Fired for Being Gay

In 30 states, being gay is still enough to get you fired. Former Sen. Bob Packwood urges passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

Given the great strides made by the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, one would think that protection against employment discrimination for LGBT people would be a given.  One would be wrong.

While same-sex marriage grabs the headlines, LGBT people still face, in a majority of states, the prospect of being fired for their sexual orientation and identity.  In 30 states, you can be legally fired for being, in the words of former Florida Governor Reubin Askew, "a known homosexual."  That's why Bob Packwood, the former senator from Oregon, has published this op-ed in the Miami Herald, urging passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which was reintroduced in the House last month by Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass.

In his essay, Packwood recalls his grilling of Askew before the Senate Finance Committee, during Askew's nomination hearing for the position of U.S. Trade Representative in the Carter Administration. Askew was an ally of Florida Orange Juice spokesperson Anita Bryant, who conducted an anti-gay crusade in the 1970s. Here's Packwood:

For the first time in congressional history, perhaps, we embarked on new ground on civil rights. I asked Askew whether he had said these words, "I would not have a homosexual on my staff."

The official hearing record makes it clear:

Askew: "Yes sir, I did. I said a known homosexual, and I would not."

I asked if that was his present position, and he confirmed it was true. His position was well known because of his support for Anita Bryant's efforts in Dade County to deny "homosexuals" employment rights and specifically, the ability to teach in schools in 1977.

I followed up again and asked if it was his position to "not have a homosexual" on his staff. He responded, "I would not have a known homosexual on my staff, simply, senator, by virtue of the tremendous problems it presents in dealing with public constituencies."


Adele M. Stan is AlterNet's acting Washington bureau chief.
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