Comment: ENDA only protects straight-acting people

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

David Mariner

After many years working as a bartender for Harrah’s Casino, Darlene Jespersen was fired for failing to conform to the Casino’s new ‘personal best’ grooming policy.

As a female bartender, Jesperson was required to have her hair “teased, curled, or styled,” and to wear stockings.

Jesperson was also suddenly required to put on makeup everyday: lipstick and nail polish mandatory.

It was a regimen she found burdensome and demeaning, and while sexual orientation was not an issue in her case, I know quite a few lesbians who might feel the same way.

What would Ellen Degeneres do if NBC decided she needed to wear skirts on her show everyday?

What would KD Lang do if her record label demanded she adopt a ‘less masculine’ haircut?

While this may not have happened to Ellen or KD, this kind of discrimination happens all the time.

Darlene Jespersen lost her job because she did not live up to the female-specific requirements of her new dress code. And when she fought her termination in court, she lost.

The US Congress is now looking at two different versions of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).

One would make this type of discrimination illegal. The other would not.

Congressman Barney Frank has chosen to introduce a straight-acting-only version of ENDA which bans employment discrimination based on sexual orientation but not gender identity and expression.

This version may protect gays and lesbians based on their sexual orientation, but it won’t protect gays and lesbians who don’t adhere to society’s view of what men and women should be.

It won’t protect the gay guy who dresses up in drag on Halloween.

It won’t protect the lesbian who doesn’t want to be forced to wear a skirt as part of a company uniform. It won’t protect any gay man who can’t live up to society’s standards and “act more like a man”.

It won’t protect any lesbian who can’t live up to society’s standards and “act more like a woman.”

We should be outraged that Barney Frank is considering a bill that excludes the transgender community, but let’s be honest, the transgender community are not the only ones being thrown under the bus.

Some may argue that we should start protecting straight-acting gays and lesbians, and then come back for the rest of the LGBT community later.

As the Gay and Lesbian Task Force and other organisations have documented by looking at US state laws, this simply does not happen.

It is always easier to stand strong and stand united and pass an inclusive bill than it is to go back later and try and pass protections based on gender identity and expression.

Make no mistake, a straight-acting-only ENDA is a hollow victory. One that is not worth achieving because it takes us further, not closer towards the goal of protection from employment discrimination for all of us.

© David Mariner, All Rights Reserved.