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ENDA to reach Senate next week

BY MEGAN SANCHEZ | NOVEMBER 01, 2013 5:00 AM

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It is legal to fire a person for being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender in 29 states in America. However, a continuous effort to change this by Congress may soon pay off.

The Senate is set to vote early next week on the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, which would prevent discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation or gender identification.

While 21 states, including Iowa, have protective laws of their own, Donna Red Wing of One Iowa — a state LGBTQ advocacy group — said there is still work to be done.

“The job is not over,” she said. “There is still discrimination. The challenges are still there, but they’re different from they were 20 years ago.”

Iowa’s Equal Opportunity, Affirmative Action, and Anti-Discrimination Policy states, “Harassment of employees based upon their race, creed, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, physical or mental disability, sexual orientation or gender identity is a violation of the Iowa Civil Rights Act (Iowa Code chapter 216, as amended).”

Red Wing said she is thankful for Iowa’s proactivity in the movement toward acceptance, and she commends those states that have done the same.

“It makes me proud to be an Iowan,” she said. “When we look at our protections and compare them to others, it’s pretty amazing. But now, how do we change hearts and minds? How do we change the culture?”

The federal act has been proposed by Congress every year since 1974, with the exception of 1994, and has yet to be passed. In Washington, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said this has to change.

“Current laws prohibit discrimination in the workplace based on race, sex, national origin, religion, age and disability — yet our LGBT neighbors, friends, and colleagues can still be fired or passed over for a job on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” he said in a statement. “It is time for Congress to remedy this inequality, and I am pleased to see that the Employment Nondiscrimination Act will soon come before the full Senate for consideration. I urge my colleagues to do what is right — for LGBT Americans and for our economy — and pass this critical civil rights bill.”

However, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, has approached the bill with caution.

“While Sen. Grassley believes all individuals should be treated with dignity and opposes discrimination, he has concerns with the bill pending in Congress as currently written,” Jill Gerber, a member of Grassley’s press staff, said in an email. “He wants to be sure it does not have unintended consequences for the legal system and economic growth.”

John Paul Horn, a University of Iowa alumnus who identifies himself as a gay man, said diversity in the workplace benefits all employees. He said with discrimination, this benefit is not as likely.

“When you allow people to legally discriminate against other people, you create these homogeneous workforces,” he said. “I think that real growth in business is the diversity of ideas that people bring to the table.”

And Horn said he sees diversity as something that affects the bigger picture, and really the whole world.

“My general idea is the more difference and diversity that you have in a workplace, the greater the diversity of ideas,” he said. “People bring the ideas based on how they see the world and working with someone who is different than you makes you grow as a person.”


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