Ending Employment Discrimination: LGBT Equality in the Workplace

Updated June 23, 2011

Our Position

Employment discrimination is one of the many ways that LGBT Americans are targeted for unequal treatment under the law. While federal law bans such discrimination against a number of protected classes, it is currently legal for employers to discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) would take a major step toward correcting this injustice. American workers who stand side-by-side in the workplace deserve to be subject to the same rules. A number of states and many large corporations support this principle, as do a solid majority of the American people. Congress should act swiftly to pass ENDA and send this important civil rights legislation to the President’s desk.

Talking Points

Federal and most state employment laws leave LGBT Americans unprotected. It remains legal in 29 states to discriminate based on sexual orientation, and 38 states permit employment discrimination based on gender identity or expression. Although federal law prohibits sex discrimination in employment, federal courts have repeatedly held that Congress did not intend the term “sex” to include sexual orientation or gender identity. So in vast regions of America, victims of anti-LGBT discrimination have no recourse.

Equality is a mainstream American value. Americans support LGBT equality in the workplace. Nationwide polls have consistently counted such support at nearly 90% when it comes to protecting gays and lesbians. In addition, a 2007 Peter D. Hart Research survey showed that 58% of Americans also support transgender protections.

Corporations are ahead of the game when it comes to protecting LGBT employees. As of September 2009, 87% of the Fortune 500 protected sexual orientation, and 41% protected gender identity. Many leading businesses also officially support ENDA, including such household names as Coca-Cola, Dell, Gap, General Mills, Google, HP, Levi Strauss, Marriott, Nike, Xerox, and Yahoo.

ENDA does not at all limit religious liberty. Religious denominations and faith groups of all sorts recognize the need to be conscious of discrimination no matter where it rears its ugly head. But they also recognize the freedoms of faith and conscience embodied by the First Amendment. ENDA accounts for those who believe their religious precepts would be violated by such legislation and exempts, consistent with the First Amendment and the Civil Rights Act, religious institutions and their employment practices.

To leave the transgender community behind would be unacceptable. ENDA must retain its gender identity protections. Radical right organizations making false claims about this language are not credible. They have waged and continue to wage similarly dishonest and inflammatory campaigns against any legal recognition or protection for LGBT Americans. Giving the far right a victory, just when we have come so close to winning protections against employment discrimination, would be a disastrous mistake. Proponents of equality must stand up against this kind of bullying.

Legislation

ENDA (H.R. 1397/S. 811) would expand current federal employment protections against discrimination based on race, religion, sex, national origin, age, and disability to include sexual orientation and gender identity. It would prohibit most employers from using an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity as the basis for employment decisions, such as hiring, firing, promotion, or compensation.

Action

Contact your Representative and Senators and tell them that Congress must act now to end workplace discrimination. Let them know that employees should be judged by their qualifications and performance, not their sexual orientation or gender identity. Urge them to support ENDA and protect LGBT workers who deserve better than to be forced to live in constant fear of discovery in the workplace. Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper explaining how ENDA will assist both employees and employers alike in establishing a more open, equal, and fair work environment.

Further Reading

Human Rights Campaign
National Center for Transgender Equality
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force

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