I love politics, so it is no surprise that I’ve been following the upcoming elections very closely. There is just something really enjoyable about following the developing stories, keeping tabs on campaign ads, and scrolling through the latest tweets, I suppose. But not everyone needs to be a political junkie like me in order to find reasons to care about elections and voting. For example, over the past couple months, I’ve been making a point to connect with my LGBT peers at LSU about the ways that this election directly impacts their lives as LGBT people in Louisiana.
Although the candidates on the ballot this November are not explicitly talking about LGBT issues, there is a lot at stake for LGBT people in the 2014 Midterm Elections. Here are the top five reasons that I think LGBT people and our allies should vote in 2014: the Violence Against Women Act, the Affordable Care Act, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, raising the minimum wage, and equal pay.
1) Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)
For the first time in 2013, LGBT people will receive federal protections against domestic violence with the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. This law is especially important because LGBT people experience intimate partner violence and sexual assault at the same or higher rates as heterosexual people. In addition, the New York City Anti-Violence Project found that transgender people experience sexual violence at twice the rate of non-transgender people. The expansion of VAWA to aid LGBT people is critical to help those in our community who are fighting to survive.
2) The Affordable Care Act (ACA)
The Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as “Obamacare,” has unprecedented protections for the LGBT community. LGBT people are less likely to have health insurance, with one survey finding one in three LGBT people is uninsured and will benefit from the expansion of health coverage that the ACA offers. It is now illegal to drop a person’s coverage because they have a pre-existing condition. Insurers can no longer deny persons living with HIV health insurance coverage or charge higher rates because of a person’s health status. If every state were to expand Medicaid, 46,910 more persons living with HIV could have access to health care. And the ACA also includes reforms that curb unfair discrimination on the basis of sex and sex stereotyping by health insurers and all federally funded health programs that will help combat some of the health disparities the LGBT community experiences. It is imperative that the ACA remain the law of the land to help ensure that LGBT have access to healthcare.
3) Employment Non-Discrimination Act
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) would provide critical employment protections for LGBT people. Specifically, it would make it illegal to fire a person because they are LGBT. Louisiana is one of 28 other states where it is legal to fire someone because they are gay and one of 31 other states where it is illegal to fire someone because they are transgender. LGBT people are more likely to experience economic insecurity because this unjust discrimination is still legal. This lack of protection from discrimination makes it harder for LGBT people to find or keep a steady job. Last November, the U.S. Senate voted to pass ENDA and it is currently waiting for approval in the House of Representatives. Without ENDA, LGBT people will continue to be fired from their jobs, refused work, paid less, or subjected to other types of employment discrimination.
4) Raising the Minimum Wage
Because of some of the aforementioned reasons, LGBT people are more likely to live in poverty. Raising the minimum wage would help many LGBT people to make a living. Transgender people are nearly four times as likely to have a household income under $10,000 per year than the general population. Raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour would lift at least 20,000 LGBT people out poverty. Increasing the minimum wage would reduce the poverty rate by 25% for female same-sex couples and 30% for male same-sex couples. The lives of LGBT people can be significantly improved by raising the minimum wage.
5) Equal Pay
LGBT people are still waiting on equal pay for equal work. Lesbian and bisexual people are subject not only to discrimination because of their sexual orientation but also because of their gender. These inequities produce a multiplier effect on same-sex couples as both partners experience these wage gaps simultaneously. One study published in the B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis and Policy found that the earnings of female transgender workers fell by nearly one third following their gender transitions. In addition, the wage gap accumulates over time, costing the average woman $431,000 over a 40-year employment career. Louisiana now has the largest pay gap in the nation with women making 67 cents to every dollar a man makes for the same work. One of the bills that will help to address the pay gap is the Paycheck Fairness Act, which failed to pass in the Senate last month. Equal pay for equal work is vital to the economic security of many LGBT families and the need to close the gender pay gap is urgent in Louisiana.
This election season, it is important that we raise our voices and vote for policies that improve the lives of LGBT people. We can’t afford to sit this one out, folks. Although it doesn’t always seem like it, elections matter and voting counts! Join us on November 4th and vote with your progressive values!