Civil rights and labor organizations this week praised the introduction of the Employment Non-discrimination Act (ENDA) by a bipartisan group of Senators. ENDA would create a federal standard for outlawing workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, say the bill’s authors, Sens. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., Susan Collins, R-Maine, Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, and Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.

“The introduction of an inclusive employment non-discrimination bill in the U.S. Senate is an important and historic step in ending discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity,” said President Joe Solmonese.

Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the , also welcomed the introduction of the bill and said, ‘We believe that civil rights should be measured by a single yardstick, which means that workers should be hired or fired based on performance and qualifications, not on immutable characteristics such as race, gender, sexual orientation or gender identity.’

‘People recognize that our nation as a whole benefits when everyone is allowed to contribute their talents and skills, free from discrimination, which is all ENDA seeks to do,’ added Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund.

In a memo to labor and civil rights activists posted at its website, Pride at Work, the voice of LGBT workers in the labor movement, praised the introduction of ENDA in the Senate and said, ‘The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) would extend fair employment practices under federal law to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community. It does not create any ‘special rights,’ but simply affords to all Americans basic protection from employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.’

Upon introduction of the same bill in the House of Representatives in June, now outgoing AFL-CIO President John Sweeney described job discrimination as ‘inconsistent with the principles of equal opportunity and equal employment that our movement has fought for.’

‘With the passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act,’ Sweeney explained, ‘lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender workers across this nation would have protection from workplace discrimination, protections that so many workers receive now only because of their union contracts.’

Mary Kay Henry, executive vice president of SEIU, added, ‘This overdue reform will demonstrate that we are a nation of conscience that can overcome the injustice of the past and increase prosperity for working families by welcoming and drawing on the talents of a diverse workforce.’

Currently, only 20 states have banned discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment practices, and only 13 states have banned the practice based on gender identity.

Supporters of the bill say it will extend employment protections to all LGBT workers in every state. While the bill expands most aspects of existing civil rights laws to include LGBT workers, it will not apply to small businesses, religious organizations or the military. Supporters of ENDA, seeking to allay misleading claims by Republican opponents of the bill, also point out that the measure would not create a quota system or have anything to do with marriage equality or domestic partnership benefits.

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