Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

It's 'way past time' for gay rights law

By John D. Sutter, CNN
updated 3:51 PM EST, Tue November 5, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • John Sutter: Congress should pass Employment Non-Discrimination Act
  • ENDA would protect LGBT people from being fired because of who they are
  • A majority of Americans in every state support this concept, surveys show
  • Sutter says it's a matter of fairness and justice, not politics

Editor's note: John D. Sutter is a columnist for CNN Opinion and head of CNN's Change the List project. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Google+. E-mail him at ctl@cnn.com.

(CNN) -- "People should be able to breathe -- to not have to worry about being fired because of their sexual orientation or identity."

That seems like a simple enough request, huh Congress?

It's a personal one, too, since it comes from Andre Cooley, a 28-year-old who says he was fired in 2010 because his supervisors at a corrections facility in Mississippi found out he's gay.

It's time to ban that discrimination, he told me Monday.

"It's way, way, way past time."

John D. Sutter
John D. Sutter

A large majority of Americans agree with him. In fact, a majority of Americans in every state, even conservative Mississippi, support legislation that would ban workplace discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. And that makes perfect sense for exactly one reason: To oppose this legislation, which is called the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA, is to support the idea that LGBT people can be fired for being themselves.

It's a clear matter of right and wrong, fair and unfair.

This isn't a Republican or Democrat thing. It's a human thing.

Related: Gay people live in 50 Americas

Sure, conservatives will trot out all manner of dated and discriminatory arguments to say the legislation isn't needed or will cause unwanted problems. They'll say, "This is less about tolerance and equality and more about oppressing the freedoms of others." When they do so, they'll sound to most Americans -- to the 70% or more of us who support this legislation -- like they're parodying themselves in a "Daily Show" segment. Whose freedoms, exactly, are being oppressed if a person can't be fired for being gay? And on what planet is freedom increased if someone can be fired, legally, just because of their sexual orientation or gender identity?

We have laws to protect people of different races, religions and disabilities from being fired because of who they are. But no federal legislation for LGBT people. A minority of states have passed laws of their own, but why should it be legal for a lesbian in Utah to receive no workplace protection when, across a state border, she would have it in Colorado?

This is an issue the American people have decided on. They know it's good for business, as Apple's CEO argued in The Wall Street Journal. "We've found that when people feel valued for who they are, they have the comfort and confidence to do the best work of their lives," Tim Cook wrote.

Congressman from Maine says he's gay
Waiter not tipped because he is gay
Are Catholicism, gay rights compatible?

And they know it undermines who we are as Americans, as President Barack Obama said this week. "It's offensive. It's wrong. And it needs to stop," the president wrote in an op-ed in The Huffington Post, "because in the United States of America, who you are and who you love should never be a fireable offense."

Related: The county where no one's gay

Seems pretty clear-cut, right?

Well, Congress is still having some trouble.

Sixty-one senators, including seven Republicans, voted Monday night to bring the bill to the Senate floor for debate. There, it has a good chance of passing.

But none of that will matter, really, if the nondiscrimination bill can't get past the House of Representatives. Also on Monday, House Speaker John Boehner reaffirmed his opposition to ENDA. "The Speaker believes this legislation will increase frivolous litigation and cost American jobs, especially small business jobs," Boehner's spokesman said, according to The Huffington Post.

Nevermind that that argument was undermined by a June Government Accountability Office report that found that not to be true in states that already have nondiscrimination laws. What's scary is that Boehner's opposition to this civil rights legislation could keep it from a vote in the House.

Let's hope logic and compassion change his mind.

I know that sounds naive, but stranger things have happened.

Cooley, for example, the corrections officer in Mississippi, sued and got his job back. He was able to do so because he works for a public employer. Had he worked for a private company, he might not have been so lucky, attorneys and experts who specialize in LGBT employment law told me in March when I first reported on Cooley and his saga.

Related: Young and out in Mississippi

He's back at the job he loves. And he's able to be open with his co-workers about who he is now. Maybe that sounds like a small thing.

But think of what it's like to live in fear that someone at work will find out your secret and then you'll be out of a job.

This is what it's like for gay people in so many states

It was the case for Cooley.

Now that Cooley is openly gay at work, and has legal protection because of his court case, he's able to be himself.

"Everything at work is great," he told me.

It should be that way for others, too.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of John D. Sutter.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 11:30 PM EST, Sun December 28, 2014
Les Abend: Before we reach a conclusion on the outcome of AirAsia Flight QZ8501, it's important to understand that the details are far too limited to draw a parallel to Flight 370
updated 8:27 PM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
The ability to manipulate media and technology has increasingly become a critical strategic resource, says Jeff Yang.
updated 11:17 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Today's politicians should follow Ronald Reagan's advice and invest in science, research and development, Fareed Zakaria says.
updated 8:19 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Artificial intelligence does not need to be malevolent to be catastrophically dangerous to humanity, writes Greg Scoblete.
updated 10:05 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Historian Douglas Brinkley says a showing of Sony's film in Austin helped keep the city weird -- and spotlighted the heroes who stood up for free expression
updated 8:03 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Tanya Odom that by calling only on women at his press conference, the President made clear why women and people of color should be more visible in boardrooms and conferences
updated 6:27 PM EST, Sat December 27, 2014
When oil spills happen, researchers are faced with the difficult choice of whether to use chemical dispersants, authors say
updated 1:33 AM EST, Thu December 25, 2014
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
updated 6:12 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
updated 8:36 AM EST, Wed December 24, 2014
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
updated 2:14 PM EST, Wed December 24, 2014
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
updated 3:27 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
updated 10:35 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
updated 7:57 AM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
updated 11:29 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
updated 4:15 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
updated 1:11 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
updated 1:08 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
updated 1:53 PM EST, Sat December 20, 2014
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
updated 3:19 PM EST, Sat December 20, 2014
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
updated 5:39 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
updated 8:12 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
updated 12:09 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
updated 6:45 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
updated 4:34 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT