Right now, today--in 2013--employers can decide to fire employees solely because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. And there is no federal law that can stop them.
It's an oversight that would come as a surprise to the eight in 10 Americans who--according to a recent poll--assume that sexual orientation and gender identity are protected by employment non-discrimination policy.
But, Congress has been trying--and failing--for nearly two decades to pass a bill to provide workplace protections for LGBT Americans. It's called the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, more commonly known as ENDA.
And it would make it illegal to terminate employment based on sexual orientation or gender identity. But as of Monday--after dying in the U.S. Senate in 1996, 2001, and again in 2007--it's looking like ENDA may finally have the 60 votes it needs to pass.
Of course, it faces a much tougher road in the Republican-controlled House. But the Senate's support would still be a signficant step for national leadership on the issue of LGBT equality. Which is why, in my letter this week, I want to ask one of the Senate's most visible leaders--and one of ENDA's most vocal critics--to reconsider.
Dear Senator John McCain,
It's me, Melissa. I've gotta say, I'm a little disappointed.
You've been one of the loudest voices of reasonable Republicanism amid the insanity swirling around your side of the aisle lately. Distinguishing yourself from the "wacko birds," as you once called your Senate colleagues Ted Cruz and Rand Paul.
So it was a bit of letdown when I saw that you've taken a decidely unreasonable stance on workplace equality.
When asked about the concerns that could stop you from a "yes" vote on ENDA, you said:
"Whether it imposes quotas, whether it has reverse discrimination, whether it has the kinds of provisions that really preserve equal rights for all citizens or, like for example, busing. Busing was done in the name of equality. Busing was a failure... Ask people in Boston if busing turned out to be a good idea."
Well, Senator, if that was all that was bothering you, let me ease your mind.
First, does ENDA impose a quota? Nope. It doesn't. Nothing in the bill would require an employer to hire a person based on his or her sexual orientation or gender identity.
In fact, have you read Section 4 of the legislation? A specific provision that explicitly says, "No Preferential Treatment or Quotas." Is it reverse discrimination? Absolutely not. The bill even makes an exemption for religious organizations who would rather continue to discriminate against LGBT people.
And does it really preserve equal rights for all citizens? Yes, Senator, it really does.
ENDA would expand to the LGBT community the very same employment rights already enjoyed by women, people of color, veterans, seniors, and people with disabilities. Now, as for your non sequitur about busing. How about *you* ask the people in North Carolina's Charlotte-Mecklenburg County. Thanks to a busing plan, that county became a national model for integration in education for three decades.
As for the failure of busing in Boston, it wasn't busing that was the problem. It was the racist, violent opposition from those unwilling to integrate schools that was an epic fail. But fortunately, you'll encounter no such resistance to ENDA. When asked if they support federal workplace protections for LGBT Americans, a solid majority answered a resounding "Yes." That includes 56% of voters from your own party.
One of whom happens to be the closest person to you.
I believe you know this lady, Senator. That's your wife, Cindy. Right after she signed onto the Human Rights Campaign's petition asking you to support ENDA.
So before you vote, and cement your historical legacy on the question of equality, I want you to listen. Listen to me. Listen to your wife. Listen to the people you represent. And then do what many of your Republican colleagues won't.
Listen to reason. Then do what's right.