Examining the State of the LGBTQ Worker on Labor Day

By Shane Stahl • September 3, 2018 • 10:07 am

As we acknowledge Labor Day this year, it is important not only to reflect on the importance of the American workforce, but also to examine the state of the workplace for LGBTQ people — both existing challenges as well as much-earned successes.

Across the country, 31 states still offer no explicit state-level laws protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination, including in the workplace. This leaves LGBTQ people vulnerable to being fired or denied a job simply because of who they are or who they love. That runs contrary to the core American values of hard work and making a living. All people deserve the opportunity to be able to contribute to society and provide for themselves and their families, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Too often, we have heard the stories or LGBTQ people experiencing harassment and even outright cruelty in their places of work. At Freedom for All Americans we’ve showcased some of these stories –  like that of Jimmie Beall, a teacher whose contract at her school wasn’t renewed after her superintendent learned she was in a same-sex relationship; Brooke Thorne, a transgender women who has experienced discrimination at three separate jobs in her home state of Arizona; and Kathleen O’Donnell, who not only was terminated from her job at a car dealership, but also was told a landlord wouldn’t rent to her because she is married to a woman. These are only three of the thousands of stories LGBTQ people across the country have shared of being unfairly treated at their jobs, just for being open and proud about themselves.

It’s no wonder that LGBTQ people feel the need to hide who they are at work. A recent report showed that nearly half of LGBTQ workers, 46 percent, remained closeted at work for several reasons – including fear of termination, loss of personal and professional relationships, and not wanting to be stereotyped.

A new report from the Movement Advancement Project (MAP) further breaks down the levels of discrimination experience by LGBTQ workers. According to the study, 25 percent of LGBTQ workers report experiencing harassment based on their sexual orientation or gender identity in the past year, and the unemployment rate for LGBTQ people is four percent higher than that of non-LGBTQ identified people.

The statistics are grave and the stakes are high – but at FFAA, we’re heartened by a surge in conversation about LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections and a series of recent victories for LGBTQ workers. Just a few months ago the Republican governor of New Hampshire signed into law comprehensive nondiscrimination protections for transgender people that were passed by a bipartisan majority in the state’s House and Senate, and bills to protect LGBTQ workers advanced in several other states this year, including Missouri and Virginia.

We’ve seen promising movement in the courts recently, too.A case decided in the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals earlier this year, Zarda v. Altitude Express, found that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which includes protections from discrimination based on sex, also covers LGB people. A similar ruling came out of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2017, and this year a case in the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, EEOC v. R.G. & G.R. Funeral Homes, affirmed the same Title VII protections from discrimination based on gender identity. Several cases on this topic are pending  before the Supreme Court.

As we observe the journey of the American worker on the national observance of Labor Day, the FFAA team pledges to continue fighting for nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people across the country, in employment as well as housing and public accommodations. No one should be denied the ability to work hard, earn a living, and provide for themselves.

Be sure to join us by taking the pledge to fight for LGBTQ protections nationwide. Click here to take the pledge.

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