U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin Delivers Senate Floor Speech on Bipartisan Employee Non-Discrimination Act

Washington D.C. – U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin today delivered remarks on the floor of the United States Senate regarding this afternoon’s upcoming vote to move forward in considering the Employee Non-Discrimination Act of 2013 (ENDA). Baldwin is an original cosponsor of the legislation with Senators Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Mark Kirk (R-IL), Tom Harkin (D-IA), and Susan Collins (R-ME).
“Every American deserves the freedom to work free of discrimination,” said Baldwin.  “And passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act strengthens this freedom by recognizing the right to be judged based on your skills, talents, loyalty, character, integrity and work ethic.”
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2013 would prohibit employers from firing, refusing to hire, or discriminating against those employed or seeking employment, on the basis of their perceived or actual sexual orientation or gender identity.  Such protections are already in place prohibiting discrimination based on race, religion, gender, national origin, age, and disability.

Watch Baldwin’s speech here.

Below, full remarks as prepared for delivery.

U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin’s Senate Floor Speech
Monday, November 4, 2013

Mr. President, I’ve come to the floor this afternoon to talk about a bipartisan effort to advance uniquely American values - freedom, fairness and opportunity.
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA, has at its foundation these core values.
It’s about freedom – the freedom to realize our founding belief that all Americans are created equal under the law.
It’s about fairness – about whether lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans deserve to be treated just like their family members, their friends, their neighbors and fellow workers.
It’s about opportunity – about whether every American gets to dream the same dreams, chase the same ambitions, and have the same shot at success.
One year ago this week, the people of Wisconsin elected me to the U.S. Senate. The citizens of Wisconsin made history, electing our state’s first women to the United States Senate, and electing the first out gay or lesbian person to the United States Senate in the history of our great nation.
But I didn’t run to make history, I ran to make a difference – a different that would give everyone a fair shot at achieving their dreams.
I couldn’t be more proud of the bipartisan effort to make a difference with the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
I want to thank and recognize my colleagues Senators Mark Kirk, Jeff Merkley, Susan Collins and Tom Harkin for their leadership working across party lines and moving this legislation forward. I take great pride in being a part of this effort. I think it shows the great promise of what can be achieved if we work together in a bipartisan way to get things done for the American people.
I also want to take the time to recognize the 55 cosponsors of this bill - both Democrats and Republicans - who made a commitment to ending discrimination against our fellow citizens simply because of who they are and who they love.
I realize that for some, this is not an easy vote. I understand that for some they may believe that it’s not good politics. But I want to say that I have a deep respect for those who choose to stand on the side of progress for our country this week. So for those that stand up this week and answer the call for courage, I can say with confidence your courage will be respected and remembered when this struggle is written.
In June, I had an opportunity to speak at the Department of Justice during its Pride Month observations. It was fitting that we gathered in a building that bears the name of Robert F. Kennedy.
He became Attorney General at a time of rapid progress in the area of civil rights, progress that thrilled many Americans but frightened others.
Kennedy knew, however, that America should be on the side of progress.  He traveled to Georgia – at the time, unfriendly territory for a civil rights reformer – to make his first formal speech at the University of Georgia Law School.  And he didn’t shy away from the Kennedy administration’s commitment to equal opportunity.
“For on this generation of Americans,” he explained, “falls the full burden of proving to the world that we really mean it when we say that all men are created free and equal before the law.”
He backed up his words with actions, not only by vigorously enforcing the laws and court orders that advanced the cause of civil rights, but by holding the Kennedy administration itself accountable – demanding that the Justice Department and other government entities prioritize diversity in the workplace.
Of course, as much progress as that generation made in fulfilling the promises America makes about fairness and equality, there was plenty left to do for the generations that have followed.
Today we continue that work, guided by the belief that everyone deserves a fair shot at the American Dream and that our LGBT family members, friends, and neighbors deserve to be treated like everyone else in the United States.
Every American deserves the freedom to work free of discrimination.
And passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act strengthens this freedom by recognizing the right to be judged based on your skills, talents, loyalty, character, integrity and work ethic.
My home state of Wisconsin was the first state in the nation to add sexual orientation to its anti-discrimination laws.  At the time—back in 1982—only 41 municipalities and 8 counties in the United States offered limited protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Wisconsin’s efforts to pass the nation’s first sexual orientation anti-discrimination statute were supported by a broad, bipartisan coalition, including members of the clergy, various religious denominations, medical, and professional groups.  The measure was signed into law by a Republican Governor, Lee Sherman Dreyfus, who based his decision to support the measure on the success of municipal ordinances providing similar protections against discrimination.
Since Wisconsin passed its statute in 1982, 20 states and the District of Columbia— representing nearly 45 percent of the population—have passed similar anti-discrimination measures.  Sixteen states and the District of Columbia also protect their citizens on the basis of gender identity.  However, 76 million American workers have to contend with the ugly reality that, in over two dozen states, it’s legal to discriminate against LGBT employees. That is simply wrong and this legislation seeks to right this wrong.
The business community understands this.  That is why a majority of Fortune 500 companies have sexual orientation and gender identity non-discrimination policies in place and more than 100 companies have endorsed this bill.  It’s time to level the playing field and extend these protections to all Americans.
But we don’t just want to live in a country where our rights are respected under the law.  We want to live in a country where we are respected for who we are, where we enjoy freedom and opportunity because that is who we are as Americans.
More than five years after he spoke at the University of Georgia Law School, half a world away at Cape Town University in South Africa, Robert F. Kennedy said, “Few will have the greatness to bend history, but each of us can work to change a small portion of the events, and then the total – all of these acts – will be written in the history of this generation.”
The change we work for today can add up to incredible progress in our lifetimes.
This generation can be the one in which we fulfill the promises of freedom and equality for all – in which America finally becomes a place where everyone’s rights are respected at work, and every family’s love and commitment can be recognized, respected, and rewarded under the law.
I am hopeful that we can now move this Employment Non-Discrimination Act forward to build a tomorrow that is more equal, not less, for all Americans.