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 6:10 PM EST, Mon November 24, 2014
If Obama thinks pushing out Hagel will be seen as the housecleaning many have eyed for his national security process, he'll be disappointed, says David Rothkopf.
updated 8:11 AM EST, Tue November 25, 2014
The decision by the St. Louis County prosecuting attorney to announce the Ferguson grand jury decision at night was dangerous, says Jeff Toobin.
updated 3:57 AM EST, Tue November 25, 2014
China's influence in Latin America is nothing new. Beijing has a voracious appetite for natural resources and deep pockets, says Frida Ghitis.
updated 4:51 PM EST, Mon November 24, 2014
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a press conference in the capital Tehran on June 14, 2014.
The decision to extend the deadline for talks over Iran's nuclear program doesn't change Tehran's dubious history on the issue, writes Michael Rubin.
updated 2:25 PM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Maria Cardona says Republicans should appreciate President Obama's executive action on immigration.
updated 7:44 AM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Van Jones says the Hunger Games is a more sweeping critique of wealth inequality than Elizabeth Warren's speech.
updated 6:29 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
obama immigration
David Gergen: It's deeply troubling to grant legal safe haven to unauthorized immigrants by executive order.
updated 8:34 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Charles Kaiser recalls a four-hour lunch that offered insight into the famed director's genius.
updated 3:12 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
The plan by President Obama to provide legal status to millions of undocumented adults living in the U.S. leaves Republicans in a political quandary.
updated 10:13 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Despite criticism from those on the right, Obama's expected immigration plans won't make much difference to deportation numbers, says Ruben Navarette.
updated 8:21 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
As new information and accusers against Bill Cosby are brought to light, we are reminded of an unshakable feature of American life: rape culture.
updated 5:56 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
When black people protest against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, they're thought of as a "mob."
updated 3:11 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Lost in much of the coverage of ISIS brutality is how successful the group has been at attracting other groups, says Peter Bergen.
updated 8:45 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Do recent developments mean that full legalization of pot is inevitable? Not necessarily, but one would hope so, says Jeffrey Miron.
updated 8:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
We don't know what Bill Cosby did or did not do, but these allegations should not be easily dismissed, says Leslie Morgan Steiner.
updated 10:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Does Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have the influence to bring stability to Jerusalem?
updated 12:59 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Even though there are far fewer people being stopped, does continued use of "broken windows" strategy mean minorities are still the target of undue police enforcement?
updated 9:58 PM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
The truth is, we ran away from the best progressive persuasion voice in our times because the ghost of our country's original sin still haunts us, writes Cornell Belcher.
updated 4:41 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
Children living in the Syrian city of Aleppo watch the sky. Not for signs of winter's approach, although the cold winds are already blowing, but for barrel bombs.
updated 8:21 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
We're stuck in a kind of Middle East Bermuda Triangle where messy outcomes are more likely than neat solutions, says Aaron David Miller.
updated 7:16 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
In the midst of the fight against Islamist rebels seeking to turn the clock back, a Kurdish region in Syria has approved a law ordering equality for women. Take that, ISIS!
updated 11:07 PM EST, Sun November 16, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says President Obama would be justified in acting on his own to limit deportations
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT