On Friday morning, United States Supreme Court ruled on marriage equality, ruling that same-sex couples have right to marry in all 50 states in a 5-4 decision.
Many wonder, after marriage equality, what’s next on the agenda for LGBTQ rights activists. The Los Angeles Times reports transgender issues may be next on the agenda, as a “string of high-profile cases,” such as the Vanity Fair cover featuring Caitlyn Jenner, have pushed these issues to the forefront.
One of the most prominent issues LGTBQ equality activists wish to address after the marriage equality decision is legalized nationwide is unemployment of transgender workers and employment discrimination.
According to Human Rights Campaign (HRC), only 21 states and the District of Columbia have laws prohibiting discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation. Eighteen states and D.C. have additional legislation prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity. This makes it legal to fire, refuse housing, or deny services to someone because of their sexual orientation or gender identity in 29 states, according to the Center for American Progress.
“Sexual orientation” is the termed used to define an individual’s “physical and/or emotional attraction to the same and/or opposite gender,” writes Human Rights Campaign. “A person’s sexual orientation is distinct from a person’s gender identity and expression.” Gender identity, as described by HRC, “refers to a person’s innate, deeply felt psychological identification as a man, woman or some other gender, which may or may not correspond to the sex assigned to them at birth.”
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) would provide basic protections against workplace discrimination “on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity,” according to HRC. The bill is modeled on existing civil rights law but has not been introduced yet in the current congressional session.
Myrna Maysonet is an attorney with Florida firm Greenspoon Marder Law. She said Title VII, which is the federal law prohibiting discrimination, does not protect against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. However, Maysonet added, there are some actions a person can take if they have been discriminated against, she said. This may include relying on ordinances that many countries have passed prohibiting discrimination in employment and housing due to various protected statuses.
“Likewise,” Maysonet said, “the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has taken the position that expecting persons to conform to stereotypical gender roles—which will affect certain cases dealing with sexual orientation and transgender issues—are covered under gender discrimination.” According to Maysonet, many courts adopted that position in addition to the private employers who have taken a stance to create more inclusive working environments.
“Obviously, this patchwork of laws is ill-equipped to address the inequalities that have real life impact on the members of the LGTBQ community which remain unprotected,” she said. “The ability to make a living is crucial in achieving true equality. However, it is important to note that even with a marriage equality win, we cannot ‘expect’ everything to automatically come to pass. Right now, there are legislatures trying to enact laws, which would hinder the ability for LGTBQ couples to adopt under the guise of ‘religious freedoms.’”
The Hetrick-Martin Institute provides services and referrals to young people, regardless of sexual orientation or identity, to foster youth development. Its CEO, Thomas Krever, said: “We still live in a country where in many states you can be married on a Sunday and fired on a Monday.”
In a recent poll, Generation Progress found that Millennials overwhelmingly support protecting LGTBQ individuals against discrimination. In the survey of 900 Millennial adults (ages 18 to 34), 65 percent supported “comprehensive nondiscrimination protections, including 50 percent of Millennials who strongly support such legislation.”
Raymond Braun, a YouTube content creator, discusses LGTBQ issues on his self-titled YouTube channel. Recently, Braun covered Ireland’s legalization of marriage equality in May 2015 on his channel and received more than 150,000 views in just three weeks. Braun also works as a marketing executive for YouTube/Google.
Braun said he is grateful that he works for a company that not only advocates for the LGTBQ community, but promotes diversity and inclusion. Some other companies do not do the same and other LGTBQ individuals are not as lucky.
“Many LGTBQ people also live with the fear of being fired simply for being open about who they are and who they love. As long as these problems exist, it’s important to advocate for workplace equality and I think this issue will continue to be pushed to the forefront,” he said.
Braun said, as did Maysonet, that a diverse workplace can help a company economically.
“I also hope that companies realize what many of the Fortune 500 companies have already: investing in a diverse workforce is not only the right thing to do, it’s also good for business. When people can come to work as their whole selves and feel supported and respected, they are happier and more productive,” Braun said. “The more perspectives and backgrounds you bring to the workplace, the more diverse the perspectives and ideas for solutions you have.”
In addition, consumer choice is a powerful tool when it comes to promoting change and advocating for the LBGT community, Krever said. Making a choice to take business elsewhere can send a message to companies that do not have inclusive policies and help to advocate for the rights of all people, including LGTBQ individuals. “Money talks,” Krever added. “Consumers have power.”
Another option for support, according to John Lewis, Marriage Equality USA’s legal and policy director, is to push Congress to add sexual orientation and gender identity protections to Title VII. According to Lewis:
Building coalitions of supporters to advocate to pass workplace protections is and will continue to be very important. The outpouring of support from business leaders, especially in the high tech industry, was integral to preventing some discriminatory measures masquerading as so-called ‘religious exemption’ laws from passing and to others being more limited in scope than originally proposed…We need to have the same level of support from the business community and others to ensure that affirmative measures to prohibit employment and other types of discrimination against LGTBQ people are passed.
Lewis said the LGTBQ movement is a “worldwide movement” and equality is much more than legal equality. “It means, ‘lived’ equality,” he said. Lewis noted that the Supreme Court marriage equality decision will have a large impact on LGTBQ issues in the future. This decision should give LGTBQ people their “fundamental right” to marry and help to shape LGTBQ issues in America in years to come.
Nonetheless, there are still people who do not know or understand the discrimination that is taking place against LGTBQ individuals in the workplace. And if they do, they may not care too deeply. In the same poll of Millennials from Generation Progress, 21 percent noted they “do not support” comprehensive nondiscrimination protections. Millennials, a key demographic in American elections, on the other hand, strongly support marriage equality with 73 percent favoring the freedom to marry.
“I think that the universal reason for the lack of discussion is ignorance and fear. When we overcome those hurdles, good things will happen. A win in the Supreme Court will hopefully advance this crucial goal,” Maysonet said.
Braun echoed this, and said “visibility is key,” as is sharing stories of discrimination to educate those who may not know it is happening or the extent to which it is happening.
Strides are being made slowly in terms of LGTBQ workplace discrimination. Just this month, on June 8, President Obama put into effect his Executive Order on LGTBQ Workplace Discrimination. This order prohibits federal contractors and subcontractors from discriminating based on sexual orientation and gender identity, the Huffington Post reported.
Thomas Perez, U.S. Secretary of Labor, wrote in a Huffington Post article that the change is a “civil rights victory” consistent with America’s founding principles. “It will mean a more dynamic and inclusive workforce that captures the talents of more of our people,” he said.
Workplace equality for the LGTBQ community is just one of the many issues which will come to the forefront now that marriage equality is legalized nationwide. For Lewis, of Marriage Equality USA, efforts to outlaw conversion therapy for youth will continue to be important in the courthouses and in the legislature. The movement for transgender equality and acceptance will also be an important issue going forward, he remarked.
Braun agrees, saying raising awareness and visibility for the transgender community is a key issue as is cultural acceptance and openness for all LGTBQ people. LGTBQ youth homelessness, LGTBQ youth depression and suicide, hate crime protections, and support for LGTBQ people in the military are some of the other issues he mentioned as becoming more relevant in the upcoming years.
The Center for American Progress reports that LGTBQ Americans lack “explicit protections” against discrimination in employment, housing, education, credit, and public accommodations—as a result, issues like unemployment, poverty, homelessness, and poor health disproportionately affect LGTBQ people.
Krever, who works directly with LGTBQ youth, said he sees progress for acceptance, but there is still a ways to go. There are traumas, he said, that still are present for the nation’s youth, such as the higher high school dropout rate and higher rate of bullying and harassment for LGBTQ youth.
“As we move past marriage equality I am heartened knowing that we will finally begin to turn our attention to pre-existing conditions such as poverty, race, and lack of access—these are fundamental issues that acutely affect our community of young people—especially youth of color,” he said.
Additionally, discrimination in the workplace for LGTBQ individuals is not an issue exclusive to the US. According to Catalyst, 47 percent of LGTBQ people across Europe said they felt they experienced discrimination or harassment in the workplace because of their sexual orientation. By comparison, between 15 and 43 percent of LGTBQ people have reported discrimination in the workplace in the U.S., according to the Center for American Progress. Only 61 of the 196 countries worldwide prohibit discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation. Now it’s America’s turn to become number 62, ensuring that all Americans can live and work without fear of discrimination because of who they love.