Center for American Progress

RELEASE: LGBT Workers Live and Work Under ‘A Broken Bargain’
Press Release

Washington, D.C. — A landmark new report released today examines how lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender, or LGBT, workers might have the same job as a co-worker, yet be legally fired, denied equal benefits, and required to pay thousands of dollars more in taxes simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

A Broken Bargain: Discrimination, Fewer Benefits and More Taxes for LGBT Workers” illustrates how America’s basic bargain—that those who work hard can get ahead—is broken for LGBT workers. The report vividly shows how antiquated and discriminatory laws make it harder for LGBT workers to provide for themselves and their families and provides detailed policy recommendations for addressing those inequities.

While the nation focuses on recent advances in securing marriage for same-sex couples, 40 years of advocacy have failed to secure federal nondiscrimination protections for LGBT workers. Driven by the need to respond to these public policy failures, this report brings together a coalition of leading LGBT organizations, policy experts, and business advocates that includes the Center for American Progress, the Movement Advancement Project, and the Human Rights Campaign, in partnership with Freedom to Work, the National Center for Transgender Equality, the National Partnership for Women and Families, Out & Equal Workplace Advocates, and the Service Employees International Union, or SEIU, with a foreword by Small Business Majority.

Read full and condensed versions of the report.

LGBT workers are diverse, often parents, and more likely to be poor

“A Broken Bargain” paints the most complete portrait to date of the LGBT workforce in the United States, revealing that:

  • There are an estimated 5.4 million LGBT workers who live in 93 percent of all U.S. counties.
  • LGBT workers are often parents. More than one-third—37 percent—of LGBT adults have had a child, making family benefits important to LGBT and non-LGBT workers alike.
  • LGBT people are at higher risk of poverty than non-LGBT people. Fifteen percent of transgender people have a household income under $10,000, compared to 4 percent of the population as a whole. Same-sex couples raising children are more than twice as likely to have household incomes near the poverty line compared to opposite-sex parents—21 percent versus 9 percent.
  • LGBT workers are slightly more racially/ethnically diverse than the U.S. population as a whole.

How is the basic American bargain broken for LGBT workers?

“Even if same-sex couples could marry in all 50 states tomorrow, it would still be perfectly legal to fire someone for being gay under federal law and in a majority of states. In other words, workers would be able to marry the person they love, but if they put that wedding picture on their desk, they might lose their job,” said Winnie Stachelberg, Executive Vice President for External Affairs at the Center for American Progress. “While we are seeing recent victories on the marriage-equality front, we must do more to address the real and serious problem of employment discrimination against LGBT workers.”

Among the ways that Americans’ basic bargain is broken for LGBT workers:

  • Lack of nondiscrimination protections. No federal law and only a minority of states provide explicit protections for LGBT workers, even though protections exist for other workers based on factors such as race, national origin, religion, ethnicity, and disability. Progress has perhaps been impeded by the fact that 87 percent of Americans mistakenly believe that it is already illegal under federal law to fire someone simply for being LGBT.
  • Family and medical leave. LGBT workers are denied equal access to unpaid leave to provide care for a same-sex spouse or partner. Transgender workers are often denied medical leave for transition-related medical care.
  • Family health benefits. An employer that extends family health benefits to married opposite-sex couples can legally deny that same coverage to married and unmarried same-sex couples. When LGBT workers do receive these benefits, middle-income families pay an estimated $3,200 in extra taxes on them, although heterosexual workers get the same benefits tax free.
  • Spousal retirement benefits. LGBT workers are systematically denied Social Security spousal benefits designed to protect workers’ families during their retirement years. This costs retired same-sex couples up to $14,484 per year and a surviving same-sex widow or widower up to $28,968 per year. Same-sex partners also may also be denied pension survivor benefits.
  • Death and disability benefits. If an LGBT worker dies or becomes disabled, the worker’s same-sex spouse—and in some cases, his or her children—will be denied Social Security disability and survivor benefits, costing a surviving spouse with two children as much as $29,520 in annual benefits.

“For LGBT workers, hard work is often rewarded by bias, fewer workplace benefits, and higher taxes,” said Ineke Mushovic, executive director of the Movement Advancement Project. “Imagine doing the same job as your co-worker but being told that your child, unlike your coworker’s, is excluded from the company’s health-insurance plan. Imagine making the same mandatory contributions to Social Security, only to know that your family, unlike your co-worker’s, will be denied benefits should something happen to you. Then, on top of it all, imagine being hit with a much higher tax bill.”

Businesses agree that the broken bargain needs fixing

”America’s most successful businesses want a level playing field for workers across the country,” said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign. “In addition to treating their own LGBT employees with dignity and respect, more than 90 major businesses have also joined the Business Coalition for Workplace Fairness. Treating everyone fairly through federal law is not just the right thing to do, it’s good for companies’ bottom lines.”

“Small-business owners know that nothing creates success like hard work, and they want policies in place that help them find and retain the most talented, hardworking employees this country has to offer,” said Rhett Buttle, vice president of external affairs at Small Business Majority. “But current law often forces them to treat some employees differently than others, and that only hurts them, their workers, and the overall success of our economy. It is no surprise that our national April 2013 survey found that 67 percent of small businesses support extending federal workplace protections to gay and transgender employees.”

Common-sense solutions for fixing the broken bargain

To restore the broken bargain, policymakers and business leaders must institute a series of common-sense and popular solutions to treat all workers and their families fairly and equally. Among the broad policy recommendations detailed in the report: the importance of addressing inadequate federal and state nondiscrimination protections, extending legal recognition for the partners and children of LGBT workers, and changing benefit, immigration, and tax law to ensure equal treatment for LGBT workers and their families. The report also contains detailed recommendations, such as extending equal access to federal programs such as Social Security; providing equal access to health care and insurance; ending inequitable taxation of domestic-partner benefits; expansion of expanding the Family and Medical Leave Act and other laws that allow same-sex couples to take care of each other; and ensuring that LGBT families are eligible for family-based tax relief.

To speak with CAP experts on this issue, please contact Katie Peters at [email protected] or 202.741.6285.



The Center for American Progress is a nonpartisan research and educational institute dedicated to promoting a strong, just, and free America that ensures opportunity for all. We believe that Americans are bound together by a common commitment to these values, and we aspire to ensure that our national policies reflect these values. We work to find progressive and pragmatic solutions to significant domestic and international problems and develop policy proposals that foster a government that is “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

The Human Rights Campaign is America’s largest civil-rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender equality. By inspiring and engaging all Americans, HRC strives to end discrimination against LGBT citizens and realize a nation that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all.

Founded in 2006, the Movement Advancement Project is an independent think tank that provides rigorous research, insight, and analysis that help speed equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.

Foreword author

Small Business Majority is an advocacy group founded and run by small-business owners to focus on solving the biggest problems facing small businesses today. We actively engage small-business owners and policymakers in support of solutions that promote small-business growth and drive a strong economy. We advocate for policies that create jobs and maximize business opportunities and cost savings in health care reform, clean energy, access to capital, and other areas.


Freedom to Work:

National Center for Transgender Equality:

National Partnership for Women and Families:

Out & Equal Workplace Advocates:

Service Employees International Union, or SEIU: