Tag Archives: workplace discrimination

This might have been the gayest week in history’s gayest year

In Maine, a congressman running for governor came out as gay. In Illinois and Hawaii, lawmakers voted to legalize same-sex marriage. And in the U.S. Senate, 10 Republicans joined Democrats in a landmark vote on banning workplace discrimination against gay, bisexual and transgender Americans.

From one end of the country to the other, the overlapping developments during the past week underscored what a historic year 2013 has been for the U.S. gay-rights movement — “the gayest year in gay history,” according to Fred Sainz of the Human Rights Campaign, the movement’s largest advocacy group.

Yet each of the week’s developments, while heralded by activists, revealed ways in which the gay-rights debate remains complex and challenging for many Americans.

Republicans, for example, are increasingly split on how to address gay-rights issues — some want to expand their party’s following, while others want to satisfy the religious conservatives who make up a key part of the GOP base. More than 40 percent of Americans remain opposed to legalizing same-sex marriage. And even some prominent gays remain uncertain whether they should make their sexual orientation known to the world at large.

Mike Michaud, the Democratic congressman from Maine, said he came out to dispel “whisper campaigns” about his sexuality as the three-way race for governor began to take shape. Through his six terms, he’d never before spoken publicly about his sexual orientation, and he broke the news to his mother only hours before releasing his statement.

In Hawaii, an out lesbian representative was among those who voted “no” on marriage equality.  

And in Washington, even as gay-rights supporters celebrated the Senate’s approval of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, conveyed his opposition and indicated that the GOP-controlled House would not even vote on the bill, known as ENDA.

Boehner “believes this legislation will increase frivolous litigation and cost American jobs, especially small business jobs,” said his spokesman, Michael Steel.

Richard Socarides, a former Clinton White House adviser on gay issues, said he was on the Senate floor in 1996 when an earlier version of ENDA lost by a single vote.

“It’s poignant for me that it’s taken 17 years to get another vote on something as basic as workplace discrimination,” he said.

“Even though we’re making rapid progress on marriage equality, and the entire movement seems unstoppable, there are still big pockets of resistance,” Socarides added. “It’s going to cost a lot of money and require a lot of work to get us to where anti-gay discrimination no longer exists.”

Current federal law prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, race and national origin. But it doesn’t stop an employer from firing or refusing to hire workers because they are lesbian, gay bisexual or transgender. The bill would bar such discrimination by employers with 15 or more workers.

Twenty-two states and the District of Columbia have approved laws banning workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and 17 of them also prohibit such discrimination based on gender identity.

Sainz, a vice president of the Human Rights Campaign, said the most striking aspect of the ENDA debate was the division surfacing in the Republican Party — with several prominent GOP senators supporting the bill and yet Boehner signaling his opposition even before the Senate vote had been held.

“There is no doubt that the American public is changing on this issue very quickly,” Sainz said. “That’s what makes what Boehner did today such a head-scratcher.”

The Senate vote on ENDA was among a series of major victories for the gay-rights movement this year, highlighted by two Supreme Court decisions in June. One ruling cleared the way for ending a ban on same-sex marriages in California; the other struck down a 1996 law passed by Congress that banned federal recognition of same-sex marriages.

Gay marriage is now legal in 14 states and the District of Columbia, and this week Illinois — and probably Hawaii — were added to that group.

If the House does indeed balk at passing ENDA, it could increase pressure from gay-rights activists on the White House to issue an executive order on barring anti-gay workplace discrimination by federal contractors. Gay rights groups have criticized President Barack Obama for refusing to take that step; he has been saying that congressional action would be preferable.

In Maine, Michaud made his disclosure by means of a written statement provided to The Associated Press, the Portland Press Herald and the Bangor Daily News. He referred to “whisper campaigns, insinuations and push-polls” aimed at getting voters to wonder whether he’s gay.

“Allow me to save them the trouble with a simple, honest answer: ‘Yes I am. But why should it matter?’” he wrote.

“That may seem like a big announcement to some people. For me, it’s just a part of who I am, as much as being a third-generation mill worker or a lifelong Mainer. One thing I do know is that it has nothing to do with my ability to lead the state of Maine.”

Michaud is in a tight three-way race with Paul LePage, the Republican incumbent, and wealthy independent Eliot Cutler.

MaryEllen FitzGerald, a pollster from Critical Insights in Portland, predicted Michaud’s announcement would have little impact on the race for governor.

“He is a politician who has been in the public eye for a significant amount of time,” she said. “I don’t think his sexual orientation is generally going to be a factor.”

Activists lobbying Congress on ENDA

LGBT civil rights advocates are lobbying U.S. lawmakers and their aides Oct. 3. They are demanding passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would ban bias based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the workplace.

“Americans believe all hardworking employees should be judged on their talents and job performance – not on their sexual orientation or gender identity,” said Matt McTighe, the campaign manager for Americans for Workplace Opportunity. “Lobby day will serve as a powerful reminder that the Golden Rule applies in the workplace: everyone should be treated the same – and everyone has to put food on the table. There is significant momentum – including from Fortune 500 companies and supermajorities of Republicans – to pass ENDA this year.”

ENDA would add sexual orientation and gender identity to existing employment protections for race, religion, gender and disability.

Polls show that nearly 80 percent of Americans support such protections, including 70 percent of Republicans, 77 percent of observant Christians and 72 percent of residents in the South.

Polls also show that 90 percent of Americans mistakenly think protections for LGBT employees already exist.

More than 100 major U.S. corporations – including General Mills, Bank of America, GlaxoSmithKline, Google, Groupon, MillerCoors Brewing, Time Warner and US Airways – have endorsed ENDA.

The bill was backed by a Senate committee earlier this year and Majority Leader Harry Reid has promised a vote this fall.

Prospects for passage in the GOP-controlled House, however, seem unlikely without lobbyists moving some Republicans on the issue.

Activists mark Labor Day weekend, call for law to protect LGBT workers

Americans for Workplace Opportunity is marking Labor Day weekend with another call to Congress to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would ban workplace discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation.

“We’re reminded this Labor Day that everyone should have the opportunity to get and keep a job and provide for their families – one of the most fundamental American values,” said Matt McTighe, campaign manager for Americans for Workplace Opportunity. “Fortune 500 companies, labor unions and supermajorities of Republicans and Democrats – a rare national consensus – are honoring these values by supporting ENDA.  It’s time for the Senate to pass this bill.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said he wants to bring the bill to the floor this fall.

In July, ENDA passed out of the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions committee by a 15-7 bipartisan vote – with support from Republicans Mark Kirk of Illinois, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Orrin Hatch of Utah.

Nike, Citigroup, General Mills, US Airways, Proctor & Gamble, Pfizer, Coca-Cola and Ernst & Young are among the more than 100 major businesses that back ENDA. The largest labor unions also support the bill, including Service Employees International Union and American Federation of Teachers.

“Labor Day is a time when we celebrate the contributions of workers to our society and our economy,” said Mary Kay Henry, international president of the Service Employees International Union. “However, we must remember that not all workers are equally protected from discrimination. In 2013, this is simply unacceptable.”

“The fear of being discriminated against based on who they love often deters great people from stepping up to serve our communities and reach for the stars. Growing up gay, I remember often being paralyzed by this fear. As we reflect back on 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, we should recommit ourselves to knocking down barriers for working people and standing up for equal treatment under our laws,” AFT president Randi Weingarten said. “The Senate has an opportunity to right this wrong. This Labor Day, we’ve got to make it clear that the time for ENDA is now.”

Nearly 80 percent of Americans back workplace protections for LGBT people, including 77 percent of observant Christians, 72 percent of Deep South residents, 70 percent of Republicans, and 69 percent of seniors. It’s so commonsense that most Americans – nearly nine in 10 – mistakenly believe it’s already law.

HRC offers guide to best companies for LGBT workers

Workplace discrimination protections are the “new normal in the business world,” according to the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights group, the Human Rights Campaign.

HRC, on Nov. 14, issued its annual Corporate Equality Index, a guide to the corporations with the best policies for LGBT workers and their families.

The index shows that a record 252 businesses achieved the top rating of 100 percent, earning a “Best Places to Work for LGBT Equality” distinction.

When HRC created the index 11 years ago, just 13 businesses had a 100 percent.

“Corporate America continues to raise the bar in workplace fairness,” said HRC president Chad Griffin in a news release. “LGBT-inclusive workplace policies are not only the right thing to do and good business practices, they are the new normal. Americans have spoken, and as we celebrate our victories at the ballot box, we hope Congress will follow corporate America’s lead and create a level playing field – including passing fully-inclusive workplace non-discrimination legislation.”

The report shows:

• A record 74 major businesses and law firms publicly supported pro-equality legislation at the state and federal levels, including those that took an active role in the marriage campaigns this fall.

• The largest growth in the survey’s history, with 54 new businesses participating. The number of employers rated in the index climbed from 319 in 2002 to 688 this year.

• A majority of Fortune 500 companies have non-discrimination policies that cover gender identity. Overall, 84 percent of companies in the index cover gender identity.

• Transgender-inclusive health care coverage continues to rise, with 287 or 42 percent of participating companies offering comprehensive health care coverage to their transgender workers, up from 19 percent last year.

Petitioners urge defense contractor to protect LGBT workers

More than 35,000 people have signed a petition calling on defense contractor DynCorp International to protect LGBT employees.

The Change.org petition drive follows news of a settlement of a discrimination complaint. An ex-employee received a $150,000 out-of-court settlement in the case but DynCorp has not amended its workplace policies to prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation.

Civil rights lawyer Tico Almeida, founder of Freedom to Work, started the petition.

“If DynCorp is going to continue profiting from billions of dollars from the American taxpayers, then the corporation should have to abide by American values like judging people based on their talent and hard work, not their sexual orientation or gender identity,” said Almeida.

Raytheon, Boeing and Lockheed Martin have anti-discrimination policies that protect LGBT workers, according to Almeida.

Workplace discrimination a focus at State of the Union

A lesbian who challenged discrimination at her workplace will be seated with first lady Michelle Obama during the State of the Union address tonight.

The president is set to deliver the State of the Union address at 9 p.m. EST. Most stations are planning pre-speech coverage.

Joining the first lady for the speech will be Lorelei Kilker, who was part of a large settlement the Equal Opportunity Commission reached with Western Sugar of Colorado in October 2011.

The president is expected to cite Kilker’s case to highlight how the nation must do more to ensure that all citizens have a fair shot at the American dream.

Kilker says she hopes Congress will pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would ban bias based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the workplace.

She also wants the president to sign an executive order to combat anti-LGBT discrimination.