. I did not have a good feeling about it. He pressed, eventually letting me know that he wasn’t inviting me for my data entry skills. I refused his advances, and he said to me, “What are you, a lesbian?” (Actually, he used a different word, not suitable for publication in a family paper.)

I responded, “Well, in fact, I am.”

“You’re fired!,” he called out. “I never would have hired you if I knew you were a deviant.”

I had no recourse. New York had no law barring workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. In fact, such a law was not enacted in New York until 2002, after more than 30 years of trying. If I had been working in New Hampshire in the late 1970s, I would not have had any recourse here, either. The Granite State did not enact its law protecting workers from discrimination based on sexual orientation until 1998.

New Hampshire and New York are two of only 21 states that offer workplace protections to individuals based on their sexual orientation. It’s hard to believe that the United States, a nation that prides itself on fairness and equality, and which encourages all people to get ahead through hard work, doesn’t ban discrimination in employment for tens of millions of Americans.

Since 1994, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act has been introduced in nearly every Congress. ENDA would ban workplace discrimination across the nation on the basis of both sexual orientation and gender identity by amending the employment provisions of the 1964 federal Civil Rights Act. Discrimination based on gender identity is legal in 33 states, including New Hampshire.

Protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees is not radical. Of the Fortune 500 companies, 88 percent prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and 57 percent ban discrimination on the basis of gender identity.

In fact, protecting LGBT workers is so not radical that more than 50 religious groups, including nine major religious denominations, have come out in favor of ENDA. They include the Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the United Church of Christ, as well as Reform, Reconstructionist and Conservative Jews. In 2009, when Salt Lake City approved a nondiscrimination ordinance similar to ENDA, the law passed with the support of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormon Church). And last month, Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, a member of the Mormon Church, voted in support of ENDA as the bill passed out of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions by a vote of 15-7.

Why do three out of four Jewish denominations strongly support ENDA? Because in Genesis 1:27, we read, “And God created human beings b’tzelem elohim, in the image of God.” Each human being is unique and precious and most importantly, Godly. Each human being is entitled to be treated with dignity, justice and equality, precisely what ENDA seeks to achieve.

ENDA is headed to the full Senate for a vote this fall. I urge New Hampshire’s senators to co-sponsor or at least vote in favor of this legislation that would provide workplace protections for LGBT people all across America.

(Rabbi Robin Nafshi serves as the spiritual leader of Temple Beth Jacob in Concord.)