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.