Sporting a crowd of nearly 70 people and a special musical guest appearance by Showtime series star Daniela Sea of “The L Word,” activists rallied in Storke Plaza yesterday to support equal employment rights for the queer and transgender community.
The crowd gathered in the plaza just after noon, pushing for the passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act – federal legislation that would guarantee equal rights for queer community members in the workplace. The event, sponsored by the Queer Student Union, UCSB Campus Democrats and the Associated Students’ Queer Commission, began with a midday march from the Student Resource Building to the plaza.
The ENDA bill, which passed with a commanding majority, 235-184, in the House of Representatives on Nov. 7, would serve as the first federal law prohibiting discrimination by employers due to sexual orientation. The ENDA bill is expected to come before the Senate in the immediate future.
Pritesh Pillay, a third-year psychology and religious studies major, said the newly passed legislation is an essential starting point for obtaining equal rights for the queer and transgender community.
“If this passes, it will be the first legislation at the federal level protecting queer people,” Pillay said. “With all the visibility we’ve gotten with this rally, I hope that it spreads awareness of this issue on campus.”
Although California law explicitly prohibits discrimination due to sexual orientation in the workplace, 31 U.S. states are currently without any legislation protecting employees from being fired based on sexual preference or gender identity. If passed by the Senate, ENDA will become the first major civil rights legislation brought before the president in over 20 years.
Sam Cisneros, a second-year sociology major and co-chair for the QSU, said yesterday’s rally aimed to educate the UCSB community about the discrimination that takes place due to sexual orientation.
“We are behind this issue and it is important to educate our community about it,” Cisneros said. “We want to hold our politicians accountable for their actions and make sure they know that the students know what’s going on.”
A similar version of ENDA was introduced to Congress in 1996 in an effort to establish civil liberties for the queer and transgender communities. Although the first ENDA bill was able to pass in the House of Representatives, it was shot down by a narrow margin in the Senate – 49 to 50. With the current ENDA bill passing in the House by a large majority vote, many at the rally said they are optimistic that the Senate will pass the bill and bring it before the president.
Mandy Green, a second-year political science major, said she has experienced workplace discrimination due to her sexual orientation, so she supports the current legislation.
“At one of my jobs, I had a homophobic boss and it was very uncomfortable,” Green said. “I confronted her about it, but I did not say that I was gay. I chickened out because I was afraid of being fired.”
Although the legislation is a step toward eliminating workplace discrimination, demonstrators at yesterday’s event exhibited their distaste for one aspect in the most recent version of the bill, which no longer includes language protecting people who identify as transgender.
Aaron Belkin, a UCSB political science professor asked supporters of ENDA not to settle for partial gains in civil rights legislation. Belkin noted recent discussions in Congress that focused on extending equal rights in the workplace to the queer community, but bars those who identity as transgender.
“It’s wrong to exclude transgender from the ENDA legislation,” Belkin said. “We cannot give in to the politics of divisiveness.”