Senate Democrats

Reid Remarks On The Employment Non-Discrimination Act

“In 33 states, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people can be fired or harassed just for being who they are.” 

“A patchwork of state laws that excludes tens of millions of American from basic protection from discrimination is simply not good enough. It is time for Congress to pass a federal law that ensures all Americans – regardless of where they live – can go to work unafraid to be themselves.”

“I urge my colleagues to vote with me tonight 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.” 

Washington, D.C. – Nevada Senator Harry Reid spoke on the Senate floor today regarding S.815 – the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:

Springfield, Massachusetts police officer Michael Carney fought for two and a half 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. And because he lives in Massachusetts – one of only 17 states that 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.

I am 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 two-and-a-half years of employment fighting to get that job back because I’m gay. And I never would have been able to do that had I not lived in Massachusetts or in one of the handful of other states that protect… employees from discrimination.”

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

West Virginia coal miner Sam Hall was terrorized by his coworkers for seven 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.

A patchwork of state laws that excludes tens of millions of American from basic protection from discrimination is simply not good enough. It is time for Congress to pass a federal law that ensures all Americans – regardless of where they live – can go to work unafraid to be themselves. 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, four out of five Americans mistakenly believe 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. But once again Republicans in Congress are out of step with Republicans in the rest of the country. House Speaker John Boehner said today that 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 non-discrimination 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 out in support of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

But there’s a more important reason to support this legislation than popular support: it’s the right thing to do. 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. And employees should be judged on the quality of their work, on their talents and on their performance, not on their sexual orientation or their gender identity.

I urge my colleagues to vote with me tonight 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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