Imagine it's a pleasant Friday afternoon and you've just returned from a short lunch break to find an email from your boss telling you to come down to the conference room. Once you arrive, your boss and her boss and his boss and someone you don't even know are already seated at the table. No one stands. You are asked to take a seat at the far end of the table where a stack of papers sits next to a pen. Then you are told that everyone is very sorry, but you are being let go and you need to go over the exit paperwork, clean out your desk, and leave as soon as you can. When you ask why you are being fired, the assembled managers eye each other nervously before the human resources drone, the one you don't even recognize, tells you, "Well, it's because you are a heterosexual male and you identify that way."
For most people, the notion they could be fired because of their sexual preference is incomprehensible. Yet, for a small number of people — possibly people you work with right now — that notion is far from ridiculous. It's a very real fear they may live with every single working day.
As it stands now, there is no federal law protecting LGBT workers from this sort of workplace discrimination, even though legislators have brought bills before Congress in almost every session since 1974. Recently, the Senate passed the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, but it appears unlikely to make it to the floor of the House of Representatives.
That a nation could repeatedly fail for nearly 40 years to grant workplace protections for members of the LGBT community is shameful. But the fact that we cannot even seem to have a rational discussion about the issue is a disgrace. Those who oppose legal protections for gays, lesbians, and transgendered workers offer up reasons that are either empty or completely devoid of logic. In doing so, they blatantly contradict their own rationales, or they completely fail to understand that laws like this are not only necessary, but they're also are part and parcel with American democratic theory. Often, these anti-discrimination opponents say that the bills offer "special protections" for a class of people, or worse they try to claim that sexual preference is a "choice." But both of these arguments do little more than illuminate the ignorance of the person using them.
When someone speaks of extending special protection to members of the LGBT community, they are apparently completely ignorant of the special protections that have already been afforded to almost every other American citizen. They're already protected from being fired because of their age, race, ethnicity, and religion — only one of these is a matter of choice.
As for those who say ENDA and other laws extend protection to people who have made the "choice" to be gay or trans, their arguments are so utterly without merit that they're barely worth discussing. Sexual orientation, preference, and gender identity are simply not things that one chooses anymore than one chooses what hand one writes with, hair color, or height. And while one could argue that there are certain environmental factors at play in an adult's eventual overall makeup, I would argue that no one has control over those factors during their formative years. And even if sexuality was a choice, would it not also deserve the same workplace protections extended to that other "special class" of people: those who wish to worship in the manner they choose without fear of workplace reprisals?
When someone says, "Well, I don't think people should be fired for being gay or transgendered, but I don't think the government should legislate on that," they're actually saying they're completely OK with someone being fired for being gay or transgendered because they're not willing to take that final step into the modern age and say, "You know what? There's really nothing wrong with someone else's sexuality."
In the end, opposing fair and equal treatment — whether in the workplace, our schools, or the courtroom — is a pointless endeavor. Many of the arguments used today were used against women, African Americans, and others throughout our nation's history. Whether or not people are ready to accept it, we are slowly moving toward the idea of equality for all, and hopefully, it will be sooner rather than later.