As a freshman in high school I approached my principal to request a space to perform one of the five mandatory Muslim prayers that happened to start and end during school hours. I had been praying for years in school and thought nothing of it, until she said no. As unfortunate as her response was, I was lucky for two reasons. The first was that there were laws in place that protected me from facing this type of discrimination, and I was eventually allowed to pray in school thanks to the help of the American Civil Liberties Union. The second reason is that experience was transformative and opened my eyes not only to the struggles of other Muslim Americans, but to all groups who face discrimination. As lucky as I was with my specific situation, I soon realized that not every group had legal recourse in situations arising from discrimination.
Yesterday, over nine years after my high school experience, I went to the office of US Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) to lobby for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). I, along with two other constituents from the Lone Star State, met with a staffer to discuss our desire for the senator to support this legislation that would protect the millions of Americans who identify as LGBTQ. We explained that current legislation does not extend to LGBTQ individuals in the workforce who face discrimination and action must be taken to protect the rights of these millions of Americans. We each told her why this issue matters to us individually – I told her about my experience seeking time to pray in high school. She explained a number of factors that might keep the senator from supporting ENDA, including states’ rights concerns and the timing around the election. She also reminded us how long the process has been for previous groups trying to secure equal rights in America.
But why does this group of Americans needs to wait any longer to enjoy equal rights? We need our senators and representatives to be leaders. The rights of minority groups may not always be popular with the majority, but leadership on a federal level is required to protect those rights, just as it was and remains necessary with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. LGBTQ individuals should be able to walk into their places of employment or prospective employment and not fear that who they are is going to result in discrimination – and they should be able to do so today. I call on Sen. John Cornyn and every other member of Congress to get one small step closer to ending discrimination by passing ENDA. It’s the American thing to do.