Enacting legislation that would prevent employers from discriminating against people on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is a top priority for the Obama administration, according to Thomas Perez, assistant attorney general, Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.
“We cannot in good conscience stand by and watch unjustifiable discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals occur in the workplace without redress,” Perez told members of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions at a hearing last week on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). “We have come too far in our struggle for ‘equal justice under the law’ to remain silent or stoic.”
As head of the Civil Rights Division, Perez oversees the enforcement of federal laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, color, gender, disability, religion, and national origin, including the Voting Rights Act, the Fair Housing Act, the Americans With Disabilities Act.
Testifying for the first time since his confirmation, Perez pointed out that nearly 90 percent of Fortune 500 companies have sexual orientation non-discrimination policies, and 41 percent have gender identity non-discrimination policies. Currently, 12 states and the District of Columbia have statutes that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, but Perez said that these types of protections need to be in place at the federal level to ensure that all Americans are covered.
“There’s nothing more frustrating for a law enforcement officer than to hear a horrific tale and to tell that person, ‘You have been wronged, and there’s nothing I can do for you.’ That is a horrible feeling,” Perez said. “This bill is going to enable us to correct that.”