US workplace discrimination law faces Senate challenge

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

One of two openly gay members of the US Congress has said that the Senate could scupper new laws to protect LGBT people from workplace discrimination.

Represntative Barney Frank has represented the 4th District of Massachusetts since 1981.

He came out in 1987, and his political opponents have tried to smear and unseat him on many occasions.

“You don’t know if anything can pass the Senate,” he told AP when discussing the chances of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2007 (ENDA) being passed.

“No predictions are possible about the Senate.”

ENDA’s supporters in the Senate will need the votes of 60 of the 100 Senators rather than a simple majority to overcome expected Republican attempts to kill the legislation.

The United States House of Representatives is expected to vote in favour of the new legislation, which would make it illegal to fire, refuse to hire or promote a person based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

This is the first time since 1994 that legislation that protects LGB people at work has been brought to the House, and for the first time trans people are to be protected as well.

The was introduced by Rep. Frank, the only other openly gay member of Congress, his fellow Democrat Tammy Baldwin, and two Republicans.

Senator Edward Kennedy, a Democrat who is sponsoring the bill in the Senate, said:

“It’s always harder to pass bills in the Senate than in the House, but until we pass this bill, there will be a gaping hole in federal civil rights legislation.”

Currently 17 states have protections for LGB people; eight of those states extend that protection to trans people.

In 1996 similar legislation failed in the Senate by one vote.

87% of the top Fortune 500 companies in the US already provide protection from discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.

The US military and religious organisations are excluded from the legislation, which also does not force employers to extend benefits to same-sex partners.