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Ending Discrimination Against LGBT Workers

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This was originally published in The Hill.

Vandy Beth Glenn lost her job with the Georgia General Assembly when her boss fired her because she was transgender. Brooke Waits was gainfully employed in Dallas, Texas until her manager fired her immediately after seeing a picture on Brooke’s cell phone of Brooke and her girlfriend kissing on New Year’s Eve. And Officer Michael Carney was denied reinstatement as a police officer in Springfield, Massachusetts because he told his supervisors that he was gay.

Stories like these are not out of the ordinary. Far from it. In fact, they are commonplace for far too many gay and transgender workers in the United States.

Research shows that between 15 percent and 43 percent of gay and transgender workers experience some form of discrimination on the job solely because of their sexual orientation or gender identity—factors that have absolutely nothing to do with job performance.

Additionally, 8 percent to 17 percent of gay and transgender workers have been passed over for a job or fired because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Ten percent to 28 percent received a negative performance evaluation or were passed over for a promotion because they were gay or transgender. And 7 percent to 41 percent of gay and transgender workers were verbally or physically abused or had their workplace vandalized.

These figures paint a bleak portrait for the LGBT workforce. Rates of discrimination become even more acute, however, when looking solely at transgender workers. A recent survey from the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force found that an astounding 90 percent of transgender people have encountered some form of harassment or mistreatment on the job. Moreover, 44 percent were passed over a job, 23 percent were denied a promotion, and 26 percent were fired simply because of their gender identity.

This discrimination has a serious impact on the lives of gay and transgender workers and their families. The transgender population experiences double the rate of unemployment and are four times more likely to have a household income of less than $10,000 per year compared to the general population. Gay men earn 10 percent to 32 percent less than similarly qualified straight men. And transgender individuals who lose their job due to discrimination experience four times the rate of homelessness compared to the general population.

Discrimination is alive and well in America, and gay and transgender individuals are especially impacted by senseless and unfair treatment on the job.

The good news?

For years, the public has consistently supported full workplace protections for gay and transgender workers. A recent Center for American Progress poll shows that nearly three-fourths (73 percent) of likely 2012 voters support employment laws that shield gay and transgender Americans from workplace discrimination. This support holds across party lines, with 81 Democrats, 74 percent of independents, and 66 percent of Republicans supporting workplace nondiscrimination laws for gay and transgender people.

The bad news?

The vast majority of Americans erroneously believe a federal law is in place that provides uniform employment protections to gay and transgender workers. CAP’s poll found that 9 out of 10 Americans believe that a law like ENDA — the Employment Nondiscrimination Act — is already on the books.

But Congress has yet to pass ENDA, which President Obama has promised he would sign into law. ENDA would afford millions of gay and transgender Americans similar workplace protections currently afforded to women, people of color, veterans, and the disabled. And while comprehensive in scope, ENDA would not apply to religious organizations or small businesses with less than 15 employees. The legislation also prohibits any type of preferential treatment for gay and transgender workers.

In other words, ENDA’s premise is simple: Every American deserves the right to work without fear of discrimination and harassment, and this includes gay and transgender individuals.

Where Congress has failed to lead on this issue, states and municipalities have stepped in. Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia currently prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and of those states, 14 and the District of Columbia prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity. Further, more than 203 municipalities have enacted local nondiscrimination laws protecting gay and transgender workers.

But as the recent rollback of nondiscrimination ordinances in Tennessee has recently shown us, what the states giveth, the states can just as easily taketh. We need a comprehensive, federal law to establish uniform protections for all workers.

Discrimination has no place in our workplaces. It damages workers by forcing them out of jobs based on characteristics that have nothing to do with job performance. It hurts businesses by pushing away well-qualified and talented employees. And perhaps most importantly, it violates our country’s fundamental values of fairness and justice.

The public has long recognized these values should be legally afforded to gay and transgender workers. But in the meantime, gay and transgender Americans continue to suffer from widespread discrimination and harassment in the workplace.

Our nation can and should do better for all our workers.

This was originally published in The Hill.

Crosby Burns is special assistant and Jeff Krehely is the director of the LGBT Research and Communications Project at the Center for American Progress.

To speak with our experts on this topic, please contact:

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Print: Tom Caiazza (foreign policy, health care, energy and environment, LGBT issues, gun-violence prevention)
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