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Federal Legislation Advances Human Rights for LGBTQ Americans

On March 12, 2007, Marine General Peter Pace caused a national controversy when he called homosexuality “immoral,” revealing that the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy covers up a deep-seeded discrimination against gay and lesbian soldiers.1  Fortunately, the new Congressional leadership is taking action to fight such outright bigotry and extend civil rights to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning (LGBTQ) individuals with the introduction of the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act (LLEHCPA) and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).

LLEHCPA was introduced in the United States Congress on March 20, 2007, by Representatives John Conyers (D-MI) and Mark Kirk (R-IL).  The current federal hate crimes law, enacted nearly 40 years ago, covers only bias attacks based on race, ethnicity, national origin, and religion.  LLEHCPA would extend protection against violent crimes committed due to hatred of another person’s actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.2  In addition, LLEHCPA allows the Justice Department to aid state and local jurisdictions by lending assistance or by taking the lead in investigations and prosecutions of violent crimes motivated by bias when local authorities are unwilling or unable to take action.3  Proponents of LLEHCPA believe it will receive a favorable reaction in 110th Congress.

Congress is also trying to further advance civil rights for LGBTQ individuals with the anticipated introduction of ENDA in the coming weeks by Representatives Barney Frank (D-MA) and Deborah Pryce (R-OH).  Current federal employment law provides basic legal protection against work-related discrimination on the basis of race, gender, religion, national origin, or disability, but, there is no federal protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.  Moreover, few states provide protection against these types of discrimination.  It is legal to fire someone based on their sexual orientation in 33 states, and it is legal to do so based on gender identity in 42 states.4  Based on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the principle that all workers should be judged solely on merit, ENDA would extend fair employment practices under federal law to include legal protections for sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination.  Contrary to what some critics have said, ENDA does not create special rights for any one group, it simply affords basic employment protection to all Americans.  The bill prohibits preferential treatment and quotas, and exempts small businesses, religious organizations, and the military.5

“Both of these important pieces of legislation represent a significant move forward in extending basic human rights to LGBTQ Americans and further advance the great American promise of the equality of all people,” said William Smith, vice president of public policy for the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS).

For more information about the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act or the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, please visit the Human Rights Campaign at www.hrc.org.

References

  1. The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, “SIECUS Condemns Irresponsible Comments from General Pace,” Press Release published 13 March 2007, accessed 28 March 2007, <http://www.siecus.org/media/press/press0138.html>.
  2. Judy Shepard and Joe Solmonese, “Why we need a federal hate crimes law – and why we can get it,” The Advocate, 6 March 2007, accessed 3 April 2007, <http://www.advocate.com/exclusive_detail_ektid42559.asp>.
  3. “The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act One-Paper,” the Human Rights Campaign (2007), accessed 27 March 2007, <http://www.civilrights.org/assets/pdfs/HRC-LLEHCPA-One-Pager1-23-07.pdf>.
  4. “Employment Non-Discrimination Act,” the Human Rights Campaign (2007), accessed 20 March 2007, <http://www.hrc.org/Template.cfm?Section=Employment_Non-Discrimination_Act
    &Template=/TaggedPage/TaggedPageDisplay.cfm&TPLID=23&ContentID=13319
    >.
  5. “Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA),” the National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce (2007), accessed 20 March 2007, <http://www.thetaskforce.org/issues/nondiscrimination/ENDA_main_page>.

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