19 May 2010

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ZJ: Last week, Congressman Steve King of Iowa decided to share his views on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. ENDA would prohibit discrimination by employers on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, in the same way that discrimination based on race or gender is prohibited. On the Family Research Council's radio show, King quoted a member of the Iowa Senate as saying, "If you don't project it, if you don't advertise it, how would anyone know to discriminate against you?" He further claimed that, quote, "people wear their sexuality on their sleeve".

First of all, nobody actually has to know in order to discriminate against you. They could just suspect it, regardless of whether it's true or not. Indeed, it's quite possible someone would assume that an anti-gay conservative like Steve King is gay himself, given the history of that sort of thing. Without ENDA, everyone is potentially vulnerable to this kind of discrimination.

But beyond that, King seems to think employees are somehow obligated to hide their sexuality, and if they don't, any discrimination they might experience is their own fault. Apparently, the employer that chooses to discriminate against them bears no responsibility here. The obvious question is, how is it even remotely reasonable to expect anyone to completely conceal their sexual orientation? Why should they have to? Does King even understand everything that entails?

As a heterosexual—well, probably—he most likely has no idea. After all, straight people typically aren't the ones being targeted for discrimination. They don't have to hide their sexuality. But what if they did? What would that be like? Perhaps Steve King should try playing The Closet Game!

Here's how it works: You are a heterosexual, and you have to keep it secret. You have to hide it perfectly, because if anyone finds out... you lose! Now, how are you going to do this? Well, you can never talk about your partner in conversations with co-workers, or if you do, you'll have to be careful to use different pronouns. You can never mention your girlfriend or your wife, even in passing—you'll have to refer to them as your boyfriend or your husband. Obviously you can't keep a picture of them on your desk like everyone else can. Really, you can't talk about any of your heterosexual relationships, ever—or you'll have to pretend they weren't heterosexual.

You can't bring your partner to any office parties, or you could find someone of the same sex to pretend to be your partner. If you ever get married, you can't invite any of your co-workers. If you have kids, you'll have to lie about where they came from. Even being seen in public with your partner outside of work could be risky—word gets around, you know. And of course, you'll have to be careful not to look or act too straight, so you might want to gay it up a little. And if anyone ever does ask if you're straight, you'll have to deny it—but not too forcefully, that might make people even more suspicious.

Basically, staying closeted means constantly keeping track of these countless little details while pretending to be someone you're not and lying to everyone around you. Doesn't that sound like fun? You see, the thing about being in the closet is you never really win. You just waste your life living in a stifling climate of secrecy and fear that shouldn't even be necessary, while everyone else gets to enjoy living openly and honestly. And even after all of that, if someone still thinks you might be "straight", you lose—your job, your insurance, your benefits—because now, they can use that to discriminate against you. And without ENDA, it's completely legal.

Obviously, this doesn't happen to straight people. If it did, Congress would have ENDA on the President's desk in a nanosecond. But it does happen to gay people.Your skills, your experience, your qualifications, all of this can be completely disregarded because you're gay. No one would stand for this kind of discrimination against straight people. So what makes it any more acceptable to discriminate against gay people? If straight people don't have to deal with this, why should we? If straight people don't have to hide who they are, why should we? And why should anyone's employment be conditional upon an entirely irrelevant characteristic?

The answer is: it shouldn't. It's absolutely indefensible, and Congress' failure to pass ENDA means they are failing to protect gay Americans. We shouldn't face discrimination for being honest, and we shouldn't have to lie to get a job. So maybe Steve King should work on getting businesses to stop wearing their bigotry on their sleeve, and then there won't be a problem here.

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