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09/30/2009

Perception as a weapon: We'd de-arm both employers and Tony P.

by Jeremy Hooper

In order to help make their anti-ENDA case, "pro-family" folks like the Family Research Council's Tony Perkins have been turning to attacks on the "perceived sexual orientation" aspect of the measure, saying dismissive things about those who've filed discrimination suits based on the perception that they are gay. Here's just on small line from Tony's newest "Washington Update" column (highlighting our own):

In Oregon, one employee who sued for "discrimination" had, according to his employer, actually been fired for "cheating on an exam" and "repeatedly showing up late for work." Another charged "discrimination" for his "perceived" orientation--he was a straight male, but was criticized for wearing earrings. And these were considered the most "substantial" cases!
ENDA: Just the Beginning of Frivolous Lawsuits [FRC]

Okay, first off: This man wasn't merely "criticized" for wearing earrings. He was allegedly mocked and fired because of his perceived gayness:

The state also found evidence supporting a claim by Ramiro Martinez of Salem that though he is not gay, his supervisor for Rose City Contracting, Inc., based in Wilsonville, repeatedly ridiculed him about his perceived sexual orientation. He said that on Nov. 10, 2008, his supervisor harassed him and another employee in front of five to seven co-workers by saying: "What's wrong with you guys? Are you faggots? You both have earrings."

Martinez, who declined to talk to The Oregonian because of pending negotiations in the case, reported that he complained about the harassment to another manager and was then fired nine days later.

Gay discrimination complaints few under new Oregon law [Oregonian]

So this guy has more than a legitimate case, one that most any of us would most surely want to pursue. Any of us, from almost any placement along the sexual orientation spectrum. Which is what Tony and Co. don't realize (or at least admit): That this "perception" aspect is the very reason why he and his hetero peeps should be supporting this legislation! Because even those who find homosexuality immoral and wrong are not immune from others' perceptions about their sexuality/gender identity. And if they to fully speak with a sibilant "s" in front of an employer who speaks with a homo-hostile heart (or even if they are too "straight-acting" for a heterophobic employer), then they just might find themselves wishing they had some recourse.

True story: In grades 7-12, this writer attended school with a young man who eschewed the narrow gender roles into which American society has cast its male population. When I was practicing baseball, this kid was literally picking picking flowers on the sidelines. When I was giving in to teenage male pressure to "butch it up," he had the fortitude to proud embracing words like "fabulous." You get the picture.

Well here's the thing: Via the wonders of social networking, I recently learned that this dude is now married to a woman. And as for me? Well, I'm decidedly not. Not only am I married to a man, but there hasn't been pride flag that I've walked pass since 1999 that I haven't saluted with some degree of reference. I am the gay one -- out, proud, got the t-shirt. And I always was the gay one. Yet I was never really perceived to be the gay one, while this guy was cruelly called a "f*g" both behind his back and to his face! He got the taunts, not me.

Now, was this kid ever kept out of a job because of his affectations? Well that, I of course don't know. But I do know that while there are other reasons why I might've been denied a job by vendors in my small rural town (wisecracks, refusal to conform to dress codes, campaigned for a Democratic candidate, etc.), my sexual orientation would never have been a reason. It was only an inner struggle for me at that time, not an outward embodiment. But my oft-shunned acquaintance, on the other hand, very well might have been subject to employment discrimination if he applied to a hostile company. I saw the discrimination he received on a daily basis, and I saw the anti-gay attitudes that were all too prevalent in my area in the mid-90's. It's reasonable to assume that he might have lost a paycheck or two simply because of who he is. And it's reasonable to assume that kids like my former acquaintance are in place in countless socially conservative homes.

If this kid (or anyone) is fired/unhired for a job for which they are otherwise qualified simply because an employers things they are LGB or T, then they deserve to take action. And let's be honest: "Percieved" is actually the concept that encompasses most every one of us in these employment situations, as it's rare that a potential employer actually knows what goes on in our bedrooms. What the interviewer know is what we bring to the table. Now, the social conservatives are hoping to seize upon the "perceived" language because they think they can reduce it in a way that makes it sound like people will have the power to willy-nilly foist unfair claims upon undeserved bosses. But in truth, the "perceived" language helps to make this a HUMAN rights matter, not just an LGBT rights one.

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Your thoughts

If memory serves, there was a case in the recent past of either murder or attempted murder where a straight black man was perceived to be gay by some nutjob because he was holding his fiance's purse while she was in the restroom. One wonders how dismissive Tony would be of this...

Posted by: John | Sep 30, 2009 10:15:05 AM

Anyone can bring a lawsuit against anyone else for any reason at any time. In order to win, however, the facts have to be proven. Yes, if ENDA passes, I can come to work late everyday, get fired and file suit based on discrimination against me for my sexual orientation. But unless I can document real discrimination, I will lose. And if I lose, I will probably pay my court costs and my employer's court costs. There have always been frivolous lawsuits and always will be. If that happens, you go back and sue the person for filing a frivolous lawsuit. ENDA changes nothing except stopping firings legitimately based on sexual orientation.

Posted by: Michael | Oct 1, 2009 2:12:45 AM

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