The city of Royal Oak and the U.S. Senate both made important decisions last week to protect sexual orientation and gender identity in the workplace. But while the vote decided the issue in Royal Oak in favor of greater workplace protections, the federal bill has a long way to go.
In March 2013, the Royal Oak City Council had approved an ordinance
“To prohibit discrimination based upon actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, height, weight, condition of pregnancy, marital status, physical or mental limitation, source of income, family responsibilities, sexual orientation, gender identity, or HIV status.”
The ordinance prohibited discrimination in leasing, selling, or maintaining, or financing housing; in access to goods and services; and in employment practices and union participation. It included exceptions for religious institutions, small housing facilities, and other limited restrictions. Violating the ordinance could cost employers $500 per day. 29 other municipalities in Michigan have similar ordinances.
But Fred Birchard and 1,000 other residents petitioned to have the issue put on the ballot. After a heated campaign between One Royal Oak (for the ordinance) and Just Royal Oak (against), the ordinance passed with a narrow margin of 54%. The close race surprised supporters, who faced apathetic voters believing that the city or state already prohibited these forms of discrimination.
And that kind of prohibition on the federal level could soon be possible. On Thursday, November 7, the U.S. Senate passed a bill that would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the existing workplace discrimination ban. Right now there is a federal law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, religion, gender, national origin, age, and disability.
The bill passed 64-32 with 10 Republicans voting in favor of it. But it bill faces a tougher battle in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, particularly because House Speaker John Boehner is against it. Some commentators doubt that the representatives will be allowed to vote on it.
Until the federal bill, or another like it, passes, the issue of employment discrimination for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered Americans will remain a patchwork issue. Members of the LGBT community will continue to choose where they live and work based in part on local ordinances like the one that just passed in Royal Oak. And employers will continue to discriminate against LGBT workers where ever these laws are not in force.