Several dozen University of Oregon students, faculty and staff joined U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., at the Knight Library to celebrate the Senate’s passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act or ENDA. Sen. Merkley co-authored the legislation that would ban workplace discrimination against gay and transgender employees. The Senate approved the bill Thursday with a 64-to-32 vote. The bill moves to the House of Representatives next.
Oregon is one of 21 states that have passed laws banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and among 17 states that also offer gender identity work protection. Sen. Merkley championed Oregon’s 2007 law when he was the Oregon Speaker of the House. The federal law would extend the discrimination protections to all 50 states.
In a full room of students holding rainbow stickers and some wearing “marriage equality” t-shirts, Sen. Merkley called the fight to pass ENDA a battle about liberty.
“Discrimination has no place in American society and it is time to end it,” said Merkley in his first public event since the bill passed the Senate.
He challenged opponents of ENDA who claim that it would create frivolous lawsuits and eliminate jobs. Merkley pointed to Oregon businesses such as Nike and Ninkasi Brewing that have championed non-discrimination practices and credit the law with creating a productive workplace that has boosted business.
Conor Gagner, a UO sophomore and the education coordinator of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Queer Alliance (LGBTQA), praised the Senate’s action saying, “The Employment Non-discrimination Act gives me hope.”
And Whitney Logue, outreach coordinator at LGBTAQ’s Education Support Services program, said she hopes the House passes ENDA and give future students, “the opportunity to celebrate who they are in a much more welcoming way.”