According to the annual Harris poll on workplace culture, commissioned by Out & Equal Workplace Advocates every year since 2002, a whopping 76% of American adults believe that under federal law it is illegal to fire someone because they are LGBT. Nothing could be further from the truth. The fact is that in 29 states you can still be fired simply because of whom you love and how you identify. Why does that matter? It matters because an estimated 4.3 million LGBT workers are subject to arbitrary dismissal and harassment and because in an increasingly mobile workplace, that person could be you or someone you love.
And it doesn’t stop there. Earlier this year, Out & Equal, together with other leading non-profits, produced A Broken Bargain, a report that documents the inequities that LGBT workers suffer in the workplace. Job discrimination without legal protection makes it harder for LGBT workers to find and keep a good job. A 2009 survey in California found that 14% of LGBT adults were unemployed, compared to 10% of heterosexual adults. Among transgender workers, unemployment rates were double the average, with rates for transgender workers of color four times as high.
LGBT workers can also receive fewer benefits and pay more taxes. Depending on where you live, unequal access to health benefits and rules around the filing of state tax returns can further penalize LGBT families.
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which passed the Senate in an historic 64-32 vote on November 7 and is now heading for the House, would fix America’s broken bargain with its LGBT workers. If passed, it would prohibit discrimination in hiring and employment on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity for all civilian non-religious employers with at least 15 employees. ENDA has been introduced at every congress since 1994, bar one, and this year its passage stands a real chance of success. One of the reasons for this is that both the moral and business case is irrefutable.
At Out & Equal we have been working with Fortune 500 companies for over 16 years, creating safe and inclusive work environments where people are evaluated on the work they do, not their sexual orientation or gender identity. Together we have created the business case for LGBT workplace equality and inclusion with companies who have led the way.
They know that to be a successful 21st Century company they must attract the best talent with a diverse workforce that drives innovation and creativity and can focus on the task at hand, bringing their full selves to the workplace and not investing their energy in hiding who they are.
This is about honesty and integrity. It is about not changing personal pronouns at the water cooler, covering our identities in a mantle of fear. It is placing the photos of the ones we love on our desk – just like anyone else. This cannot accurately be described as special treatment. It is equal treatment, and it is time to stand up and, to paraphrase a famous Justice, not to accept a skimmed-milk version of workplace rights.
It’s time for our legislators to fix the broken bargain with our nation’s LGBT workers and to do the right thing for equality and the right thing for business.
Selisse Berry is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Out & Equal Workplace Advocates. To find out what you can do to support the passage of ENDA, go to: outandequal.org/enda.