Study Finds GLBT Workplace Equality Laws Used a Lot--When They’re Available

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Tuesday November 18, 2008

A new study shows that complaints of workplace discrimination related to bias regarding sexual orientation are as commonplace as complaints of race-based discrimination... where anti-bias laws regarding sexual orientation exist, that is.

In a new study released Nov. 18, the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law reported that complaints (and, arguably, actual incidents) of workplace discrimination based on whether the employee was gay, lesbian, or bisexual were as prevalent as similar complaints regarding gender and race bias.

In terms of significance, that translates into a demonstrated need for anti-discrimination laws that take orientation and gender identity into their scope.

According to a news release, "laws prohibiting sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace are used as frequently by LGBT workers as laws prohibiting sex and race discrimination are used by women and people of color.

"Currently, twenty states and the District of Columbia prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation; thirteen of those states also prohibit gender identity discrimination."

The annual numbers revealed by the study show that in states where gay, lesbian, and bisexual workers are protected by law from discriminatory practices, 5 out of 10,000 workers covered by those laws file complaints.

In terms of gender- and race-based discrimination, 5 out of 10,000 women file similar complaints and 7 out of 10,000 racial minorities file such complaints.

The results, said Williams Institute research director M. V. Lee Badgett, show that anti-discrimination laws "are needed and utilized by the LGBT workforce."

Said Badgett, who co-authored the report, "Our analysis directly questions the popular argument that sexual orientation anti-discrimination laws are unnecessary," with the report also disproving the argument that adding such protections to state laws lead to enforcement agencies being swamped past the point of effectiveness with complaints.

Summarized the press release, "Given the size of the LGB population and the filing rates of LGB people, any increase in complaint intake would be negligible."

The press release noted that last year, the House approved a version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) that would provide federal protections for gay, lesbian, and bisexual workers.

The Senate has yet to vote on the bill.

The release quoted Williams Institute executive director Brad Sears, who pointed out the over 3 million LGBT workers make their livelihoods in states that do not provide such protections.

"As the debate surrounding the necessity of LGBT workplace protections begins again in Congress we must keep in mind the fragile economic position of these LGBT employees and their families," said Sears.

The report broke down complaint rates by state and noted that in some states (California and Hawaii, as well as the District of Columbia), workers claiming discrimination based on sexuality file more complaints than do workers claiming bias based on race. In 14 other states, racial discrimination complaints outstripped sexual orientation discrimination complaints from a thin margin to a considerable one.

The issue of discrimination based on gender identity is a particularly vague part of the picture, the report indicated, since comparatively little information is available on transgendered workers.

Stated the report, "Of the 20 states and the District of Columbia, which currently protect LGB individuals from workplace discrimination, only 13 also include gender identity or gender expression.

"Of those 13... 10 passed the statute [protecting transgendered workers] within the past 3 years.

"The recent addition of gender identity protections created a significant data gathering hurdle as some state agencies have not adequately tracked gender identity/expression claims or they include those claims with sexual orientation [claim] totals," the study continued.

"We are further prevented from calculating population-adjusted complaint rates for the transgender population due to the lack of reliable data surrounding its actual size," the study went on.

"The omission of an analysis of gender identity discrimination complaints in this report reiterates the need for further research," added the report.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.