Alabama is one of 29 U.S. states that currently offers no protection for LGBT employees who are fired, not promoted, or not hired because of their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. Democratic state Representative and Alabama’s sole openly gay lawmaker Patricia Todd, hopes to change that with the introduction of the Tim Cook Economic Development Act which would ban workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Just days before he came out in October, Cook, a Mobile native, spoke to lawmakers in Alabama when he was inducted into the Alabama Academy of Honor. Cook criticized the state for being “too slow” when it comes to embracing civil rights progress. He said that Alabama was too slow in the 1960s when it came to granting equality to African-Americans, and Alabama was too slow today in guaranteeing equality for LGBT Alabamians. In that address delivered at the Alabama State Capitol, Cook urged lawmakers to “create a different future,” in which LGBT Alabamians cannot be fired for their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.
In the days after Cook disclosed in a magazine essay that he was gay, Todd told reporters she would put his name on a bill to bar discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender school teachers and other state employees.
Todd said she was initially joking about using Cook’s name, but her comments were published and came to the attention of Apple. Todd said she received a call early last month from a company official who expressed concern over Cook’s name being attached to such a politically sensitive measure. Of course, politics can be bad for business, so Todd said she told the official she would not name the bill after Cook.
The conversation with the Apple official ended up being reported by BuzzFeed earlier this week, and Todd received a call from the company’s general counsel, Bruce Sewell, who told her Cook would be delighted to have the bill named after him, she said. In a statement provided to Reuters, Apple said: “Tim was honored to hear that State Rep. Todd wanted to name an anti-discrimination bill after him, and we’re sorry if there was any miscommunication about it. We have a long history of support for LGBT rights and we hope every state will embrace workplace equality for all.”
Opponents of Todd’s bill argue that it is unnecessary. The office of Republican Gov. Robert Bentley has told local media that LGBT persons are already protected by the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Is is not surprising considering Bentley’s ability to keep his head in the sand over so many issues. But proponents say that the language of the Civil Rights Act is vague when it comes to LGBT persons and their rights in the workplace. They say it’s necessary to pass such a bill at the state level since LGBT are not explicitly protected by federal law—there is an opening for interpretation in the court of law as to whether or not LGBT are in the same class of protection as gender, race and ethnicity.
While Alabama considers its workplace discrimination bill, LGBT advocates nationwide are still pressing Congress to pass a national employment non-discrimination act—popularly known as ENDA. Versions of ENDA have been introduced in nearly every Congress since 1994. The most recent reincarnation of the federal bill was passed by the U.S. Senate with support from both Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin and Republican Sen. Mark Kirk but was stalled in the House, again not surprising since the current House of Representatives has been more divisive and less productive than any Congress I can remember.