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Thursday, August 29, 2013

Move Forward Michigan - Part 3: LGBT Discrimination in the Workplace

English: U.S. LGBT employment discrimination l...
English: U.S. LGBT employment discrimination law. Sexual orientation and gender identity: all employment Sexual orientation: all employment Sexual orientation and gender identity: state employment Sexual orientation: state employment No state-level protection for LGBT employees (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

IU News & Talk Article Series
by Columnist Joel M.  

Lately the news has been full of headlines to do with marriage equality, particularly following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

Here in Michigan, we’ve had our fair share of marriage equality-related news as speculation about a 2016 referendum to overturn the state’s ban on gay marriage is seen regularly in the news.

Although marriage equality has become emblematic for the gay rights movement and weddings at the city hall make for great stories on the nightly news, we rarely hear about equally important issues facing the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community –  such as protection from discrimination in the workplace.

In many states, including Michigan, it is still legal for someone to be fired because of their sexual orientation or gender identity; there is no federal protection available for LGBT people.

In the private sector, however, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has recorded a marked increase in the number of Fortune 500 companies that extend workplace protection to LGBT folks – including many of the Fortune 500 companies based here in Michigan like General Motors and Ford.

According to the HRC, as of 2012, 86% of companies in the Fortune 500 now include anti-discriminatory policies for sexual orientation and around half of the Fortunate 500 prohibits discrimination based on gender identity. The latter figure is up from a mere three percent in 2002.

Likewise, the number of states with non-discrimination language has increased significantly in the same approximate timeframe.

In a report from the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, research cited from the Movement Advancement Project shows that half of America’s LGBT population now reside in states with nondiscrimination laws, about double the number that were covered in 2000.

According to the ACLU website, Michigan does prohibit discrimination in public employment with regards to both gender identity and sexual orientation.

Michigan, however, has not moved to update its policies to include private employment despite having attempted several times to update the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act of1976, most recently in 2012 when Rebekah Warren (D – Ann Arbor) introduced anon-discrimination bill to the senate. The bill never received a hearing.

Signs exist that action could be coming soon, though, as House Speaker Jase Bolger (R – Marshall) indicated this summer that he would be willing to support similar legislation. Speaker Bolger tweeted us that although he wants to pursue non-discrimination legislation, Everyone’s individual rights & beliefs should be respected & protected. Striking a balance is tough.”

Proposed legislation to protect LGBT folks in the workplace, however, has included exemptions for religious institutions whose views may differ.

Regardless, it’s a sign that the Republican Party may be changing its tune about LGBT rights since only a couple years ago Republicans introduced a bill that would have made it illegal for Michigan municipalities to pass non-discrimination ordinances.

While politicians fail to act on the state level, local municipalities have been advancing non-discrimination ordinances on a town-by-town basis.

Organizations like the One Capital Region based in Lansing and One Battle Creek have been pushing townships and cities to approve ordinances that would make it illegal to be discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in the workplace or in housing.

Just this week Oshtemo, a Kalamazoo suburb, became the 26th Michigan community to pass a non-discrimination ordinance – up from only 19 communities in August of 2012.

The Michigan Department of Civil Rights’ report on the impact of discriminatorypractices found that a lack of protection for LGBT folks not only affects them, but also employers and the state as a whole. Among the ways discrimination has a broader impact:
·         First of all, it creates a brain-drain scenario in the state. A survey cited by the MDCR shows that a majority of LGB respondents (55 percent) and half of transgender respondents pursuing post-undergraduate degrees plan on leaving the state after graduating, many of them citing Michigan’s inhospitable attitude towards the community and lack of legal protections. 
·        Secondly, employers who do not foster an inclusive workplace not only create a hostile environment for LGBT employees, but also for straight employees whose sexuality or gender identity may be drawn into question. Straight employees who refuse to comply with discriminatory practices may also be subject to discipline or even be fired. 

· Thirdly, the report by the MDCR also showed that employee turnover can cost employers anywhere from five to ten thousand dollars on the low end to over $200,000 for salaried employees making $100,000 annually.
It must be noted that transgender people in the workforce face far more discrimination than LGB folks and are less likely to be covered by non-discrimination policies.

As can be told in part based off of the statistics already cited from the HRC, showing that only half of the Fortune 500 include gender identity in their policies and only 16 states have non-discrimination policies that include gender identity whereas other states such as New York only include sexual orientation.

A recent survey also cited by the MDCR found that, among over six thousand respondents across the United States, 90 percent of transgender folks polled had faced “workplace harassment, mistreatment, or discrimination.”

Another survey mentioned in the report showed that 70 percent of participants had encountered some form of discrimination or harassment. By comparison, only 15 to 43 percent on LGB employees have faced discrimination in the workplace according to surveys mentioned by the MDCR report conducted over a lengthy period dating back to the 1990s.

Although I don’t wish to draw a comparison between LGBT and transgender people to show who’s “worse off,” too often the movement for LGBT rights neglects the “T” in favor of the “LGB.” I admit that I myself am often guilty of this needless and unhelpful favoritism as well.

The report from the MDCR is detailed and extremely useful to understanding what discrimination towards the LGBT community looks like, both nationally and here in Michigan.

As we wrap up this series, we will continue to go back to the MDCR’s 2012 report as an essential point of reference to the matter at hand. If you are interested in exploring it in-depth, you can check it out for yourself at the following link:

As always, feel free to leave questions or comments about what you’d like to see in our series as we continue with a discussion about housing discrimination and issues to do with adoption and LGBT families.

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