This past Thursday, April 24, the Senate passed the immensely popular Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA). Put broadly the Act bars discrimination in insurance and employment based on one's genetic information. Medical researchers, in particular, decry the reluctance of individuals to participate in trials due to their fear of discrimination from what others might find out about their less-than-perfect genes.
Never you mind that the acronym GINA sounds gayer than ENDA. The real issue here is how the passage and heralding of GINA puts our country's homophobia and transphobia in even starker relief.
The Senate passed the Act 95-0. The House passed an earlier version 420-3. We haven't heard legislative harmonies like these since the USA PATRIOT Act!
Yet we know the recent history of our own nondiscrimination acts -- ENDA and Matthew Shepard, both. Bills that would protect real live people from injustices they incur on a regular basis have been stalled or derailed entirely in one or both chambers.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not anti-GINA. I just find it astonishing (or, I guess, with my cynic's hat on, not so astonishing) that federal action has been taken to protect against something (genetic-information discrimination) that experts admit hasn't even been much documented at this point, when we have a slew of information on hate crimes, employment, health care and housing discrimination against LGBTQ people and very little has been done.
So, Congress, pass GINA -- I'm all for it! But go ahead and pass a united ENDA and Matthew Shepard while you're at it, if you're so concerned that people will be discriminated against based on something inextricably linked to who they are.
And since you're working on nondiscrimination these days, why not give all of these bills some teeth. 'Cause let's get real here. The vast majority of folks who will be discriminated against because of their genetic information, sexuality, gender identity/expression, what-have-you won't know that it's happening, and even if they find out won't have the resources or the wherewithal to file claims and fight back.
You might say GINA has garnered such enthusiastic support because genetic information discrimination touches us all. If you put on your spectacles and took a hard look at our government the way it really is, you might say Congress passed it so handily because there's big benefit to the big businesses that want to research and control the future of medical research, drug developments, etc. To control, in other words, the very genetic information we all want kept safe.
On the flip side, there's not a lot of added benefit to protecting against a group of people already being widely discriminated against in housing, insurance, employment and the like, unless you're an avid follower of Richard Florida and his "treat gays well for good business" mentality. Once protected, we queers aren't going to run out and participate in new activities that generate new wealth. We, like anyone else, work and spend to sustain our lives, regardless of whether we're in danger of losing the jobs and the funds that allow us to do these things.
However, once protected, we might actually start to file claims and sue, for we've got a backlog of discrimination to be reckoned with!
Guess we'll find out how GINA applies to the gays when someone finally pinpoints that ever-elusive gay gene. In the meantime, it's disheartening to see such legislative bowing to a nondiscrimination bill that has at least as much to do with satisfying the medical lobby as it does the protection of actual people, when two vital bills for so many of us languish in bigotry and unease.