Guest Blogger

ENDA For All

Filed By Guest Blogger | October 07, 2014 11:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: American Dream, disabled workers, employment discrimination, ENDA, LGBT elders, workplace discrimination, workplace protections

Editor's Note: Guest blogger and human rights advocate Jim Patterson is a writer, speaker, and lifelong diplomat for dignity for all people. A prolific writer, he documents history's wrongs and the struggle for dignity to provide a road map to a more humane future. Learn more at

The Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA), lingering in Congress since 1994, is an economic incentive act that will benefit LGBT workers and their employers. As a gay man who has had my career threatened by past discrimination, I urge Congress to pass ENDA in 2014.

stop-workplace-discrimination.jpgWorkplaces free of discrimination motivate workers to concentrate on their work rather than the fear of being marginalized or terminated due to their sexuality. ENDA, which would prohibit discrimination against openly LGBT personnel, would free them to be creative, excel in their positions, and add value to their companies.

One of the often-cited arguments against ENDA is that sexuality of any kind should not be discussed in the workplace. People who argue this position should look at statistics on sexual harassment in the workplace. Based on my long years of work experience in Washington, hardly a workday passed when sexuality -- at times in crude language -- was not discussed. It is unrealistic to suggest that sexuality is not discussed in the workplace.

Employees should not have to conceal their sexuality when completing job applications or when sitting for job interviews. Applications and interviews are already pressure-filled situations for applicants. The process would yield more productive results if all parties knew of ENDA's work protections.

Congress should improve workplace conditions in 2014 by passing ENDA and ending discrimination based on sexuality and gender identity. And Congress should see that the legislation does more.

In talking with other LGBT people who have been subjected to workplace discrimination, I have learned such discrimination can take many forms. For example, I learned that employers sometimes discriminate based on an employee's perceived homosexuality. Another employee was subjected to workplace discrimination because of his association with LGBT friends and colleagues. One lesbian was terminated for being "anti-Christian" in the eyes of her employer. ENDA should address all these areas of workplace inequality.

The effects of nationwide long-term workplace discrimination against LGBT workers has, based on my experiences, been not only economically damaging -- it has also damaged lives. I have some suggestions on what ENDA should do to rectify past discrimination.

In New York, San Francisco, Boston, and Washington D.C., I have talked with LGBT elders who lost their professional careers, in some cases 25 or more years ago, and who have felt their lives were useless because they were terminated, marginalized, or "laughed out of the workplace," as one LGBT elder told me.

ENDA must address, even if in a limited way, the need for employment counseling and re-entry for those LGBT workers whose careers and lives were damaged due to discrimination. ENDA should also include re-training programs to assist elder LGBTs who want to work with the current skills to become productive workers again.

enda-lgbt-employment.jpgThe hard, cold reality of workplace discrimination against LGBT workers, in my view, involves healthcare. Employers quickly terminated employees with HIV and AIDS in the 1980s and 1990s because of the medical costs to their health plans. In many cases, these workers were retired on Social Security with Medicare.

Due to sophisticated HIV/AIDS medications, those LGBT workers who retired in past decades are considered healthy today and living longer than expected. An income based solely on Social Security is insufficient to meet current living standards in cities across the country. As a result, LGBT workers with HIV/AIDS are forced to live in poverty or forced to work at low-paying, or in some cases, high-income jobs "off the books" so they won't lose their government benefits.

ENDA must also provide a way back into the workforce for these disabled workers, who are willing to return to work, to improve their standard of living and afford them a more financially comfortable, meaningful, and enjoyable lifestyle.

For some LGBT workers subjected to workplace discrimination, the American Dream is a nightmare of wasted careers and lives with days spent begging for money and food on city streets and occupying public space for sleep and personal hygiene. Other elder LGBT people spend their days in bars drinking while taking multiple medications for numerous health problems. In short, they have no hope of a better life because of their hard experiences with discrimination and workplace inequality.

ENDA should also help young LGBT workers starting out in the workforce. But it must help elder LGBT workers who were "laughed out of the workplace" to return to productive employment. ENDA should also be seen for what it is: an economic incentive offering hope to renew the livelihoods of LGBT elders who should never have been forced out of their careers.

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