A bill that is crucial to the civil rights of the LGBT community was reintroduced in both houses of Congress on Thursday, and you probably didn’t hear a thing about it.
That’s because the bill isn’t about marriage. If it were a national marriage bill, the media would have been all over it. Heck, if it were just the first step in a state’s process to potentially remove their constitutional marriage ban by 2016, even national media would be all over it (It just happened in Nevada; though admittedly, Nevada also had a state senator come out during the debate).
This bill is not about marriage, but about something that is equally important and arguably affects more people: the right to not be discriminated against based on your sexual orientation or gender identity.
In 29 states, you can be fired for being gay. Worse, in 34 states, you can be fired for being a transgender person. Being fired or harassed is not theoretical. A report from The Williams Institute says that 27 percent of all lesbian, gay, and bisexual employees have faced discrimination on the job, and 7 percent of them lost a job because of their sexual orientation. Transgender respondents report even higher numbers: 78 percent say that they have been harassed or faced discrimination.
The Employee Non-Discrimination Act would change all that. Currently, workers are protected against discrimination based on sex, race, religion, national origin, age, and disability. The bill would simply add sexual orientation and gender identity to the mix, making thousands of workers more secure, including the recently (legally) married. After all, even the most legal of marriages comes under stress if one or both spouses have to worry about losing their jobs should they slip at work and talk about their husband or wife. (CNN has a great tool for figuring out where your state stands on this bill and other measures of LGBT rights here.)
But the media barely seems to care. A quick Google search showed that only a handful of mainstream outlets wrote stories about the measure in advance of its introduction: The Washington Post, Salon, Bloomberg, Roll Call, and BuzzFeed. That’s it. Yet over the past week or so, according to a Google search, there have been a couple hundred stories in mainstream outlets about gay marriage.
Yes, gay marriage is steaming along; it marks a sea change in public opinion; more states (and countries) are legalizing it all the time. That is all wonderful. But the LGBT community isn’t discriminated against along only one vector. Having full marriage equality won’t solve everything. People are losing their jobs, their livelihoods. And what’s particularly strange about this is that public support for ENDA is very, very high—and has been since a version of the bill was first introduced in 1994. Eighty-nine percent of Americans support the bill, according to Gallup, compared to about 50 percent for marriage.
It’s been almost 20 years since its first introduction, and ENDA still hasn’t passed, despite overwhelming public support. This is flabbergasting, and the media should write about it. All of the media, not just the excellent gay press.
Luckily, there is time for the media to be on the right side of history with this one. The bill will likely not be marked up before May or June, and the vote will probably be scheduled for July, after the Supreme Court has released its decision on marriage. There are 34 states where people face discrimination—at the very least, there should be 34 local news stories about that discrimination and about what would change if ENDA were to be passed. When Congress isn’t listening to the people, the people deserve, at least, to know why. And that’s where we come in.Jennifer Vanasco is a is a news editor at WNYC and the former editor in chief of MTV Network's LGBT news site 365gay.com. She writes about social minorities, national politics, and culture. Her award-winning newspaper column on gay and women's issues ran for 15 years.