The Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay and lesbian political organization, Tuesday unveiled a new ad about job discrimination that will air during the long-awaited ''coming-out episode'' of the ABC sitcom, ''Ellen.''
The ad, which features a woman who has just been fired from her job because of her sexual orientation, will be shown April 30 in 33 cities, including Portland.
The group also released the results of a new poll that shows 80 percent of Americans believe gays and lesbians should ''have equal rights in terms of job opportunities.''
''While most Americans oppose job discrimination against gay people, most just don't know that it's still perfectly legal in 41 states for employees to be fired from their jobs just because of their sexual orientation,'' Susanne Salkind, a spokeswoman for the organization, said at a news conference in Portland.
''The coming out episode of 'Ellen' offers a unique opportunity for the Human Rights Campaign to shed light on this injustice.''
Federal law does not currently protect people from job discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Nine states include sexual orientation in their non-discrimination laws: California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wisconsin.
In Maine, a bill that would end discrimination against gays and lesbians in employment, housing, public accommodations and credit is currently making its way through the Legislature.
That bill would make illegal the kind of discrimination illustrated in the new Human Rights Campaign ad, said Karen Geraghty of the Maine Lesbian and Gay Political Alliance.
Geraghty said her organization has received 17 calls this year from Mainers who said they lost their jobs because someone at work found out they were gay. Their reaction, she said, typically is one of ''just complete shock and dismay'' when they discover that not only are they out of work, but they also have no legal recourse.
Speaking at the news conference was Rod Smith, a Buxton man who said he was fired from his job with a Lewiston home health agency in January because he is gay.
Smith, who had worked as a certified nursing assistant and home health aid, said he received no two-week notice and no severance pay when he was fired.
''Although I immediately began looking for another job, I did not find one right away,'' Smith said. ''I lost my apartment when I could not pay the next month's rent. My unemployment claim was denied because they said I had been discharged for misconduct.''
Had Smith worked in Portland, he would have been protected by the city's anti-discrimination ordinance.
The new Human Rights Campaign ad features a woman named Betty who has just been fired from her job because of her sexual orientation. As she gathers her things, her co-workers express shock that her firing, while unfair, is not illegal.
The ad includes a toll-free number for the Human Rights Campaign that viewers can call to get more information.
Sixty-five ABC affiliates originally agreed to air the spot, but because of budget constraints, it will only be shown in 33 markets. The network turned down the Human Rights Campaign's request to make a single, nationwide purchase of airtime - a cheaper alternative - citing its policy against advertising on controversial issues.
ABC affiliates in 11 markets declined the ad: Chicago; Colorado Springs and Grand Junction, Colo.; Eugene, Ore.; Houston; Knoxville, Nashville and Memphis, Tenn.; New York; Philadelphia; and Wichita, Kan.
The new poll of 1,000 registered voters was conducted April 8-10 for the Human Rights Campaign by The Tarrance Group, a Republican firm, and Lake Sosin Snell & Associates, a Democratic polling company. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percent.
The results of the poll demonstrates the continuing trend over the last 20 years of increased public support for equal rights of gay people in the workplace, Salkind said.
When asked, ''In general, do you think homosexuals should or should not have equal rights in terms of job opportunities?,'' 80 percent of voters surveyed said they should, 14 percent said that they should not and 6 percent said they didn't know.
Seventy-five percent of Republicans and 84 percent of Democrats said they support equal rights in the workplace for gays, as did nearly eight out of 10 New England voters.
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