This month, the Human Rights Campaign swings into Charlotte for its annual North Carolina fundraising gala. The national group — the largest LGBT civil rights organization in the country — has been at the forefront of the LGBT equality movement for decades. They’ve pushed LGBT visibility and awareness to new levels. Their behind-the-scenes lobbying has opened doors, changed elected officials’ hearts and minds and made many of our recent legal and political advancements possible.
But, despite the dizzying pace at which issues like marriage seem to be advancing, even groups as large as the Human Rights Campaign have yet been able to chalk up a victory on one single piece of legislation which our community needs almost more than any other: the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).
In this print edition, we focus on a variety of news and life stories highlighting our movement for equality’s victories and areas for improvement, from a transgender high school student’s homecoming king victory to a new report highlighting startlingly concerning discrepancies for LGBT funding in the South. Another short feature focuses on the experience of LGBT workers, particularly those of color and those who identify as transgender. And, it is here where, I believe, we find the single most pressing need for more action, more attention and more priority.
For 20 years, the larger LGBT community and its national advocacy organizations have pushed for employment protections based on sexual orientation. Later, that push expanded to include protections for transgender workers, as well. And, in these 20 years, the push has yet to yield a victory. Employment discrimination is one of the most basic challenges our community faces, yet it seems we have invested so little money, time and energy into truly advocating for ENDA.
I will not demean the movement for marriage. I believe it is important. For straight and gay folks alike, marriage is a foundational cornerstone that leads to stability for families, including, most importantly, those with children. The pace at which we are achieving marriage equality is both exhilarating and fascinating.
But, marriage laws will not protect one from termination. Marriage laws will not prevent discrimination in hiring. Marriage laws will not prevent employers from passing LGBT workers over for promotion.
The need for ENDA is clear. It has been for decades. Why it seems so far down on our movement leaders’ priority list is beyond my imagination. We must do more to address the basic needs of our community — and that means dedicating more energy to ENDA, as well as other needs.
You see, protection from employment discrimination alone isn’t quite enough. Even if ENDA is passed, low-income LGBT workers will continue to belong to the “working poor.” LGBT workers of color and transgender workers are among the most at-risk. Without access to meaningful employment that pays a living wage, our LGBT siblings remain unable to adequately care for the needs of their families and households. Yes, issues like the minimum wage are queer issues, too.
Organizations like the Human Rights Campaign and others often take a lot of heat and I realize some matters are out of their control. I, too, highly doubt an LGBT-inclusive ENDA can have a fair hearing in a Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives. Even with this reality, it is possible to ramp up advocacy and lobbying efforts. If ENDA can’t be achieved nationally, it’s time to refocus and redouble our efforts in the states. I want to see the same level of broader public support and awareness that I currently see for marriage being applied to issues like employment.
This month, I’ll join with many other Charlotteans, North Carolinians and Palmetto State citizens in celebrating our victories thus far. The HRC North Carolina Gala, I’m sure, will be a blast. But, after the party is over, I’ll return to work. I hope you do, too. : :