Commentary: You Can’t Hijack National Defense to Discriminate

The National Defense Authorization Act is vital to the safety and security of the United States. It is inherently un-American to hijack this must-pass piece of legislation to attempt to enshrine discriminatory practices at a time when there is so much inaction in areas where people need to be protected from discrimination. The Russell amendment further underscores why the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC) works with a diverse array of partners to advocate for comprehensive federal nondiscrimination policies for LGBT workers and business-owners alike.

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The Russell amendment doesn't protect anyone, in fact it creates the potential for greater discrimination against already vulnerable communities. NGLCC advocates for sound business policy and conditions conducive to economic growth. At a time when our nation's policy experts focus on ways to get more people to work, we shouldn't be creating new ways to fire -- or new ways to refuse to hire --- women, people of color, those with disabilities, and LGBT Americans. Even as we advocate for future protections for LGBT entrepreneurs and business owners, we decry this effort to roll back the clock on current protections for LGBT workers.

If enacted, Section 1094 would exponentially increase the scope of current religious exemptions in the Civil Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, allowing religiously affiliated organizations receiving federal funds -- whether through contract, subcontract, grant, cooperative agreement, or purchase order -- to engage in discrimination. Section 1094 also imperils protections for LGBT employees of federal contractors and subcontractors, as this Section threatens the nondiscrimination protections embodied in President Obama's Executive Order 13672, prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity by contractors and subcontractors.

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NGLCC and our ever-growing network of corporate partners assert the economic benefits of non-discrimination in the private sector and have successfully made the business case for beating back heinous provisions such as this at the state and local level. Our organization brings economic pressure from its Fortune 500 allies and certified LGBT-owned businesses to successfully defeat other so-called ‘religious freedom’ provisions nationwide.

In simplest terms: this Section 1094 would use taxpayer dollars to subsidize discrimination against hardworking, everyday diverse Americans. This is as unfair as it is un-American. As the business voice of the LGBT community, NGLCC strongly opposes Section 1094 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 (NDAA) as passed by the House of Representatives. As a matter of fairness and increased accessibility to the American Dream for all Americans, we urge fair-minded legislators to remove this amendment from the final legislation before it emerges from conference. This amendment is not just a state-sanctioned attack on LGBT workers, but also on women, individuals with disabilities, and many others whose civil rights and economic safety are at stake.

Chance Mitchell and Justin Nelson are co-founders of the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC).

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