One of the great joys in my life as executive director of Integrity USA, the national Episcopal LGBTQ organization, is being contacted by transgender and gay people looking for help in meeting their needs. I am always thrilled when I can connect people to new friends, educational materials, or welcoming faith communities. Unfortunately, there's one thing many people come to me for that I simply do not always have any way to help with. People come looking for jobs, and they come asking for help finding a job.
The people who request my support are smart, hard-working, and often well-educated people who are out of work for no other reason than their gender identity or sexual orientation. Gay and transgender people continue to face significant employment discrimination in many places.
I am haunted by the frustration, anger, and outright fear of so many who are denied work simply because of who they are.
There is a passage in fifth chapter of the Epistle of Saint James that has always meant a lot to me.
Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you. (James 5:4-6 NIV)
Reading his epistle, it's easy to see why Paul called Saint James the brother of Christ—the saint's moral clarity is absolutely breathtaking. St. James was an apostle who understood that a vital part of a Christian love for humanity is a strong belief in worker's rights.
It is impossible to truthfully say you care about the well-being of God's children if you do not insist on workers being treated justly and morally in all cases.
Today is a day for those of us who love gay and transgender people to remember what St. James taught.
On June 30th, President Obama announced he would be signing an executive order banning discrimination on the basis of gender identity for all federal employees. This order joins a proposed executive order banning discrimination of federal contractors on the basis of their sexual orientation. Both are incredible steps forward for justice in this country.
President Obama is modeling a necessary step forward on non-discrimination. Discrimination on the basis of gender identity, just like discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, is undeniably evil.
It robs people of the dignity of work and the dignity of self-reliance. According to a study from the National Center for Transgender Equality, 47% of transgender people have faced employment discrimination. This number is staggeringly high. Employment discrimination puts transgender people at significantly higher levels of risk of lifetime suicide attempts.
Employment discrimination kills.
We can end this. Eighteen states as well as the District of Columbia have employment non-discrimination laws that protect based on both sexual orientation and gender identity, while another three states have nondiscrimination laws only protect individuals from discrimination based on sexual orientation. There are also many cities and smaller communities with their own non-discrimination ordinances.
There is work being done in many other places to pass just laws to protect gay and transgender people against other multiple forms of discrimination. My organization, for instance, is working to pass the Equal Housing and Employment Act in Ohio, a law that would give employment, housing, and public accommodations protections to gay and transgender people throughout that state.
Despite these important steps forward, employment discrimination against LGBTQ people is still extremely prevalent.
Unfortunately, a group of faith leaders recently called upon President Obama to add a religious exemption to the executive orders banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. This is nothing less than a rejection of Jesus Christ's great commandment that we love our neighbors as ourselves.
Denying an employee the opportunity to work hard and make a living simply because of who they are has nothing to do with respect or dignity. Expanding religious exemptions in non-discrimination policies in the name of Jesus Christ is simply an empty language of faith.
As a Christian, I pray President Obama will act in a moral way and not weaken these groundbreaking nondiscrimination orders. Let us all pray that we can work together to put employment discrimination in the past.
Join our chorus of Christians as together, we proclaim: discrimination is not a Christian value! Pledge today to end discrimination against LGBT people.
Photo via flickr user Keoni Cabral