WASHINGTON – Last night, U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) delivered a speech on the floor of the Senate, highlighting the urgent need to pass the Employee Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). This legislation would broaden federal employment discrimination policy to include protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals, and prohibit employers from discriminating against their employees based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Murphy, a vocal advocate for LGBT rights in Connecticut since deemed a member of the “Terrible Ten” for cosponsoring Connecticut’s civil union bill in 2005, explained how ENDA will benefit thousands who face discrimination on a daily basis, and how anti-discrimination policies have benefited many of Connecticut’s most profitable companies. The Senate will vote to pass ENDA by the end of this week.
“Connecticut has been a test case for these protections for sexual orientation and gender identity,” said Murphy. “The parade of horrible consequences that opponents of this bill say will happen just have not happened in Connecticut. And what we're doing here really is pretty simple. We're not trampling on the First Amendment. We're not dictating morality. We're not harming the economy. We're not undermining the religious community. We're just saying that you can't discriminate against people in the workplace because of who they choose to love or who they are inside.”
Studies show that the vast majority of the United States’ most successful businesses have adopted anti-discrimination policies. In Connecticut, 17 of the state’s largest companies include gender identify and sexual orientation non-discrimination policies as a key part of their business’ commitment to worker satisfaction, understanding that employees who are able to be who they are in the workplace are not only happier, but are more committed to their jobs and report increased productivity and output. Both General Electric and Boehringer Ingelheim, companies headquartered in Connecticut, explained the importance of recognizing and embracing their employees for who they are.
“At GE we believe that a wide variety of cultural and individual experiences helps GE innovate and deliver the best results. We work to create an inclusive workplace where all employees have the opportunity to reach their growth potential and contribute to the progress of the industries and communities we support. These non-discrimination protections are consistent with our existing workplace policies,” said Deborah Elam, President of the GE Foundation and GE’s Chief Diversity Officer. “We believe these protections communicate our own beliefs, and benefit the company by retaining talent, supporting our recruiting efforts and marketing our consumer products.”
“Boehringer Ingelheim is proud to have been a pioneer in recognizing the importance of including gender expression, gender identity and sexual orientation in our non-discrimination policies,” said Paul Fonteyne, President and CEO, Boehringer Ingelheim USA. “We are committed to a diverse and inclusive workplace for all employees, and as a member of the Business Workplace Coalition we fully support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.”
The following companies, which are headquartered in Connecticut, have strong gender identity and sexual orientation non-discrimination policies:
The full text of Murphy’s remarks are below:
Thank you, Mr. President. I'm very proud to be here today speaking in support of historic legislation that will move us one step closer to the day when who you love has absolutely nothing to do with the rights that you are afforded as a citizen of the greatest country in the world.
Frankly, the passage of the employment non-discrimination act is embarrassingly long overdue. In my state of Connecticut, we've had anti-discrimination laws on the books for over 20 years. In 1991, Connecticut actually became the fourth state to formally protect LGBT workplace rights and in 2011 we became the 15th state to offer similar protections to our transgender citizens.
So it's funny because, frankly, all across this country it's already illegal to fire somebody for who they love and for who they are. But of course as we know, that's just not the case across most of this country. Right now in some states you can be fired from your job simply because of having a little photograph of your partner on your desk at work. And, while ENDA has been a commonly accepted civil rights protection in my state, you may hear some express opposition to this legislation on this floor by vaguely citing what are commonly referred to as the concerns of the business community. I'm not sure what businesses they're referring to, because in my state we've got some of the biggest and most successful multistate and multinational businesses in the world, and they know that nondiscrimination isn't just the right thing to do, it's also really good for business. Companies like United Technologies and General Electric and Xerox, they want the best and the brightest people to work in an inclusive team environment, not having their employees hiding from each other who they really are. Companies like B.I. Pharmaceuticals and Aetna, they haven't folded under the weight of having these state-based workplace protections. In fact, they are thriving. In Connecticut, across the country and all across the world. And so in speaking with companies from all over Connecticut, none, to me, have ever argued that equal protection in Connecticut is something that is holding their businesses back. Frankly, they have been living under this law for decades now. And it's not just Connecticut’s largest employers. Connecticut's law goes further than ENDA does in prohibiting discrimination even amongst businesses with fewer than 15 employees. Our small business community understands that far from inhibiting commerce, nondiscrimination policies actually help make our companies big and small stronger.
So even though a majority of American businesses oppose employment discrimination, some argue that this legislation is going to harm businesses whose leaders have very strong religious beliefs. However, I think it's important to note, Mr. President, that the religious exemption in this legislation is even broader, remarkably broader, I would argue, than that exemption that's in title 7 of the civil rights act. And it represents, frankly, a compromise that doesn't go as far as some members of this body, including myself, would like. In an op-ed that was published this summer, former head of the NAACP Julian Bond equated these religious concerns with the arguments that he heard from opponents of the civil rights movement in the 1960's. Here's what bond wrote. He said -- quote -- "in response to the historic gains of the civil right movement of the 1960's, opponents argue that their religious beliefs prohibited integration. To be true to their religious beliefs, they argued, they couldn't serve African-Americans in their restaurants or accept interracial marriages." now it would be shocking to hear somebody make a similar argument today about the treatment of African-Americans in our society. And, frankly, I think it will be just as shocking 40 or 50 years from now for people to read that that argument is being made today about the treatment of LGBT Americans. There are in fact, interesting to point out, numerous Christian and Jewish organizations and denominations that have taken a strong stand in favor of this legislation because they understand that unequal treatment under the law is at odds with their faith.
Now others on this floor have argued and have made the argument that passage of ENDA will lead to frivolous lawsuits from fired workers. Let me give you my state's perspective on this. Again, we've been living under this law since 1991, and we've had protections that we're debating today for two decades and we simply haven't seen frivolous lawsuits, and again we have big companies that employ thousands of people across the state and across the nation. Let me give you the statistic from 2009 and 2010, which is the most recent year we have data available. Out of a total of 1,740 employment based discrimination complaints that were filed in the state that year, only 53 were based on sexual orientation discrimination. As just a means of comparison, 464 complaints were filed based on age discrimination. We went back a number of years. Not a single year over the last half a decade that we looked at in which there were more than about 40 or 50 complaints.
My state has been a test case for these protections for sexual orientation and gender identity. The parade of horrible consequences that opponents of this bill say will happen just have not happened in Connecticut. And what we're doing here really is pretty simple. We're not trampling on the first amendment. We're not dictating morality. We're not harming the economy. We're not undermining the religious community. We're just saying that you can't discriminate against people in the workplace because of who they choose to love or who they are inside.
The simplicity of this bill is why two-thirds of the American public support it, and it's why I think that 50 years from now history is going to judge no less harshly those that vote against this act as it judges now those that voted against some of the civil rights acts of the 1950's and 1960's. Who you love, who you are inside, what you feel should never ever be a reason for discrimination.
Mr. President, I was on the house floor six years ago when the house passed ENDA, and I still remember listening to Congressman Barney frank's closing argument. He welled up as he was giving it, and there were a lot of tears shed on the floor as well. And I just want to close by quoting what he said. Congressman Frank said this, and I won't try to do his accent. He said, "I used to be someone subject to this prejudice, and through luck and circumstance, I got to be a big shot. I am now above that prejudice. But I feel an obligation to 15-year olds dreading to go school because of the torment that they endure, to people who fear that they will lose their job at a gas station if somebody finds out who they love, I feel an obligation to use the status that I have been lucky enough to get to help them, and I make a personal appeal to my colleagues, please don't turn your back on them."
We're all big shots here. We've been lucky enough to get elected to the greatest deliberative body in the world. And there's an obligation and a responsibility that comes with the job that we have here to stick up for people who are being discriminated against because of who they are. The greatest moments of this body have been when we have joined together, republican and democrat, to stand against that kind of discrimination. And our ability to rise to congressman frank's challenge, please don't turn your back on them, can be this week another great chapter in the history of this great body.