Will the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell pave the way for LGBT rights in the workplace?

History teaches us that the willingness of young people from marginalized groups to put themselves in harm’s way as members of the military can pave the way for civil rights generally. In the U.S., African Americans, Japanese Americans, and women are among those whose volunteer service in uniform have helped to advance inclusion and fairness in our society.

The President’s anticipated signing of the welcomed repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is that bellwether event for gays and lesbians, and possibly for the entire LGBT community. In the midst of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, men and women who happen to be gay have continued to volunteer for the armed forces, knowing full well that they are putting their lives at risk. Thousands have been discharged after their sexual orientation became known; others have been turned away at the outset because they did not want to hide a piece of their personal identity.

It appears that is about to change, as Anne Flaherty reports for the Associated Press (link here, via Yahoo! News):

Repeal would mean that, for the first time in American history, gays would be openly accepted by the armed forces and could acknowledge their sexual orientation without fear of being kicked out.

More than 13,500 service members have been dismissed under the 1993 law.

Especially when joined with the uneven but tangible progress on marriage equality, the repeal of DADT will be the latest development in a civil rights movement of remarkable significance.

ENDA next?

The next legal step forward should be the enactment of the Employee Non-Discrimination Act, a proposed federal law that protects individuals from discrimination in employment on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. According to the Human Rights Campaign:

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) would provide basic protections against workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.  ENDA simply affords to all Americans basic employment protection from discrimination based on irrational prejudice.  The bill is closely modeled on existing civil rights laws, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act.  The bill explicitly prohibits preferential treatment and quotas and does not permit disparate impact suits.  In addition, it exempts small businesses, religious organizations and the military, and does not require that domestic partner benefits be provided to the same-sex partners of employees.

As you can see, the current version of ENDA does not anticipate the repeal of DADT and is more restrictive than the rights extended to other groups under the Civil Rights Act. Still, it would provide members of the LGBT community with legal protections against intentional discrimination and harassment on the job. Even if conventional wisdom suggests that the incoming Congress will be less sympathetic to extensions of civil rights, this is a legislative battle worth fighting.

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