Monday, June 29, 2009

Discrimination in Sport: What’s The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) Got To Do With It?

On June 24, Massachusetts Representative Barney Frank submitted a bill to the United States House of Representatives that, if passed by both houses of Congress and signed by President Obama, would prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), as the bill is known, would ensure fair employment practices by making it illegal to fire, refuse to hire, or fail to promote an employee based on real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity (Religious organizations, the military and businesses with a small number of employees would be exempt from the law). The first version of this “gay rights” bill was introduced in 1974 by Representatives Bella Abzug and Ed Koch from New York. Thirty-five years later, prospects for passage of this basic civil rights protection into federal law are much better, and reflect changing societal perspectives on lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender rights.

Currently twenty states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws prohibiting employment discrimination based on sexual orientation. Twelve of these states also prohibit discrimination based on gender identity/expression. In addition, many cities and towns across the US have similar laws. If it became law, ENDA would be the first federal law extending non-discrimination protection based on sexual orientation.

A version of ENDA that did not include gender identity/expression was introduced in 2007, but was not acted on. At the time ENDA supporters in the legislature believed that they could not pass the bill with gender identity included. The decision to drop protections for gender identity discrimination prompted several gay rights organizations and leaders to withdraw their support of ENDA.

So, what does ENDA have to do with sports? It is a sad and shameful truth that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people (or those perceived to be) are still discriminated against in sports. Prospective women coaches are still not hired because they are (or are perceived to be) lesbian or bisexual. Women coaches thought to be lesbian or bisexual are harassed, stereotyped, fired or targeted by negative recruiting by rival coaches.

Male coaches who are gay or perceived to be gay would also be protected by ENDA. Though men’s sports has traditionally been perceived to be a hostile environment for gay men, more gay coaches, administrators, athletic trainers and other staff are choosing to identify themselves. Negative recruiting against male coaches based on sexual orientation is an increasing problem as gay men become more visible in sport.

All lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender athletic employees need legal protections from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, not just in twenty states or twelve states, but in all fifty states. That is what a federal non-discrimination law would ensure. ENDA would extend discrimination protection to all states and would provide employees targeted by gender and sexual orientation discrimination with a powerful legal tool equivalent to other federal laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex, race, religion, national origin and disability.

Passage of ENDA would provide federal protection from sexual orientation and gender identity/expression discrimination for LGBT employees in school athletics: athletic administrators, coaches, athletic trainers and all others who work in athletics.

Supporters of equality in sport for women have a stake in supporting legislation that protects athletic employees from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. As long as any coach, administrator or other athletic staff member is subject to discrimination based on real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, all are at risk of being targeted by this kind of unfair treatment. Women’s and men’s sport will benefit from ensuring that all athletic employees are able to work in a climate where their achievements are based on their competence and character, not their sex, sexual orientation or gender identity.

According to a December, 2008 Newsweek national poll, 87% of the respondents believed that LGBT people should have equal employment opportunity; that includes athletic employment. If you agree, contact your representatives in the U.S. Congress and tell them to vote for ENDA.

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