In 2012, The Huffington Post reported on the fear that LGBTQ Chick-fil-A employees faced at work.
Kellie, a 23-year-old gay woman from Georgia who also requested her last name be withheld for fear of being outed in the press, worked at two different Chick-fil-A locations in Georgia. She loved working at the first location, she said, where nobody ever said anything homophobic or discriminatory. But at the second location, in Atlanta, ‘there was a lot of general homophobia.’ Managers would frequently make homophobic jokes, she said, and she felt that if she were to tell her colleagues she was gay, she would be fired. Eventually, she quit.
The Chick-fil-A controversy stemmed from the millions of dollars the fast-food chain donated to anti-LGBTQ and hate groups over the years. Dan Cathy, the president of Chick-fil-A, also made hostile remarks against marriage equality.
The brouhaha garnered worldwide attention and sparked a slew of actions both against and in support of the company.
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act
The Chick-fil-A story shone a spotlight on a harsh reality facing millions of LGBTQ people: in many places in the country, we could be fired or denied employment simply because of who we were or who we loved.
At the time, it was legal in 29 states to fire someone based on their sexual orientation, and in 34 states based on their gender identity or expression.
As a result, the controversy brought renewed attention to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), a piece of federal legislation that would have protected LGBTQ people from employment discrimination nationwide.
The passage of ENDA would have meant employees like Kellie would no longer have to worry about being fired if their coworkers found out they were LGBTQ.
Despite being introduced in every Congress from 1994 to 2014, ENDA never became law.
Bostock v. Clayton County
In 2020, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled 6-3 in Bostock v. Clayton County that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 covers employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The plaintiff, Gerald Bostock, was fired just for expressing interest in joining a gay softball league.
This landmark decision meant that LGBTQ people living in states without explicit employment protections could finally go to work without fear of being fired for their identity.
After gaining hard-won protections against discrimination in the workplace, what’s next?
The Equality Act
The Equality Act is an updated version of ENDA that would update federal laws to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination not only in employment, but also in housing, education, public spaces, federally funded programs, credit, and jury service.
While the Bostock decision granted federal employment protections to LGBTQ people, the currently existing patchwork of state laws, court decisions, and administrative efforts still leaves many LGBTQ people highly vulnerable, especially when we are Black or brown, transgender or gender non-binary, living with multiple marginalized identities, with disabilities, in poverty, as immigrants, and in so many other situations. Passing the Equality Act is the solution to this problem.
As of 2023, the Equality Act still has not been passed.
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