Sunday, September 20, 2009

Exposing an anti-gay ENDA lie before it gains traction

Congressional hearings on ENDA (Employment Non-Discrimination Act)are coming up this week and I have been working on a few talking points to beat back the negative ones we are sure to hear from the religious right.

In scanning their distortions about ENDA, I found this one via a recent Focus on the Family press release:

If passed, ENDA will require employers to police the workplace to eliminate viewpoints contrary to the promotion of homosexuality and "transgenderism." This means the bill will inevitably threaten the religious beliefs of those who oppose homosexual behavior. What will happen when homosexual or "transgender" employees object to: religious articles on employees' desks; water cooler discussions about biblical morality; Bible verses taped to cubicle walls; fliers on company bulletin boards advertising discussions concerning traditional marriage? Religious liberty violations have already occurred in states with ENDA-type laws, including California, Minnesota, Colorado, and Idaho, and many of these cases are in litigation.

The FOF press release provided a link to a listing of cases which supposedly proves that ENDA would be bad for Christians.

If you pardon me for saying so, a lot of the cases FOF mentions seems to involve employees saying rude things about homosexuality and not taking into account that some of their co-workers are lgbt, then trying to cover up their behavior by saying that "my religious beliefs tell me that homosexuality is a sin."

To me, what happened in some of these cases is no different than employees being reprimanded for attacking a co-worker's religion. And I don't see anything wrong with that.

But there is a huge distortion in one of the cases FOF mentions:

Oakland city employees posting a flier on a company bulletin board advertising a meeting to discuss the "natural family" and "family values" are forced to remove flier and threatened with discipline after complaint from lesbian.

Oakland, Calif., city employees Regina Rederford and Robin Christy formed a group called the "Good News Employee Association" and posted a flier on a company bulletin board advertising a "forum for people of faith to express their views on contemporary issues of the day, with respect for the natural family, marriage and family values." After a lesbian employee complained of being offended by the flier, the city removed the flier and threatened the two women with adverse employment action for placing the fliers "in public view which contained statements of a homophobic nature and were determined to promote sexual orientation based harassment." A federal court upheld the city's action.

Of course FOF misrepresented this case and they weren't the only ones. Columnist George Will also misrepresented the case.

In a column criticizing the ruling, he said that judges had declared the sentence Marriage is the foundation of the natural family and sustains family values as inflammatory and even a "hate crime."

But FOF's and Will's claims did not reveal the workings of the entire case.

What happened was this via a press release from the city of Oakland after the ruling (and I took the liberty to bold what I felt was an important part of the press release):

The Good News Employees Association was formed in response to an openly gay councilmember’s e-mail inviting both gay and straight employees to support a National Coming Out day. Two Oakland city employees formed the association as “a forum for people of faith to express their views … with respect for the Natural Family, Marriage and Family Values” and generated a flyer titled: “Preserve Our Workplace Integrity”.

The flyer’s language judges homosexuality as something that hurts the “integrity” of the workplace.

. . . The employees who drafted the flyer actually declared under oath that they wanted to inject their intolerant worldview into the workplace. This point resonated, in particular, with Circuit Court Judge Richard Clifton, a Bush appointee. He said, “It’s hard to avoid the inference, ‘We lack ethics, we lack integrity because these people are here.’.”

Supervisors reviewed the flyer and explained to the plaintiffs why the flyer had been removed. . . . the plaintiffs filed a lawsuit complaining their free speech rights had been obstructed and that the city’s anti-discrimination policy “promotes homosexuality” and “openly denounces Christian values.” Ultimately, the association wanted to use city time and resources to validate their personal neurosis — which is that heterosexual marriage can only be validated by invalidating same-sex marriage.

Furthermore, the seemingly harmless flyer was not an isolated incident but part of a deliberate pattern of harassment. The association’s flyer was specifically posted outside of a lesbian co-worker’s cubicle, placed on her desk and in the restroom. The plaintiffs went out of their way to harass their lesbian co-worker as well as to proselytize about their belief on city time and on the taxpayer’s dime.

Ultimately, the four judges (again, three of whom are conservative) recognized that the city has a responsibility to protect all of its employees from discrimination and harassment.

The court emphasized that the city has “significant interests in restricting discriminatory speech about homosexuals … (and has) a duty under state law to prevent workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.” In addition, the court also found that the city had “a more substantial interest in maintaining the efficient operation of their office than the appellants had in their speech.”

I should also point out that the case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court and they refused to hear it. So clearly this was not a case of "homosexuality trumping a Christian's right to free speech in the workplace."

It was a case of an employer stepping in to keep an employee from being harassed.

But getting back to the original point, ENDA does not "promote homosexuality, etc." What is says is that lgbts are employees deserving full protection just like every other employee. Just like employees of different religions must respect each other by not saying derogatory comments, lgbts and heterosexuals in the workplace should be encouraged to do the same.

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Anonymous said...

My religious belief is that Jews are evil, women shouldn't be allowed outside and people under 6 foot tall should be beaten with sticks. Surely these people support my right to harass... er, "state my opposition to the lifetyle of" any short jewish women who I work with.

Buffy said...

Jesus called. He wants those fools to stop using him as an excuse for their irrational bigotry.

Volly said...

Excellent reporting, BT. We need to keep beating back at this crap with every opportunity. I'm very encouraged that people are finding the right way and the right words to counter these insane arguments. I've been hearing them since the mid-1970s in high school ("The Equal Rights Amendment? Eww! You can't vote for that -- it will let homosexuals get married! Eww!"). The problem with the Christian right is that they take too literally that Bible verse about being "like a little child." They have no respect for adult realities. Too bad we can't require emotional maturity before allowing people out to play with grownups.

Hazumu Osaragi said...

Another case of the One-Way Hash function. A meme like this easily goes viral because its truthiness just sounds right. And it takes an order (or three) of magnitude more explanation and proof and rebuttal to in some small part try to stem the spread and repair a bit of the damage caused by the meme.

Max Blumenthal is right, Right Wing Authoritarians are scared of true freedom. And when they complain about having things such as equality for LGBT folk 'shoved down their throats', perhaps they're really asking that it be done that way... (just a thought)