The Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell vs. Hodges in June 2015 legalized gay marriage in the United States, marking a historical and pivotal point in the gay rights movement. Marriage equality has dominated political discourse regarding gay rights, but many pressing issues that affect the nearly 9 million LGBTQ Americans still remain. LGBT Americans residing in 28 states face the threat of losing their jobs due to their sexual orientation. Workplace discrimination against LGBT individuals remains rampant and produces a variety of social, health and economic ramifications including wage disparities, economic losses, decreased worker productivity, and increased risks of mental illness.
The Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles compiled a report in 2011 discussing LGBT workplace discrimination in America. The study yielded some sobering results including the following: 42% of LGBT respondents experienced at least one instance of employment discrimination, 35% reported workplace harassment, and 16% said their sexual orientation caused a job loss. Additional research found that 78% of transgender and gender-non-conforming workers faced discrimination at work and 26% reported losing a job due to their gender identity. In response to these reprehensible findings, the Senate passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) in 2013 with bipartisan support. However, House Republicans prevented ENDA from reaching the floor for a vote.
The discrimination inflicted on LGBT workers causes an array of social consequences. Studies show that a wage gap exists between homosexuals and heterosexuals. Men in heterosexual marriages have an average income of $50,000 while men in homosexual relationships earned an average of $47,000. Polls also show that LGBT individuals more frequently report incomes of less than $24,000 and are less likely to earn more than $90,000. Many transgender individuals experience economic hardship at higher rates than others in the LGBT community. According to a report penned by the Center for American Progress, the Human Rights Campaign, the Movement Advancement Project, and Freedom to Work,15% of transgender people reported incomes of under $10,000 compared to 4% of the population at large. The authors also note that LGBT individuals were more likely to fall into poverty than heterosexuals.
In addition to the wage disparities that are attributed to workplace discrimination, research suggests that discrimination based on sexual orientation can contribute to some forms of mental illness due to increased stress exposure. LGBT individuals are 3 times more likely to experience a mental health condition than heterosexuals and LGBT youth are 4 times more likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual youth. The Williams Institute found that LGBT workers often face cognitive impairment due to their preoccupation of hiding their sexual orientation and reported feeling depressed, distracted, and exhausted more often than their peers.
LGBT employment discrimination causes a variety of negative economic ramifications. Reports show that two million people leave their jobs annually due to workplace prejudice. Workplace hostility costs companies $1.4 billion in output each year due to decreased productivity from LGBT workers. Evidence also shows that productivity decreases when ambiguity regarding a co-worker’s sexual orientation exists. Additionally, 1 in 4 individuals who experienced unfairness at their job said they would not recommend their employer to jobseekers, hampering recruitment efforts. Employment discrimination against LGBT workers hurts not only individual employees, but also the American business community as a whole.
The issue of LGBT workplace discrimination has gradually emerged into the national conversation. With the passage of gay marriage in June, LGBT advocates are now focusing efforts on obtaining the legal protections in the workplace that LGBT individuals sorely need. Polls show that 90% of Democratic voters and two-thirds of Republicans support workplace protections for LGBT individuals. Multiple presidential candidates from both sides of the aisle also agree that LGBT employees should not have to face the choice of concealing their sexual orientation or keeping a job. Republican presidential hopefuls Jeb Bush and Donald Trump support such legal protections, sharing sentiments with Democratic frontrunners Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. A coalition of Senators and Representatives recently introduced the Equality Act, which seeks to protect LGBT individuals from discrimination in matters of employment, housing, and other realms. Reluctant politicians must stand up for their LGBT constituents and pass the Equality Act. LGBT workers should never have to hide their authentic selves in order to advance their careers. This nation has come so far in the fight for gay rights. Providing LGBT citizens with the legal protections they deserve is the next step in ensuring all Americans can thrive both inside and outside the workplace.
Image Credit: Reuters/Molly Riley