On July 21, 2014, President Barack Obama made history by issuing an executive order on LGBT workplace discrimination. It was the first time a sitting president had extended employment rights to transgender individuals through executive action.
The order offers protections for federal workers against discrimination on the basis of gender identity (sexual orientation was previously protected) and goes a step further by prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT employees.
Nearly one year later, 21 percent of LGBT employees still report some form of workplace discrimination. Thirty states do not offer employment discrimination protections for LGBT individuals. Three states offer protections for sexual orientation but not gender identity.
In every state, losing a job because of gender, ethnicity or religion is illegal, yet it is still legal in many states to lose a job because of sexual identity or gender orientation.
Legislation to protect LGBT workers in the private sector has been introduced in Congress repeatedly since 1974. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) would have banned workplace discrimination, but it included religious exemptions that significantly weaken the bill. Due to last year’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, businesses now have the same religious-freedom rights that people have.
Without workplace and employment protections, LGBT Americans are at a disadvantage. Research from the Williams Institute found that LGBT people are more likely to be poor.
The impact on the transgender community is even worse. A 2011 survey found that an alarming 90 percent of transgender people had been harassed on the job. The transgender community is also unemployed at double the overall national rate.
Workplace and employment discrimination isn’t just a matter about fairness; it promotes greater prosperity in the workplace. Ninety-six percent of Fortune 500 companies that have policies against LGBT discrimination state that their policies have led to increased productivity and morale, proving that when you’re not discriminating when hiring, you’re opening the pool to the most talented workers.
The 1964 Civil Rights Act outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Fifty-one years later, we are still debating what classes of people have the right not to suffer from discrimination. The truth is that no one should have the right to discriminate against anyone, anywhere, for who they are.
This isn’t an issue about choice or religion — these are real people, losing their livelihoods, their sources of income, and they’re more likely to become impoverished because we still have not extended protections to many LGBT people.
Demanding the right to fair employment and fair workplace treatment is not demanding special treatment or advantages over others. It’s about getting equal respect and opportunities for all workers, regardless of what you look like or who you love.
Now is the time to extend those same protections to all LGBT folks across the nation.
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