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07/11/2013

Hey, FRC—American Eagle isn't your ENDA talking point!

by Jeremy Hooper

Ratcheting up its attacks on basic employment nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people (the same ones religious people already enjoy), the Family Research Council tries to claim a case that is actually a repudiation of their anti-LGBT mission. In a column attributed to president Tony Perkins, FRC says:

Screen Shot 2013-07-11 At 8.44.55 AmJust a few years ago, a completely secular clothing company, American Eagle, fired a man who dressed like a woman because his appearance was driving away business in its store. But according to the state's anti-discrimination law, the company's bottom line didn't matter nearly as much as this man's hurt feelings.

As part of a private settlement, American Eagle was forced to hire cross-dressers no matter how uncomfortable it makes customers or employees! Some New Yorkers were surprised. After all, shouldn't companies be free to enforce a dress code? [
FRC]

So yes, there was in fact a controversy. And yes, the transgender employee won, leading the clothing chain to freshen up its policies.

But what FRC completely overlooks is the fact that American Eagle WANTED to make these changes. In a statement at the time, the company spokesperson said:

Screen Shot 2013-07-11 At 8.44.45 Am"To avoid further expense and the distraction of a prolonged argument, [we have] agreed to a compromise settlement in this case, with the understanding that AEO is not admitting to the findings. We wholeheartedly believe that transgender individuals should be treated equally."

This is a two-fold repudiation of FRC's attempt. First, the company did not admit to the findings because the company disputed that there was ever any malice attached to its actions. Second, by making a point to pledging wholehearted support to transgender equality, the company showed an eagerness to update any subpar policies that led to what they classified as a bad misunderstanding. This company did not claim it was forced to do something it didn't want to do. On the contrary, this prominent clothing company demonstrated what most prominent American businesses are increasingly eager to show: FULL SUPPORT FOR LGBT EQUALITY! American Eagle was embarrassed by this, a situation that led people to believe the company was anything but supportive!

Yes, companies can enforce dress codes. But dress code does not mean forcing transgender men or women into attire that's discordant from their gender identity. A company can absolutely force men and women, transgender or cisgender, to follow certain dress codes in order to retain employment. But forcing a person, cisgender or transgender, to misrepresent his or her identity is an entirely different thing.

Then again, it seems that FRC, an organization much more interested in talking at all of us rather than listening to what ENDA actually is and isn't, is quite fond of misrepresentation. No wonder they want to encourage more of it.

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