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Provide Workplace Protections For Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity

The following Op-Ed, by Rabbi Robin Nafshi, appeared in the Concord Monitor on Friday August 16th, 2013. Rabbi Nafshi’s support of S. 815/H.R. 1755 The Employment Non-Discrimination Act is echoed in the policies and actions of the Religious Action Center and the Union for Reform Judaism, which has endorsed protections in the workplace for the LGBT community for over 40 years. To add your voice to Rabbi Nafshi’s call for justice join us for our FaithsCalling Call-in Day on September 17th.

In the late 1970s, I was a college student working part-time as a data processing clerk for a jewelry manufacturer in New York City. One day, my boss asked me to attend a conference with him in a distant city. I did not have a good feeling about it. He pressed, eventually letting me know that he wasn’t inviting me for my data entry skills. I refused his advances, and he said to me, “What are you, a lesbian?” (Actually, he used a different word, not suitable for publication in a family paper.)

I responded, “Well, in fact, I am.”

“You’re fired!,” he called out. “I never would have hired you if I knew you were a deviant.”

I had no recourse. New York had no law barring workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. In fact, such a law was not enacted in New York until 2002, after more than 30 years of trying. If I had been working in New Hampshire in the late 1970s, I would not have had any recourse here, either. The Granite State did not enact its law protecting workers from discrimination based on sexual orientation until 1998.

New Hampshire and New York are two of only 21 states that offer workplace protections to individuals based on their sexual orientation. It’s hard to believe that the United States, a nation that prides itself on fairness and equality, and which encourages all people to get ahead through hard work, doesn’t ban discrimination in employment for tens of millions of Americans.


Since 1994, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act has been introduced in nearly every Congress. ENDA would ban workplace discrimination across the nation on the basis of both sexual orientation and gender identity by amending the employment provisions of the 1964 federal Civil Rights Act. Discrimination based on gender identity is legal in 33 states, including New Hampshire.

Protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees is not radical. Of the Fortune 500 companies, 88 percent prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and 57 percent ban discrimination on the basis of gender identity.

In fact, protecting LGBT workers is so not radical that more than 50 religious groups, including nine major religious denominations, have come out in favor of ENDA. They include the Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the United Church of Christ, as well as Reform, Reconstructionist and Conservative Jews. In 2009, when Salt Lake City approved a nondiscrimination ordinance similar to ENDA, the law passed with the support of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormon Church). And last month, Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, a member of the Mormon Church, voted in support of ENDA as the bill passed out of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions by a vote of 15-7.

Why do three out of four Jewish denominations strongly support ENDA? Because in Genesis 1:27, we read, “And God created human beings b’tzelem elohim, in the image of God.” Each human being is unique and precious and most importantly, Godly. Each human being is entitled to be treated with dignity, justice and equality, precisely what ENDA seeks to achieve.

ENDA is headed to the full Senate for a vote this fall. I urge New Hampshire’s senators to co-sponsor or at least vote in favor of this legislation that would provide workplace protections for LGBT people all across America.

Rabbi Robin Nafshi is the Rabbi at Temple Beth David in Concord, New Hampshire.


Image Courtesy of Jewish Mosaic


LGBT Rights at the Olympics

The opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia begin in exactly six months and concern over Russia’s human rights record is mounting. Significant questions have been raised, from the treatment of migrant workers employed to build the Olympic facilities to Russia’s engagement with the Syrian regime, but perhaps no issue has caused as big an outpouring (literally) as Russia’s discrimination and mistreatment against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

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The Senate Holds Hearing on Closing Guantanamo

For the first time in four years, the Congress held a hearing to consider the closing of the military prison at Guantanamo Bay.  In a sub-committee meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee, human rights groups and military officials gave testimony about why it is not only in America’s moral interest to end the indefinite detention of prisoners but also in its national security interest.  Retired Army personnel testified that the number one reason why terrorist organizations are successfully recruiting people is the inhumane treatment of prisoners both in Abu Graib in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay.  Witnesses also testified to the absurd cost of keeping the prison open, which totals to roughly $2.7 million per year per prisoner, as compared to just $78,000 to house the same prisoners in maximum security prison in America.

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The NSA Data Collection Debate Continues

My colleague Zach wrote this blog a couple of weeks ago about the recently leaked revelations of the National Security Administration’s massive collection of data on Americans – and others in the U.S. – through cell-phone and internet records. And while Edward Snowden, the man responsible for these leaks, may not be going anywhere anytime soon, the legislative and political response to these programs’ disclosures continues to develop.

Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee and one of the leading civil libertarians in the Senate, discussed these developments at a briefing sponsored by the Center for American Progress on Tuesday. Senator Wyden said that these revelations had “lit the surveillance world on fire” and finally started the conversation – a conversation he had been trying to start unsuccessfully for years – about the Administration’s opaque interpretation of the Patriot Act and secret use of these surveillance programs. Demanding action, Senator Wyden continued – “If we do not seize this unique moment in our constitutional history to reform our surveillance laws and practices, we will all live to regret it. “

The first attempt from Congress to heed this call to rein in the NSA’s surveillance programs came in an amendment offered late Wednesday night to the defense appropriations bill in House. The amendment – offered by a bipartisan team comprised of libertarian Republican Justin Amash (R-MI) and ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee and Dean of the Black Caucus John Conyers (D-MI) – would have used funding restrictions to limit the collection of data to specific targets of law enforcement investigations, rather than massive ‘dragnet’ programs.

The White House and the leadership of both parties opposed the provision, but it has considerable support from civil libertarian groups like the American Civil Liberties Union. Ultimately the amendment failed by just twelve votes; 111 Democrats and 94 Republicans voted for the amendment, 83 Democrats and 134 Republicans voted against it. This was one of those truly bi-partisan votes that has become all-too rare in recent years.

Following the vote the amendment’s champions vowed to continue the fight. “This is only the beginning,” Rep. Conyers promised. “The time has come to stop [transparent surveillance],” added Representative Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), the original author of the Patriot Act who has begun to change his position on such surveillance programs.

The Reform Jewish Movement spoke out against illegal wire-tapping programs and many provisions of the Patriot Act when it was first passed in the wake of 9/11. In its 2003 Resolution “Civil Liberties and National Security: Striking the Proper Balance” the Movement acknowledged that Judaism demands a proper respect for individual freedoms and the right to privacy even in the important work of protecting national security. The struggle to find that proper balance continues today and informs our work as we monitor the developments regarding the NSA’s cell-phone and Internet data collection programs.

LGBT Flag in front of congress

Inclusive ENDA Advances in the Senate for First Time

Today, for the first time ever, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee voted to advance and inclusive version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (S. 815). If passed, ENDA would finally make it illegal to fire, refuse to hire, demote or fail to promote an employee based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Despite massive popular support ENDA has been introduced, unsuccessfully, in nearly every Congress for the past 20 years.

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LGBT Flag in front of congress

ENDA Committee Call In Campaign

On Wednesday July 10th, the Senate Housing, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee is set to mark up the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) for the first time in over 10 years.  While the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (drafted in the Religious Action Center’s conference room) prohibited discrimination in the workplace based on race, sex, religion, ethnicity and national origin – and later laws barred discrimination based on pregnancy and disability – there is no federal law that protects the LGBT community from discrimination in the workplace. ENDA would fix that gap and finally make it illegal to fire, refuse to hire, demote or fail to promote someone based on their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. Call your Senator in advance of this hearing and tell them how important you think this legislation is!

Along with marriage equality and LGBT rights more broadly, support for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act is rapidly growing. The bill now has 53 co-sponsors in the Senate – including Republican Senators Mark Kirk (IL) and Susan Collins (ME) – and 177 co-sponsors in the House including three Republican Representatives. Support within the business world is growing as well with more than 90 major corporations publically endorsing the bill, which is no surprise considering that  88% of Fortune 500 companies already have protections based on sexual orientation and 57% have protections for gender identity. Religious groups are speaking out as well; nearly 50 religious organizations signed onto a letter to the members of the HELP committee urging them to vote for ENDA.

According to recent polls 73% of Americans support the workplace protections promised in this legislation (another survey found that 9 in 10 voters thought these protections already exist). These numbers help to emphasize the deep resonance ENDA holds with both our American and religious values. It ensures that our workplaces operate as meritocracies, asking that people are judged based on their ability to perform a job, not on their personal characteristics. It ensures that our society recognizes the fundamental truth of our tradition, that all people are created in the in the image of God.

This is why, having played a role in the initial drafting of the bill nearly 20 years ago, the Religious Action Center and the broader Reform Movement remain one of the leading religious supporters of this critical legislation. The goal this week is to bring that support to bear before the Senate HELP Committee’s historic action. You can help by calling your Senator and telling them that your values as a Jew and as an American compel you to support ENDA.

Join our Call-In Campaign for ENDA – text “ENDAnow” to 877-877 to receive text instructions, or dial 1-888-897-0174 to hear talking points, enter your zip code and connect directly to your Senator.

Focus on the Court

The Other LGBT Rights Rulings This Week

The Supreme Court’s decision this week in Hollingsworth v. Perry and Windsor v. United States were monumental. Legally married LGBT couples are now entitled to full federal benefits, bi-national LGBT couples have already started applying for green cards and Secretary Hagel has already announced that LGBT couples will receive all spousal military benefits. And, with Governor Jerry Brown ordering every county in the state to move as quickly as possible, marriage equality will return to the 38 million people of California.

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Obama in Berlin

Nukes in the NDAA and Beyond

Over the last week I and my colleagues have brought you some of the highlights from the debate on the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014 in the House. For my final post on the matter (for now) I want to talk about an issue that has long been pillar of the Reform Movement’s advocacy, but which rarely gets much play in the press these days – nuclear disarmament.

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