Discrimination against LGBT community is rampant in workplace

(Image: Kellie Parker/Flickr)

A recent study of workplace discrimination against the LGBT community reveals that high numbers of the community are still discriminated against at their place of work.

The statistics from the Williams Institute indicate that 15 to 43 percent of gays and lesbians face workplace discrimination, with numbers reaching as high as 90 percent for transgender individuals.

In Colorado members of the LGBT community share protection under the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), passed in 2007 and signed by Gov. Bill Owens.

The bill has not been passed on a federal level and in 38 states people can still be fired based on sexuality and in 37 there are no workplace protections based on gender orientation.

“Colorado has some of the most progressive laws for any state, especially because of ENDA” said Nic Garcia, senior managing editor of LGBT magazine, OutFront Colorado. He adds, however, “There is no actual remedy if workplace harassment does occur.”

OneColorado, an organization that works to fight for and protect LGBT equality, conducted a survey in January 2010 that reported 52 percent of transgender Coloradans experienced prejudice at their place of employment as did 27 percent of gays and lesbians. Of those who did experience discrimination, three quarters did not report it at all and only 3 percent reported discrimination to the Colorado Civil Rights Commission.

There are also economic implications for the LGBT community tied to discrimination. “Regardless, discrimination should not happen with this many people out of work” said Garcia. “Employers should choose the best candidate in these times; as the old saying goes ‘Never judge a book by its cover’.”

Brad Clark, executive director of OneColorado, noted that a hostile work environment can cause workers to quit a job, which can lead to high numbers of unemployed, especially in the transgender community. The numbers of discrimination are much higher for the transgender community, which both Garcia and Clark attribute to a lack of education and understanding.

“Gender expression is ingrained into us at such a young age that there’s still a lot of misunderstanding of the transgender community, including at the workplace.” Clark said.

Currently ENDA forbids any discrimination based on sexuality or gender orientation, but there are no specific answers as to how to stop it or enforce a penalty if it occurs. This spring Colorado Senator Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, introduced SB 72, which would have closed a loophole within ENDA to expand protections to employees in workplaces with 15 or fewer workers. The bill also offered legal remedies for discrimination, and permitted awards of punitive or compensatory damages and attorney fees to those claiming unequal workplace treatment. While the bill passed the Senate, it was killed in a House committee.

Despite the death of SB 72, the fight to end workplace discrimination continues. Clark said he believes that one of the most powerful tools to ending discrimination is education, as well as an increasingly open and out workforce.

“Although we have the protections in Colorado, there is often still fear about coming out in the workforce, especially for the transgender community,” he said. “Education is one of the most effective ways to promote understanding.”

Garcia agrees that education is important, but also sees the need for reform on other levels.

“This fight is an octopus, in that we have to branch into different areas, be it legislative, judicial, etc…,” he said. “History shows us that this type of struggle continues in other areas like racism and sexism, and the root cause is hate.”