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Public Statements

Employment Discrimination

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Mr. REID. Mr. President, Springfield, MA, police officer Michael Carney fought for 2 1/2 years to get his job back--and he won. After he took a medical leave of absence, Springfield officials refused to reinstate Officer Carney because the veteran officer had revealed he was gay. But Officer Carney was determined to return to the force. Because he lived in Massachusetts, one of only 17 States to protect employees against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, Officer Carney is now back on the job, serving and protecting the people of Springfield, MA. I am also pleased to say Nevada law also includes robust protections against this type of discrimination. Officer Carney testified before the House of Representatives in 2007 and shared his story. This is what he said:

I'm a good cop, but I have lost 2 1/2 years of employment fighting to get that job back because I am gay. I never would have been able to do that had I not lived in Massachusetts or one of the handful of other States that protect ..... employees from discrimination.

Sadly, not everyone is able to fight back like Officer Carney. In 33 States, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people can be fired and harassed just for being who they are.

West Virginia coal miner Sam Hall was terrorized by his coworkers for 7 years because he was gay. Mr. Hall just wanted to make a living, but supervisors told him he would have to endure the persecution if he wanted to keep his job. West Virginia is one of 33 States with no protections against this type of oppression. That is why I so admire Joe Manchin for recognizing that this is an issue which is important to everyone.

A patchwork of State laws that excludes tens of millions of Americans from basic protection against discrimination is simply not good enough. It is time for Congress to pass a Federal law so that all Americans, regardless of where they live, can go to work unafraid to be who they are. As long as hardworking, qualified Americans can be denied job opportunities, fired or harassed because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, all workers are at risk.

This week the Senate will begin debate on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would simply afford all Americans the same protections from discrimination based on prejudice. In fact, 4 out of 5 Americans mistakenly believe that these protections already exist. Two-thirds of Americans, including a majority of Republicans, support Federal protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the workplace. Once again, Republicans in Congress are out of step with Republicans in the rest of the country. House Speaker John Boehner this morning said he does not support this legislation, but the Speaker should take his cue from the 56 percent of Republicans nationwide who support ENDA and bring this legislation up for a vote.

Corporations also agree nondiscrimination policies are good for business. Most Fortune 500 companies already prohibit this kind of persecution, and more than 100 of the nation's largest businesses, more than 80 national civil rights, labor, religious, civic, and professional organizations, and faith leaders from many denominations have spoken in support of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

But there is more, much more, and a more important reason to support this legislation than popular support. It is the right thing to do. Here is what Harvey Milk, the murdered California politician and gay rights activist once said:

It takes no compromise to give people their rights. ..... It takes no money to respect the individual. It takes no political deal to give people freedom. It takes no survey to remove repression.

All Americans, regardless of what they look like, where they live or who they choose to love, deserve to be treated with the same respect and dignity while they earn a living. An employee should not be judged on matters that really are unimportant. We are talking about fairness. Employees should be judged on the quality of their work and on their talents and performance, and not on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

I urge my colleagues to vote tonight supporting the legislation that 81 percent of Americans approve, to begin debate on a bill that would affirm the equal rights and freedoms of every American and to do so simply because it is the right thing to do.


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