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Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2013

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. FRANKEN. I can see my colleague from Indiana.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Minnesota.

Mr. FRANKEN. Mr. President, I rise today in strong support of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

In many towns, cities, and States across our country, it is still perfectly legal to fire someone simply because they are gay. One can be a hard worker who shows up on time and gets exemplary performance reviews, but if a person's boss discovers that he or she is gay or transgender or suspects it, he can fire a person for being who they are or for whom they love, and there is nothing the person can do about it.

That is a terrible injustice for Americans who happen to be LGBT. It violates the principle that we are all equal under the law. We all deserve the chance to work hard and to prove ourselves, regardless of our race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, age, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

Many Americans do not realize it remains legal to discriminate against LGBT Americans in the workplace. In one recent poll, eight in ten Americans believe it is already illegal under Federal law to fire or refuse to hire someone because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Doesn't that tell us something about how obviously right ENDA is?

The debate we are having in the Senate today is about whether we should ensure LGBT Americans don't suffer discrimination in the workplace. I have long been a supporter of ENDA, and enacting it into law is something we should have done a long time ago. In fact, 17 years ago, it came within one vote of passing in the Senate.

Making ENDA law will be the next significant step in the fight for equality for LGBT Americans. After decades of struggle, we have achieved a number of huge victories in rapid succession: ending don't ask, don't tell; overturning the Federal ban on same-sex marriage recognition; the achievement of marriage equality in more and more of our States, including my home State of Minnesota.

While we are debating ENDA in the Senate today, equality in the workplace is, in fact, something we achieved in Minnesota over two decades ago. In 1993, the Minnesota State legislature amended our State's human rights act to protect Minnesota's workers from discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. At the time only a few States prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation, and Minnesota was the first State to include protections for transgender workers.

We have had this law in effect now for over 20 years in Minnesota, and what has been the result? Well, for LGBT Minnesotans it has meant they do not have to live in fear of being fired or discriminated against in hiring just because of who they are or because of whom they love. That is a big deal.

But if you are not an LGBT Minnesotan, very little has changed. Some people, including House Speaker Boehner, are opposing ENDA because they claim it will cause frivolous lawsuits and be bad for business. The Minnesota experience shows these fears are unfounded. There has not been a flood of lawsuits because the rights of LGBT Minnesotans are wisely respected. And with 19 Fortune 500 companies, Minnesota has become an ever better place to work and do business. Minnesota is basically the same as it was before this law was passed, except that it is better because LGBT Minnesotans are free from discrimination at work.

Let me give you one example. Last year, a vice president from General Mills--the Minnesota-based company that is one of the world's largest food companies and which currently employs 35,000 people and makes Cheerios--spoke at a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing about General Mills' support for making sure that the same legal protections people have in Minnesota are extended to workers all across the United States.

The General Mills vice president spoke about how the company's policy of inclusion has contributed to its innovation and growth. He said:

Employees who are members of the GLBT community are incredible contributors to our enterprise. Absent their unique perspectives, talents, and gifts, we would be less competitive and successful. Simply said, talent matters. Now more than ever, American business needs to leverage the ingenuity of all sectors for our nation. Discriminatory barriers to top talent just don't make business sense.

And there are many other large employers headquartered in Minnesota--Target, Supervalu, U.S. Bancorp, Xcel Energy, Medtronic, 3M, Cargill, Best Buy, and many others--who have put in place companywide policies against discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation wherever their other factories or businesses or stores may be.

Minnesota's small businesses have also reported on the positive effects of Minnesota's human rights law. For instance, Nancy Lyons is the owner of a small 70-person Minneapolis business that develops software. Nancy says the protections and peace of mind her employees get from not living in fear positively impact every aspect of their lives, from their productivity at work to their family lives.

It is long past time that LGBT employees around the country be guaranteed the same rights they have had in Minnesota for 20 years. In Minnesota, our law has given LGBT Minnesotans peace of mind and freedom from discrimination at work and improved the overall climate in our State for those individuals, for families, and for businesses. I look forward to the Senate passing this bill, and I hope the House will take it up and pass it as well.

Thank you, Mr. President.

I yield the floor.


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