Asexuality inclusion in ENDA?

While we were at Creating Change 2013, the hot topic for the asexuality contingent is the inclusion of asexuality in the Employee Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) in the US.  While I was not personally involved in these discussions, I heard a lot about it while I was present at the conference, and can give you the low-down.

ENDA is a bill that keeps on being proposed and shot down.  The latest proposals protect, among other things, the categories of sexual orientation and gender identity.  ENDA’s critics say that the “sexual orientation” category is too vague.  Searching around for examples, I found that the American Family Association says:

Even worse, because “sexual orientation” is not defined in the bill, it will give special legal protections to 30 sexual orientations listed by the American Psychiatric Association, including pedophilia, prostitution, bestiality and cross-dressing, to name just a few.

This does not appear to be their main argument, but it’s one of their arguments.  Oddly, asexuality isn’t on their list of “30 sexual orientations”.

In any case, NGLTF, HRC, and other organizations are considering a more explicit definition of sexual orientation in their ENDA proposals.  In fact, in the last proposal, they specified homosexual, bisexual, or heterosexual orientations.  For future proposals, they are arguing whether asexuality should be included on that list.

But the argument to include asexuality was losing.  They did not find any legal case where an employer was accused of discrimination against asexuals.  And asexuals themselves don’t seem to be here asking anyone to fight for them.  So maybe it’s not worth spending political capital to fight for the inclusion of asexuality in ENDA.

We change one part of the equation.  The asexuals are here.  The asexual contingent immediately got to work on a memo arguing for the inclusion of asexuality, as you can see in the video report.

The memo argues that even though there have been no past legal cases of employers discriminating against asexuals, there are likely to be in the future.  The asexual community is predominantly very young now, so people will get older and more of them will enter the workplace.  Further awareness of asexuality will lead more employers to discriminate against it.  We also know from a study that people tend to dehumanize asexuals in a way that cannot be accounted for by prejudice against single people.

But don’t take it for granted that we will choose to fight for inclusion of asexuality in ENDA!  The purpose of the memo is simply to make our case, which should be weighed against all the costs and risks.

The best-case scenario is that everyone will simply accept the inclusion of asexuality without comment.  But what if the opponents of ENDA decide to make a big deal out of it? The Republicans could start a political campaign to ridicule and delegitimize asexuality, ironically leading to more discrimination.  ENDA could also become the issue of the asexual community, the same way that same-sex marriage became the issue of the LGBT community in the 1990s.  That is, it could completely monopolize our time and resources at the expense of everything else.

It could also be that we’ve overestimated the danger of employee discrimination against asexuals, and that it simply isn’t worth the risks to fight for so small a benefit.  We should not engage in “math to make us feel better”, we should assess our situation honestly and choose the best action.

So this is a huge issue that you will hear about much more in the years to come.  Or perhaps it’s just a bad political strategy that we’ll choose not to pursue.

About Siggy

Siggy is a physics grad student in the U.S. He is gay gray-A, and makes amateur attempts at asexual activism. His interests include godlessness, scientific skepticism, and math. While not working or blogging, he plays video and board games with his boyfriend, and folds colored squares.
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20 Responses to Asexuality inclusion in ENDA?

  1. ace-muslim says:

    Whether or not employment discrimination is an important area for asexuals, if there is a federal law that says, “on the basis of sexual orientation (such as heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, or asexual)”, that makes it easier to get asexuality included in other laws that may be more relevant to us. I’m not sure how much energy it’s worth putting into it, but I do think it’s worth giving it attention.

  2. ace-muslim says:

    And I do think that employment discrimination will become relevant. Some examples could include a hostile work environment for openly not being straight, or situations where the “You’re asexual? That’s just because you’ve never had sex with ME” reaction turns into sexual harassment.

  3. Captain Heartless says:

    For what it’s worth, when I came out to my mom the first reason she gave for why she wanted me to not tell anyone I was asexual was “what if an employer finds out”.

    Also, I’m not sure a republican attack on asexual inclusion would be a bad thing for us- if republicans start attacking asexuals, it could backfire. Many straight people can stomach a party that says “you can’t have gay sex”. But if they perceive (even incorrectly) that the party is now saying “we are also going to force people to have sex”, that could backfire (see: the past year in republican gaffes). They could avoid that by acknowledging that orientation isn’t about behavior, but that undermines their arguments against equal protection inclusion of gay people.

    Not to mention the fact that a national news level attack on asexuality, however bad and stigmatizing, could do wonders for visibility (we would have to mobilize some people to do the counter point on news shows though). I’m not sure whether or not it would be worth it- but it does make me a bit less afraid of republican ridicule.

  4. Kamath says:

    It seems to me there are absolutely no (good) arguments for not including asexuality. Since this is about legislation against discrimination based on orientation, wouldn’t refusing to include it basically say “it’s okay to discriminate asexuals”? I mean, even if discrimination against asexuals has never happened, it should still be illegal!

    The only argument I could think of would be claiming that we’re not a valid sexual orientation. Which is in itself a reason why it should be important to include us to debunk that.

    BTW, I’m kind of doing the o_O face at the suggestion of calling stuff like prostitution and cross-dressing sexual orientations. That’s… not what the word means!

    • Siggy says:

      I think we all agree that an asexual-inclusive ENDA would itself be a good thing. The question is simply whether the good outweighs the cost. Of course, it is very reasonable to argue that the costs are very small. Perhaps no one will think twice about it, and it will cost nothing.

      • ace-muslim says:

        Yeah, I was trying to figure out exactly what the cost would be here. I don’t see why it would be any cost to the LGBTQ groups involved to include asexuality, if the definition of sexual orientation and its examples is just a tiny part of the overall bill. I agree with Kamath.

  5. In every employment nondiscrimination law I’ve ever read that includes sexual orientation, sexual orientation is defined as “heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual” or as “heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual or asexual” (in New York and Vermont), so the AFA’s “sexual orientation is too vague” criticism is a non-issue.

    As a trans ace, I am much more committed to having gender identity protections in ENDA than protections for asexuality, since my asexuality is much easier to conceal than the fact that I’m transitioning.

    • Siggy says:

      I was looking through several versions of ENDA, and it appears you are correct. They always specify that sexual orientation means heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual, real or perceived.

      When DJ explained ENDA to me, he referred to criticisms of vagueness, but this was misleading. The vagueness criticism is straight-up lying about the text of the bill. Thank you for pointing that out.

      • Andrew says:

        They’re also straight up lying about what the DSM says. In one place it defines is as erotic attraction to men, women, or both. In another place, to men, women, both, or neither. And their definitions of most of those terms are also lying: They define most of them in terms of behavior, rather than sexual interest. Over a century ago, Richard von Krafft-Ebbing distinguished between “perversity” (non-potentially-reproductive sexual behavior) and “perversion” (sexual interest directed towards from “abnormal” interests). The language psychiatry now uses has changed, but the distinction between the act and the interest has always been of fundamental importance in the concepts of perversions, paraphilias, and sexual orientations.

  6. Aydan says:

    While the most visible online asexual communities tend to have a young average age, both of the studies I’ve reviewed so far that looked at demographics of asexuals found that asexuals tended to be a few years older than the average of the rest of the sample. So many asexuals are already in the workforce. (Those studies were Bogaert 2004 and Prause and Graham 2007.)

    If, as commenters above have said, current anti-discrimination laws include heterosexuality, there is absolutely no justification for excluding asexuality, since the inclusion of heterosexuality clearly indicates that a group doesn’t have to experience rampant systematic discrimination to be included in the law.

    • “If, as commenters above have said, current anti-discrimination laws include heterosexuality, there is absolutely no justification for excluding asexuality, since the inclusion of heterosexuality clearly indicates that a group doesn’t have to experience rampant systematic discrimination to be included in the law.”
      I agree. You stated it beautifully.

    • Siggy says:

      I agree with the principle, but from the point of view of activist organizations, it does make a difference whether there is discrimination against asexuality. For instance, they wouldn’t have to spend money to educate congresspeople what heterosexuality is, and the inclusion of heterosexuality actually makes the bill more appealing.

  7. M. says:

    Great questions raised by this post, and food for much further thought and discussion within the community!

    I would only add that actually the main thrust of proposed revisions to ENDA is a more explicit inclusion of gender identity, separate from protections based on sex, for transgender folks. Further clarifying sexual orientation (possibly to include asexuality) is largely a matter of trying to draft legislation that covers all the necessary bases and does not provide loopholes that can be used by “strict” interpreters of the law to deny protections which are implied by the spirit of the law.

    Hypothetically, if asexuality is not explicitly included in ENDA as a sexual orientation and a discrimination case comes before a judge, the fight would wind up being two-fold: first, proving that asexuality is in fact a sexual orientation (and expert witnesses could be problematic) which should be covered under the law, and second, that discrimination actually occurred. Undoubtedly, the existence of state legislation which includes asexuality would help.

    Nevertheless, I think the points you raise about not under- or over-estimating the possibility of discrimination based on asexual identification, in addition to the question of whether we as a community have resource capacity and a desire to pursue the matter down what could be a long political road, are of significant importance.

  8. Lara Landis says:

    ENDA is probably never going to go anywhere. It’s been turned down too many times. It’s a nice gesture, but I believe it will utlimately be an empty one. Gay and Lesbian groups were more than willing to abandon transgender rights in the legislation the last time it came up for a vote.

    • Siggy says:

      Well, they *were* willing to leave out trans rights, but in 2007 suddenly every organization besides the HRC was no longer willing. Then there was a huge backlash against the HRC, and now it’s fashionable to make snide comments about the HRC (I do it too!). After that, every ENDA proposal was trans-inclusive.

      I believe the HRC is among the orgs arguing against asexuality-inclusion (but don’t hold me to this). Welcome to the wonderful world of LGBT activist internal politics!

  9. ace-muslim says:

    This article from Columbia Law School (the full text can be downloaded via a link on the page) looks like it may be relevant to the discussion of asexuality and anti-discrimination legislation:

    http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2218783

  10. Pingback: Asexuality May Not Have Direct Legal Issues- And We Don’t Have To | The Asexual Agenda

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