I went to college and had my first “professional” job while living in the Ozarks. I lived in southwest Missouri, which is in the heart of the Bible Belt, and one of the most conservative parts of the country. I remember going on a date with a guy that was a performer in Branson, Missouri. Branson is one of the biggest tourist traps in Missouri, and provides “wholesome” fun and entertainment for families. He worked for the a theater that told Biblical stories through theater. He told me the gut-wrenching story about how he had been called into his boss’s office. They confronted the guy asking him if he was gay. He refused to tell them, and attempted to deflect the question. They didn’t fire him at that point, but he knew it was likely only a matter of time. He was a great actor, he could sing and he was a dedicated employee. His perceived orientation didn’t fit with the company’s public image. He quickly found another job acting at a theater in Branson that was more accepting of diversity.
I don’t go around announcing that I am gay to everyone I see, but I do tell those that I feel need to know. At my job in Springfield, Missouri, there were a few of us that were gay and weren’t open about it to our supervisors. We feared going to work and being found out only to be fired. I had a coworker challenge me on my Biblical beliefs about homosexuality while at work once. I ran out of the room nearly in tears, but I didn’t feel like I had recourse, because I didn’t want to be seen as the aggressor and possibly lose my job.
When I moved to Pennsylvania, I wasn’t going to let my bosses know I was gay. When I was working on a unit with some teenage girls, the girls asked me if I had a girlfriend. I refused to answer the question, and they assumed I was gay. It began spreading around work that I was gay, even though I never said the words, “I’m gay.” I often worried that I would be fired.
The sad truth is that this is a fear a lot of us live with on a daily basis. No one should ever have to fear for their job because of their sexuality. When I was beginning to accept my sexual orientation, I fell in love with the TV show, Queer as Folk. One of the characters, Brian Kinney was asked by a homophobic candidate for mayor of Pittsburgh that he was helping to elect if he was gay. Brian said it best when he basically said that he was, but it didn’t really matter if he was or not because his sexuality didn’t define his work ethic. Unfortunately – in the real world – for residents of 29 states, they can be fired because of their sexual orientation, including Pennsylvania (there are some restrictions on the state and municipal levels) and Missouri.
In just a few weeks, the United States Senate will begin debating and voting on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), Senate Bill 815. ENDA would ban discrimination based upon sexual orientation and gender identity in employment across the United States. This bill would be no different than the protections given to race, sex, religion, disability and nationality.
Earlier this week, I attended a kick-off event that is being pioneered by the Americans for Workplace Opportunity in conjunction with the Human Rights Campaign, Equality Pennsylvania, the ACLU and several other non-profit organizations to help persuade Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey (R) to vote ‘yes’ on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act when it comes up for a vote.
The campaign to persuade legislators into voting ‘yes’ on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act is not limited to Pennsylvania. There are campaigns being launched in Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Ohio and West Virginia, focusing on 13 senators. If you live in any of these states, including Pennsylvania, I urge you to find out how to get involved in these campaigns to ensure ENDA passes in a few weeks.
Despite the fact that 80% of Americans, including 70% of Republicans support the passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, many may be reluctant to support ENDA because they believe religious institutions should have the right to choose whether they want to hire gay people or not. ENDA does not strip away this choice for churches, synagogues, or any other faith that are protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The law also does not cover small businesses with 15 or less employees or create an affirmative action for LGBTQ individuals. So, there is no logical reason why ENDA cannot pass the U.S. Senate. Now is the time for us to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
There are a lot of ways that you can get involved. Contact your U.S. Senator and let them know that you support ENDA and want them to do the same. You can look up your senators here. Call them, email them, write them letters, write letters to the editor of your newspaper, and most importantly, pass the word to your family, friends and colleagues to contact their senators as well. I also highly encourage you to find a local campaign in your area if you want a more active role in ensuring the passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. If you cannot find out how to get involved, feel free to contact me and I will be sure to do my best in order to find out the required information for your state.
If you are a Pennsylvania resident, you can email Senator Toomey by filling out this form. You can also call his constituency offices by finding out your local number here. His Washington, D.C. office is: (202) 224-4254. Senator Bob Casey is already a co-sponsor for the bill. If you want more information on how to get involved with the campaign in PA, feel free to contact me through the many different avenues I have available. I will be sure to provide the information to you.