Saturday, January 9, 2010
In the business world, there is a long-standing practice known as "blacklisting", in which people or groups are denied work, housing, or medical services because their names are circulated among prospective employers, doctors, or landlords as "undesirable". In the past, this practice was widespread in the infamous Hollywood Blacklist of the 1950s. During that era, actors, writers, and producers who were suspected of being Communists or "Communist sympathizers" suddenly found themselves unable to get bookings. Studios banned them from their backlots; agents summarily dropped them as clients. All this occurred because of the "Red Menace" scare tactics of Senator Joe McCarthy, who built up hysteria in America about the Communist Party, to further his own political ambitions. As a direct result of his fearmongering, countless numbers of people were destroyed economically. The Hollywood Blacklist extended into the early 1960s, by which time it had extended from the entertainment industry to other sectors of American business.
Fast forward to 2010. Today, we see homophobia on the rise again as countries around the globe enact anti-gay laws including the death penalty for homosexuality. There are quite a few countries where the "gay blacklist" is a matter of law and custom. In Uganda, the Minister For Ethics And Integrity, James Nsaba Buturo, was quoted by the New York Times as saying "Homosexuals can forget about human rights." Here at home in the United States, things are getting worse, too. Hate-crimes against gays and lesbians have increased sharply, and people are being fired from their jobs because they are gay or lesbian. Astonishingly, it's still perfectly legal in 29 states to fire someone for being gay or lesbian. You risk your livelihood if you're "out and proud". Blacklisting of gays and lesbians is on the increase, as well.
Consider "Kenneth", who was fired from his managerial position at a Kentucky police-supply warehouse when it was reported to his bosees that he had marched in a Gay Pride Parade on his vacation. Forced to "admit" he was gay, he was informed that his orientation was "not in keeping with the company's traditional values", and he was summarily terminated. Since "Kenneth's" 2004 firing, he has been unable to find work, despite six years of progressively greater responsibility at the warehouse job, with excellent performance evaluations in every year he worked there. During a couple of job interviews, "Kenneth" remembers, he was actually asked about his sexual orientation. That's within the law, too, because 31 states can legally refuse to hire gays, and lesbians. It's even harder to get or retain employment if you are transgendered (or your employer thinks you are)--a whopping 39 states allow discrimination and/or blacklisting of transgendered people--and Congress can't, or won't, pass the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) which would make these practices illegal in every state.
On the map above, only those states shaded light or dark green have laws in place preventing employment discrimination, firing, or blacklisting based on sexual orientation. Everywhere else in the United States, our LGBT community is often considered "unfit for employment" solely because of their sexuality. Consider "Gary", who was an engineer for a Texas oil refinery. He was once honored as the "Engineer of The Year" for his handling of a chemical spill that could have destroyed the refinery. Yet, when he came out of the closet to a co-worker after ten years at the plant, he was called to the front office a few weeks later and promptly shown the door. Word of his coming out had gotten around, executives said, and workers complained they were suddenly "uncomfortable" around "Gary". He has been unemployed for almost three years now, unable to find work in the homophobic Texas oil-refinery trade. He tried to sue his former employer, but was told his firing was within Texas law. Lawyers refused to take "Gary's" case, one attorney "reminding" him that "homosexuality is illegal, you know. You're lucky you are not in jail."
The ordeals faced by "Kenneth" and "Gary" are hardly isolated incidents. Every day, more gays, lesbians, and transgendered individuals are refused work, fired, and blacklisted for no reason other than their orientation. Unless and until ENDA becomes law, this sorry state of affairs will continue. We, as a community, must not let the backslide into homophobia continue. We need to "get to work" so that we can get to work!