franken

The employment Non-Discrimination Act was heard for the first time in its 14-year history at a Senate hearing last week. Sen. Al Franken, who sits on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, had moving words about the importance of making employment discrimination based on sexual orientation illegal and praised Minnesota’s pioneering role in banning such discrimination.

Here’s a video of his remarks at the committee:

And the transcript:

Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding today’s hearing on this important topic, and thank you to all of today’s witnesses for sharing your expertise.

In preparing for today’s hearing, I reviewed all of the witness statements, and tried to familiarize myself with the ins and outs of the technical definitions, Title VII, the exemptions, and everything else. But at some point, I paused to reflect on this: today, in 2009, in our country, it’s still perfectly legal to fire someone because they’re gay. You can be a hard worker, show up on time, and get exemplary performance reviews, but if your boss discovers that you’re gay or transgender, they can fire you, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Growing up, my kids would read in their history textbooks about a time in our country when it was perfectly legal to fire somebody, or refuse to hire somebody, because they were black, or because they were a woman. For them, it was a concept they couldn’t really understand.

I hope that my future grandkids will only read about when it was legal to fire someone who’s gay—not ever actually see it.

Now, most Minnesotans attend religious services every week. Minnesota is home to 19 Fortune 500 companies. Minnesotans enjoy a very high standard of living. So it might surprise some of you that the Minnesota Human Rights Act was passed in 1993. This law protects workers from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. This law has been protecting workers from discrimination for fifteen years, and Minnesota’s sky has not fallen. Minnesota is basically the same as it was before this law was passed with only one small exception—about 20 or so people per year exercise their rights under this law after they are discriminated against based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Today, we have a chance to extend the same commonsense protections to every American worker by passing ENDA. So thank you again, Chairman Harkin, for calling this crucial hearing.

Franken also questioned the panelists, only one of whom was opposed to ENDA:

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