This may explain why the Democrats got away with not passing the Employee Non-Discrimination Act when they controlled both houses of Congress, and why there’s no dull roar in the land for its passage. Supported by the same percentage of voters, across all categories, as repeal of DADT was at the height of the campaign, here’s the problem:
9 of out 10 voters erroneously think that a federal law is already in place protecting gay and transgender people from workplace discrimination. A similar number of voters also did not know whether their state had a gay and transgender workplace discrimination law. These numbers show the huge disconnect between voter perceptions about workplace protections and the realities that gay and transgender people face on the job.
No matter how high up in the stratosphere support for enacting workplace non-discrimination laws is, if almost all Americans think those protections already exist, then there will be no pressure — at all! — on legislators to enact such provisions.
Seventy- five percent of likely voters say they favor “protecting gay and lesbian people from discrimination in employment,” while 73 percent say they favor these protections for “gay, lesbian, and transgender people.” The responses are essentially identical.
Why bother taking a tough vote, or subjecting members of the Democratic caucus to a tough vote, as long as voters think it’s illegal to discriminate against LGBT people in hiring and the workplace?
This is one place our national organizations have badly failed, with their laser focus on DADT repeal, DOMA repeal, and marriage equality: Americans already think it’s illegal to discriminate in the workplace. And yet, look at how many people experience discrimination at work:
As CAP recently reported, studies show that anywhere from 15 percent to 43 percent of gay people have experienced some form of discrimination and harassment at the workplace. An astonishing 90 percent of transgender people report some form of harassment or mistreatment on the job. Nearly half of transgender people also report experiencing an adverse job outcome because of their gender identity. This includes being passed over for a job (44 percent), getting fired (26 percent), and being denied a promotion (23 percent).
It’s impossible to get Congress to pass a law the American people almost unanimously already believe exists. This is a profound failure on the part of national organizations, and they should be held accountable for it. Americans don’t care about passing ENDA: they already favor it very strongly and they almost all think it’s already law.
How can we move forward in that political environment? Nothing will happen when almost all Americans say, “Sure, that’s why I am glad it is law.”