Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Focus: Workplace nondiscrimination

Tuesday, Guam's senate approved a workplace nondiscrimination bill intended to protect LGBT citizens and military personnel (Guam has an enormous collection of US military bases). Guam provides a microcosm of our nation and the status of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964.

According to current Guam law discrimination based on ancestry, age, color, race, religion and sex is prohibited in the workplace. Sexual orientation and gender identity are left out. The bill that was debated will correct that omission. I lived in Agana, Guam for a few months many years ago (long story about a beautiful but boring place). The culture, which is very much like the Philippines,  has sure changed over time. But I digress.

Outside of the workplace, as citizens and taxpayers, we are due access to public accommodations free of discrimination. That means that people cannot use their status as owners of a public accommodation to demonstrate their disapproval of gay people — all cloaked in ready-to-wear Christianity. What? You really think that this is about religious freedom? Slathering sponge cake with artery clogging buttercream is a holy sacrament? It is about their perceived right to shame us by saying “we don't serve your kind here.”

Having said that, protection from discriminatory practices in the workplace is far more important. We have ourselves and families to feed, clothe and house. Many, if not most, of America's largest companies have figured out that businesses do better when they hire and promote people based on their performance. It is time, as a society, that we put an end to sexual bigotry.

And it's not just the paycheck. Take it from someone who lost the ability to perform in the workplace; for many people (not all) their employment is an integral part of who they are as an individual. What we do for a living is far more likely to effect a “lifestyle” than our sexual orientation or sexual identity. The construct of our social order is often a product of what we do in the workplace.

Conservative Christians object to employment non-discrimination acts, at the federal or state level, because they don't like gay people. The excuses (and that is what they are) are just different ways of expressing disapproval. They might say that putting a gay spouse on the health insurance plan is an affront to their religious freedom. Do they have any divorced and re-married employees? When my father was a young man “they” didn't hire Jews for religious reasons. Today, businesses are required to treat a Muslim fairly in the workplace in spite of a direct clash in religious belief. The employee and employer might consider the other to be an apostate but that should not enter into hiring or advancing an individual. It's about skills and performance not devotion to Bronze Age writings. If they are required to hire a qualified Hindu then they can be required to hire a qualified LGBT citizen.

We can, and should, enjoy freedom from discrimination in both public accommodations and the workplace. If we focus on the more important of the two (which has the support of big business — also known as the Republican donor base) then the other comes more easily. If we don't focus we risk losing both. At the moment HRC and others have probably not taken the time to examine the component parts of their advocacy and they stopped listening to the gay community years ago. Mr. Griffin is more concerned about his stature in other places I think. As a community we are sometimes complacent.

We won marriage equality on the legal merits. That is probably not going to happen with respect to protections from discrimination in either the workplace or public accommodation. Yes, I am aware that we could make a Title VII challenge to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 on the basis that sex includes sexual orientation and sexual identity. Oncale v. Sundowner is an important case in that regard because it prohibits (by unanimous decision of the Supreme Court) same-sex sexual harassment. By the way, Scalia wrote the opinion in one of his saner moments.

I think, however, that a legislative solution is more likely to produce an acceptable result within a reasonable amount of time. Ultimately the most important thing that we can do is to ask politicians where they stand on workplace equality. Demand answers. Then, of course, we need to pull levers. You can be certain that Evangelical Christians are voting by the busload. We need to match their efforts which requires us to get our relatives and allies to vote. Now would be a good time to get registered and to make sure that we, as well as our friends and relatives, have whatever is necessary to vote (in spite of the latest Republican voter suppression scheme). If nothing else, try to imagine the Supreme Court nominees of any of the Republican candidates. That is a fucking nightmare. If that doesn't energize you then nothing will.

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