Rosario: LGBT Americans face legal employment discrimination

Most Americans aren’t aware that no federal law protects LGBT people from discrimination in the workplace.

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The fight for LGBT rights in the U.S. did not begin nor end with same-sex marriage legalization. As Pride Month comes to a close, the sobering truth remains: There is no federal law prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia have laws banning employment discrimination for sexual orientation and gender identity. One state, Wisconsin, prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation only. And 11 states only outlaw discrimination against public employees, with five of those states only on the basis of sexual orientation. That means in 17 states, it is legal to fire a public or private employee for being gay or transgender. Half of the LGBT population lives in states that do not prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, according to the Movement Advancement Project.

The vast majority of American voters — 77 percent — support protecting LGBT people from discrimination in employment, according to a poll by the Human Rights Campaign. The poll also found that nearly 90 percent of voters incorrectly believe it is illegal to fire someone for being gay under federal law.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 states, “It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer … to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” Whether “sex” includes sexual orientation and gender identity has been a point of contention in the judicial system. In 2017, the Justice Department filed an amicus brief arguing Title VII’s scope was limited to sex.

This lack of legal protection has devastating effects on people in the LGBT community, of which more than one-fifth have experienced workplace discrimination, according to a 2013 Pew Research Study. The numbers only become bleaker for transgender workers, who are subjected to significantly higher rates of discrimination. A national survey found that 90 percent of transgender employees experience harassment, mistreatment, or discrimination at work.

Cultural acceptance of LGBT people in American society has greatly improved over the past few years. In a 2016 Pew Research study, 63 percent of Americans said homosexuality should be accepted by society, compared with 51 percent in 2006. LGBT characters are represented more in TV shows and movies than ever before. But just because “Modern Family” has had great prime-time success, doesn’t mean laws have caught up in affirming that it’s OK to be gay.

Pride Month is as much a celebration as it is a protest. It takes place in June to commemorate the 1969 Stonewall riots. The slogan “Gay is Good” came at a time when same-sex intercourse was illegal in the U.S. (and would continue to be in 14 states until 2003). We’ve certainly come a long way since sodomy laws and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” But when gay people can get married in Texas and then be fired for their sexual orientation the next day, that shows just how far we have to go.

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