NFL's Michael Sam Is Inspiring Missouri To Change Its Anti-Gay Workplace Policies, And It's About Time
On Saturday, defensive end Michael Sam became the first openly gay NFL player ever, after tearfully being drafted by the St. Louis Rams and planting a big kiss on his boyfriend. And there's more good news: it's beginning to seem as if Sam's openness, to the world and to himself, could have even further positive implications for Missouri law, specifically workplace discrimination and firing practices. That's because Missouri is, like 28 other states across the country, one of the place where LGBT workers aren't afforded protection from discrimination-based firings.
You've probably heard or seen that figure quoted before: 29 states can fire you for being gay. It's true, though very slightly sneaky in its phrasing — it's not that those states have laws on the books codifying that right for private employers, it's that they don't have any laws on the books preventing it. Meaning, in effect, that an LGBT person's job security could be at the whim of a bigoted boss, or dependent on their ability to hide who they are from their friends and colleagues.
And just as high-profile stories often shine light on related political struggles, so too is Michael Sam's story being touted as a possible influence in the push for LGBT worker's rights in Missouri. The state's Republican-led legislature held a hearing on MONA, the Missouri Nondiscrimination Act, back on March 13th, but have yet to pass it. The bill would apply existing human rights statutes to sexual orientation as well, preventing employers from legally firing staff over their sex lives.
Missouri Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill is clearly of a mind to change that, tweeting approvingly about ending such workplace discrimination in the aftermath of Sam's drafting.
There aren't currently federal laws which protect LGBT workers in any sort of uniform way, and obviously, this might be a tidy solution to that shocking 29 state figure. There is a bill before the U.S. House of Representatives, already passed in the Senate by (in relative terms) a wide bipartisan margin of 64-32, which would provide just that. It's the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA, which President Obama has repeatedly called on House Republicans to bring to pass. Considering it's just been languishing there for over six months, action does not seem imminent.
The NFL has been fairly proactive in setting the new tone for their league, which is good news. After Sam's emotional draft-day, and his very public smooch with his boyfriend, a lot of unpleasant people took to Twitter to complain, one of whom was Miami Dolphins defensive back Don Jones, who tweeted "OMG" and "horrible" — a choice which has earned him a fine, and a suspension until he completes educational training.