Workplace Protection for All Texans

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The bills Texas legislators introduce here at the Capitol often can be divided into three categories. The first two categories are: Those that we know will pass easily, because they are good ideas that everyone can embrace, and others that we know will require a fight.

The third category: Bills that we know most likely won't pass, but we introduce them anyway because we believe in our hearts that these policy changes are the right thing to do. We file these bills because we want to spark discussion, create momentum and make an important point.

Senate Bill 237 fits into this latter category. SB 237 would prohibit employment discrimination based on a person's sexual orientation or gender identity or gender expression. I authored it for a very simple reason: Because too many Texans live in fear of losing their jobs, not because they lack the skills for employment, but because of who they love. The time has come for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and people who are transgendered to stop living with this fear.

Texas already has protections against discrimination in employment based on race, color, disability, religion, sex, national origin, or age. It only makes sense to extend these protections to the LGBT community.

Of course, in Texas, I knew this would be an uphill battle. The Texas Legislature is a conservative body, and hasn't necessarily caught up to Americans' changing opinions on sexual orientation. And I realize that some people just aren't ready to support a change on certain issues, such as gay marriage.

But I want to be clear: This is not a gay marriage bill. This is a bill about fair employment laws. I am hopeful that my colleagues will realize this bill is rooted in deeply held Texas values of hard work and opportunity. In a country founded on the notion that all people are created equal, and a state that strives so hard to protect our personal freedoms, the bottom line is that all Texas workers must be free from the threat of workplace discrimination.

Every Texan deserves the opportunity to earn a fair wage and succeed in the workplace, and I find it unacceptable that qualified, hardworking Texans can be denied job opportunities, fired or otherwise discriminated against just because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Every day, they work hard to make an honest living to support themselves and their families, and help our economy grow along the way – but far too many go to work with the fear that they will lose their job based on factors that have nothing to do with their job performance or ability.

What's especially infuriating is that brave warriors who fought for our freedoms can then be denied those freedoms. Marine Staff Sergeant Eric Alva testified in support of the bill on April 3 before the Senate Economic Development Committee. Staff Sgt. Alva was the first American seriously injured in the Iraq War. He lost his right leg as a result of stepping on a land mine on March 21, 2003.

“I eventually retired from the United States Marine Corps after 13 years of honorable service to my country,” Staff Sgt. Alva told the committee. “But the reality of today as I sit here is that as a veteran, I could be fired from a job or be denied from applying from employment in this great state, that I was born in, all because it doesn't matter that I am a decorated Veteran, disabled or Latino, I would be denied employment because I am also a gay individual.”

The bill was left pending in committee, and probably does not have the votes to get to the Senate floor.

Discrimination has no place in our society or in our workplaces; Texas can and should do better for all our workers.


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