An op-ed submitted by U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia, D-Miami:
Last week the U.S. Senate took an important step forward in making the promise of equality a reality for millions of Americans.
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) is a historic piece of civil rights legislation, with a simple concept that is at the core of the American ethos – freedom of opportunity. When put into law, ENDA would guarantee that no worker, including those of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) orientation, is judged on anything other than merit and the ability to do a job. I am proud – along with my colleague, original sponsor Representative Jared Polis and 193 other bipartisan members of the U.S. House of Representatives – to be an original co-sponsor of ENDA
There is currently no federal law that prohibits discrimination against LGBT Americans in the workplace. A number of states have stepped up to fill that hole – and to ensure that no person’s ability to secure and keep a job is put at risk because of who they are, or who they love. In seventeen states it is illegal to fire someone on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, and in an additional four to fire someone based on their sexual orientation. While a number of local and municipal governments throughout Florida, including many here in South Florida, have passed similar protections, the State of Florida collectively still does not provide such basic protections to our LGBT friends and neighbors.
Business knows that respect for diversity and valuation of employees based on work performance are smart and fruitful approaches. Many Fortune 500 companies and employers in Florida have inclusive non-discrimination policies that cover sexual orientation and gender identity. Industry moguls like Royal Caribbean and Ryder System recognize that valuing their employees is good for the bottom line, and thus have protections for LGBT hires. By passing ENDA, we take a page out of these playbooks for success by ensuring everyone’s contribution to society while also continuing to strengthen our economy.
Some have raised concerns about the ability of religious organizations and institutions to continue practicing their faith without necessarily violating ENDA. I sympathize with these concerns which is why I’ve supported specific provisions within ENDA to ensure religious organizations and institutions remain free to practice their religious beliefs as they always have.
I believe it is incumbent upon us to ensure that everyone has the freedom to succeed without the fear of judgment or persecution for personal characteristics—characteristics irrelevant to their job performance.
ENDA enjoys strong bipartisan support in the House of Representatives, including from my South Florida colleague Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. I hope that Republicans will continue to join with her, and that we can work together across the aisle to urge the House leadership to follow the Senate’s lead and pass this historic piece of civil rights legislation.