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Workplace Discrimination: Insult to Injury


Twenty-one states still do not bar discrimination by employers based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

CREDIT: istockphoto

Tommy Bennett, a former employee of civil rights and justice stalwart Jesse Jackson's Rainbow PUSH campaign, recently filed suit against his one-time employer, claiming that he suffered significant harassment for being gay during a three-year stint with the organization and that he was fired for filing a complaint.

If Bennett's allegations pan out, the case will demonstrate what is already painfully clear to victims of discrimination: No milieu is exempt—and many workers still go without basic legislative protection.

PrideSource's Eric Rader points out that LGBT persons desire employment as much as anybody else and face many of the same challenges—and then some.

Twenty-one states still do not bar discrimination by employers based on sexual orientation or gender identity, and some that offer protection for gays and lesbians have none for transsexual people.

Rader doesn't go into the insurance and privileges unavailable to workers' partners in states that haven't legalized gay marriage or civil unions, though he does praise companies offering domestic partner benefits. And he doesn't mention the predictable haze of confusion over how the benefits will be translated to the spouses of gay beneficiaries after gay marriage becomes available in a state.

Furthermore, the ongoing culture war can force artists to choose between principle and success.

Young adult authors Sherwood Smith and Rachel Manija Brown recently stood their ground and went public after a literary agent offered to sign their novel if they agreed to “straighten” a gay character. What about the authors who bowed to pressure and conformed their work to institutional gender norms?

The novel and bullying issues both point to a broader, more subtle tragedy. As long as LGBT workers need to fight tooth and nail for their rights, LGBT youth will be tempted to see themselves as pathologies and liabilities, rather than citizens who deserve respect and decency.

The repeal of the military's “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” policy also went unmentioned in Rader's column. But that limited and long-overdue success only underscores the need for comprehensive protection.

President Obama told an audience at the National Hispanic Caucus last week that the financial wellbeing of all Americans remains interconnected—the fate of the economy depends on the prospects of Latino workers, and vice versa.

When will we see the same commitment to sexual minorities?

Jon Christian is a reporter with Campus Progress. Follow him on Twitter @Jon_Christian.

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