By Selisse Berry
Founder and CEO, Out & Equal Workplace Advocates
In America, we believe opportunity is available to anyone who works hard and does a good job. For a long time, this basic bargain applied only to the most privileged in society. But in recent decades we passed laws that extended this principle to any employee regardless what they look like or where they’re from.
And yet there are employees for whom the American bargain remains broken. Workplace protections don’t exist in much of the country for people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. Given the increasing acceptance of LGBT people in the popular culture and the rapid legal advancements for same-sex marriage in multiple states, it’s surprising that people can still legally lose their jobs in 29 states simply for being Bisexual, Gay or Lesbian and 34 states if they are Transgender.
The problem is real. Up to 17 percent of lesbian, gay and bisexual people have been unfairly fired or denied employment, according to a new report co-sponsored by Out & Equal Workplace Advocates and other organizations that promote LGBT equality. The report, “A Broken Bargain: Unchecked Discrimination Against LGBT Workers,” finds that employment discrimination affects up to 47 percent of those who identify as transgender.
Out & Equal found that nearly 60 percent of lesbian and gay employees say they’ve been the target of jokes or derogatory comments at work. The harassment increases to almost 80 percent for transgender and gender-nonconforming employees.
Job prospects are put at risk when an out LGBT person is looking for work. That’s why so many LGBT employees remain in the closet. Only a third of Caucasians, a quarter of African Americans and less than 20 percent of Latinos are out on the job.
Wage disparities also affect LGBT employees. Gay men make less than straight men. Lesbian women make less than all men. The income gap is most pronounced for transgender people. While four percent of the general population lives under the poverty line, 15 percent of transgender people do.
Workplace discrimination doesn’t just hurt LGBT people. It’s bad for business and communities. When companies and cities drive talent away, there are consequences like higher recruitment costs, loss of innovation and difficulty staying competitive.
The good news is that corporate America is way ahead of the law when it comes to LGBT equality. Among the Fortune 500 companies, 88 percent have nondiscrimination policies based on sexual orientation. More than half include gender identity and expression.
Out & Equal has been instrumental in the evolution of corporate thinking, building relationships with CEOs over the past two decades to help them see how embracing the LGBT workforce is beneficial. Now that work is paying off as corporations are taking the lead in advocating for LGBT equality.
Even better news is that 72 percent of the American public supports LGBT workplace equality. In fact, 75 percent mistakenly think LGBT employees are already protected under federal law. It’s time that our elected officials make legal protections a reality and get in synch with the public they serve.