Providing equal rights for LGBTQ individuals is something that I will never compromise on. Our founding fathers wrote the Declaration of Independence and Constitution recognizing the fundamental importance of equality. But we have failed to live up to this ideal – the denial of equal and full rights to all Americans continues to be a source of great injustice in our society. Even though we have a long road ahead, I was encouraged by the Supreme Court’s ruling that affirmed that all loving and committed couples who marry deserve equal respect and treatment under federal law, in addition to its ruling on California’s Proposition 8, allowing same sex marriage to resume in our state.
Progress toward marriage equality in our country is evident, but there is much more to do in order to ensure full equality for LGBTQ Americans. We must address workplace discrimination, youth homelessness, school bullying, and health disparities affecting LGBTQ communities.
Overturn the Transgender Military Ban. The ban on transgender individuals serving in the military is narrow-minded and wrong. The arguments that it is too expensive or that transgender troops will impact the readiness of our Armed Forces is simply not true. I was proud to cast my vote to block funding for the ban, and will continue my work on the Armed Services Committee and in Congress to reverse this ban and ensure that anyone who wants to serve their country is able to, regardless of their gender identity.
Pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). Federal law does not protect against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, and 4.3 million LGBTQ workers live in states without those laws. Studies indicate that 11-28% of gay, lesbian, and bisexual people have been denied promotions due to sexual orientation, while more than 25% of transgender individuals report having lost a job due to gender identity.
ENDA would provide basic protections against workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity by extending existent federal employment discrimination protections on race, religion, gender, national origin, age, and disability. ENDA has been proposed in almost every session of Congress since 1994 – it’s time to pass it. In the meantime, I encourage President Obama to issue an executive order to prohibit federal contractors from discriminating against LGBTQ workers.
Amend the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA) to prohibit LGBTQ discrimination. 40% of all homeless youth identify as LGBTQ. This rate can be attributed to high incidences of family conflict and abandonment, school bullying, and lacking support services for LGBTQ homeless youth. Statistically, LGBTQ homeless youth face more than twice the family discrimination rate experienced by their non-LGBTQ counterparts, and make more than double the suicide attempts. Due to mistreatment and discrimination, LGBTQ homeless youth are often prevented from accessing the full benefits of child welfare programs including foster care and homeless shelters.
RHYA awards federal grants to public and private organizations dedicated to assisting homeless youth, but does not have a provision addressing LGBTQ minors. Congress should amend RHYA to preclude all organizations receiving grants from discriminating against the youth they serve on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Implement federal protections to prevent bullying in schools. Six out of 10 lesbian, gay, and bisexual students and eight out of 10 transgender students report feeling unsafe at school, and 85% of LGBTQ students report experiencing harassment due to sexual or gender identity. Additionally, LGBTQ youth face disproportionate victimization from harsh school discipline policies, putting them at greater risk for ending up in the juvenile justice system. While composing only 5-7% of our nation’s youth population, LGBTQ youth represent 13-15% of the juvenile justice population.
We need to improve federal safeguards against bullying targeting LGBTQ students in public schools, as federal law currently does not prohibit sexual orientation- or gender identity- based discrimination. It is essential that they be added to the existing list of federally protected bases of discrimination. We should also implement measures to withdraw funding from public schools that condone discrimination.
Address health care disparities. Several health issues disproportionately plague LGBTQ populations. Gay and bisexual men are at increased risk for several types of cancer, and lesbian and bisexual women face higher rates of breast cancer. Forty-one percent of transgender people have attempted suicide at some point in their lives – a rate more than 25 times higher than our country’s general population. Additionally, the uninsured rate is significantly higher within transgender and bisexual populations compared to the rest of America.
Once implemented, the Affordable Care Act will address some health disparities LGBTQ individuals face, but there is further room for improvement. We need to implement routine data collection on sexual orientation and gender identity in order to improve health within the LGBTQ community. Additionally, cultural competency training should be required for health care providers.