Study reports LGBT workers making gains, advancements still needed
Selisse Berry with OE logo HiQ 2011 Portrait
By Selisse Berry, founder and CEO, Out & Equal Workplace Advocates

Let’s start with some good news. 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 Workplace Advocates 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.

We are experiencing increasing acceptance of LGBT people in the popular culture and the rapid legal advancements for same-sex marriage in multiple states. Unfortunately, it’s still perfectly legal in 29 states to fire someone simply for being lesbian, gay or bisexual and 33 states for being transgender.

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 of what they look like or where they’re from.

And yet, the American bargain remains broken for the many LGBT employees who don’t have workplace protections. 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 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 blacks 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.

A majority of the American public — 72 percent — 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.

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 — higher recruitment costs,loss of innovation and difficulty staying competitive. It doesn’t have to be that way, however. By actively pursuing equal employment protections together, we can achieve a truly level workplace for LGBT individuals.