Employment discrimination protections for gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, and trans-gender employees under
federal laws are of great consequence as legislation awaits Congressional
action. According to a recent study performed by the
Center for American Progress, 73 percent of Americans support protecting the LGBT community from workplace
discrimination. This figure, which includes 81 percent of Democrats and
66 percent of Republicans, reflects a growing acceptance of LGBT members
of the workforce by the general public. However, the study also found
that 90 percent of Americans incorrectly believe that a federal law is
already in place protecting those employees from workplace discrimination.
This misconception may explain the absence of any sustained public support
for bills that would protect LGBT employees in the workplace. One such
bill, the Employee Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), has been introduced
in both houses of the United States Congress. This bill, if passed by
Congress and signed by the President would afford LGBT Americans the same
federal protections given to women, minority group members, veterans,
seniors, and the disabled. However, despite ENDA's potentially key
role in achieving workplace equality, public support for the bill by Congressional
leadership pales in comparison to public support by leadership on Capitol
Hill for the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act and Don't Ask Don't
Tell. As such, the issue is, by and large, left out of the conversation
by the mainstream national media and, consequently, not in the forefront
of voter's minds.
To ignore the lack of federal protection for LGBT Americans in the workplace
would be to ignore a gaping hole in the United States' human rights
policy. It would be tantamount to ignoring the fundamental human rights
of citizens that face among the highest percentage of workplace discrimination
in the country. Indeed, according to The Willliams Institute on Sexual
Orientation Law and Public Policy, 15 percent to 43 percent of gay individuals
have experienced some form of discrimination or harassment at the workplace.
Additionally, as many as 17 percent of gay and transgender workers report
being passed over for a job or fired because of their sexual orientation
or gender identity. The data also indicates that as many as 28 percent
of LGBT workers have received a negative performance evaluation or were
passed over for a promotion because of their sexual orientation.
At present, twenty-one states (including New York) presently outlaw employment
discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. However, until ENDA
or similar legislation is passed, federal law offers no protection to
gay and transgender workers. This opens the door for states to ignore
the rights of those employees or, as
Tennessee has recently done, take affirmative steps to ensure that local or municipal laws protecting
gay and transgender workers are per se illegal.
The public has long held that discrimination has no place in the American
workplace. Data shows that this view extends to discrimination against
individuals based on sexual orientation. However, until legislation like
ENDA receives the notoriety that other issues effecting the gay and transgender
community receive, the economic security, human rights, and dignity of
millions of gay and transgender Americans will be at risk.