LGBT Americans still lack many basic legal protections across the country. State laws are considered to be a patchwork of protection, inconsistently varying in their degrees of legal effectiveness. The lack of federal law protecting LGBT workers leaves those impacted with feelings of uncertainty and overwhelming stress.
Workplace discrimination towards LGBT workers impacts the safety and well-being of their daily lives. The LGBT community deserves to feel out, safe, and proud in the workplace.
According to a 2020 survey conducted by GLAAD, the vast majority of Americans, regardless of sexuality or gender identity, believe that discrimination against the LGBT community should be illegal. The reality is that explicitly protective laws still are unavailable. The patchwork pattern of state policies will never match the effect that a national federal law could have on the safety of LGBT workers. The non-partisan organization Public Religion Research Institution (PRRI) conducted a survey which found that national support for instituting laws that protect the LGBT community topped 70 percent. This number includes Democrats, Republicans, and Independents, proving across the board that this is a human issue, not a political one.
Discrimination in the workplace against LGBT employees has lasting and pervasive negative effects on the recipients. Many LGBT workers are also people of color, younger, currently unemployed, undocumented, or in a lower income bracket. A 2014 report detailed that between 8% and 17% of lesbian, gay, and bisexual workers have experienced some form of discrimination. For transgender workers, the number rose from 13% to 47%.
Nearly one-third of people of color in the LGBT community have reported workplace discrimination because of their identity. Workplace discrimination impacts hiring, firing, wages, and paid leave such as sick days and vacation days. Those in positions of power should consider how gender stereotypes impact safety in the workplace every day. It has severe negative consequences for the work environment, forcing LGBT people to choose between earning a livelihood and being their most authentic selves.
In addition to workplace discrimination, several other factors can affect LGBT members trying to support themselves. For example, LGBT people, particularly LGBT people of color, are unfairly overrepresented in the United States criminal justice system. Already facing discrimination for having a criminal record, securing a job upon re-entering society is difficult enough. With the added prejudice and discrimination regarding their sexual orientation or gender identity, it can be even more challenging for people to secure employment. This is one contributing reason why someone might remain closeted at work or while interviewing. In addition, there is a severe and genuine fear of jeopardizing network connections or being stereotyped.
How a Team Member of a Gay Recreational Softball League, Sky Diving Instructor, and Funeral Home Employee Changed the U.S.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964, also known as Title VII, prohibits discrimination in the workplace while recruiting, hiring, promoting, and other typical employment contexts. On June 15, 2020, the Supreme Court issued its opinion on three cases that ultimately affirmed that people are protected under this act by issuing a final ruling that the identifier of “sex” does indeed include sexual orientation and gender identity. These cases changed the state of LGBT rights in America, paving the way for a future where people can feel safe at work without fear of discrimination. More than 2,000 experts and organizations filed 50 “friend of the court” briefs supporting the LGBT employees and nondiscrimination protections, which attests to the diverse support across most of the U.S.
Landmark Cases for LGBT Rights
In the court case Altitude Express v. Zarda, sky diving instructor Don Zarda was fired from his job after revealing that he was gay to a female customer. In Bostock v. Clayton County, GA, Gerald Bostock was fired from his county position as a child welfare services coordinator shortly after his employer learned Bostock was gay. Bostock shared that he had recently joined a recreational gay softball league. R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC and Aimee Stephens details the experience of Aimee Stephens, a funeral director in Michigan, who was also fired from her position. This came after telling her employers she is a transgender woman and wanted to present as her gender identity at work.
The Supreme Court ruling in favor of the LGBT employees confirms that Title VII’s prohibition of discrimination in the workplace includes discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender expression, and gender identity. As a result, LGBT workers will be protected through U.S. civil rights laws. They can earn a living while also knowing they have the legal right to protect themselves from humiliation, harassment, and discrimination in the workplace.
Taking a Closer Look at the Equality Act
In the U.S., we have civil rights to protect people from discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, disability, and religion. But we still have a ways to go. The Equality Act provides consistent and explicit anti-discrimination protections for LGBT people across several important and key areas of life, including employment, housing, credit, education, public spaces and services, federally funded programs, and jury service. The Equality Act's impact would also amend several existing important civil rights laws, like the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Equal Credit Opportunity Act, Jury Selection And Services Act, as well as employment within the federal government. More than 66% of the LGBT American workforce has reported experiencing discrimination in their professional and personal lives.
The Equality Act is important and influential because the explicit language calling for protection for vulnerable groups is powerful, encouraging, and validating to people who are part of those communities. The Equality Act was introduced to the House of Representatives on February 18, 2021, then brought to the Senate on February 23, 2021. On February 25, 2021, The Equality Act passed with a bipartisan vote of 224-206.
Final Takeaways Regarding the Impact of LGBT Discrimination in the Workplace
The ruling of Title VII’s prohibition of discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression is a huge groundbreaking and necessary achievement for further solidifying the legal rights of the LGBT community across the U.S. on a federal level.
This is justly illegal because these are all concepts an employer would not have considered if the employee’s sex fit inside their stereotypical gender norms. For example, if an employer decides to fire a woman employee for being married to another woman, but they would not fire a man for being married to a woman: That employer is actively discriminating against a person’s sex. Thus, sex plays an explicit role in these issues and the specific court cases discussed.
While there are still issues left to tackle across the country, such as locker rooms, dressing rooms, dress codes, and bathrooms, the significant progress made for LGBT federal rights regarding workplace discrimination is still a considerable achievement. These protections extend across state and local government employment, working in the private sector, employment agencies, and labor organizations.
The work must continue to put in place explicit nondiscriminatory laws. Experiencing discrimination threatens a person’s well-being, financial security, and health. Moreover, workplace discrimination does not stay contained in just the workplace. Its adverse effects also impact housing, access to education, and the ability to live a public and truthful life.
Workplace discrimination against an LGBT-identifying person can cause them mental, spiritual, physical, and emotional harm. Experiencing discrimination and prejudice also affects a person’s neighborhood and involvement in their community as it becomes harder to be their honest selves. People might resort to long commutes to find work in an LGBT-friendly work environment.
The fear of experiencing discrimination can lead a person to delay gender-affirming health care, alter their physical presentation to fit inside a stereotyped norm, and take other steps out of cautionary fear. Any issue that affects the LGBT community is a human rights issue that must be addressed with respect, seriousness, and care.