By Rodger Streitmatter
News stories about marriage equality have proliferated in recent months. Many of the items have been about the two cases now before the U.S. Supreme Court. Others have focused on politicians such as New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Ohio Senator Rob Portman coming out in favor of marriage equality. (OMG! Portman is a Republican!)
I’m thrilled that the issue is getting so much attention, as the coverage may help bring about the change that we’re hoping for. And as a gay man who’s married in the District of Columbia but who doesn’t get the financial benefits I’d get if Tom were a she instead of a he, I’m all for an end to discrimination in how LGBT married couples are treated.
At the same time, though, there’s another issue that I wish was also in the spotlight.
Specifically, I’d like to see more news outlets highlighting the fact that a majority of the states in this country have no laws barring employers from discriminating against LGBT employees and job applicants.
That is, in 29 states, members of the LGBT community can be rejected for jobs they seek, can be passed over for promotion, can be paid less, can be harassed and can be fired because of their sexual orientation . . . with no legal consequences to their employer.
Only 21 states and the District of Columbia have laws making it illegal for employers to discriminate based on sexual orientation. Further, only 16 of those states and DC extend those laws to transgender workers.
This leaves millions of GLBT folks without the basic workplace protections that most Americans assume they already have. Polls show that nine out of every 10 Americans think such basic protections are already in place.
Congress could provide the safeguards by passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, but that hasn’t happened. A version of ENDA lost by one vote in the Senate in 1996, and it passed in the House of Representatives in 2007. But given the current political climate, the prospects of ENDA getting the green light any time soon aren’t good.
And make no mistake about it, without a federal law, LGBT employees and would-be employees are losing out.
Two years ago, a Harvard researcher created two counterfeit resumes and sent them in as applications for the same 1,700 job openings. The resumes were identical except that one version said the applicant had been involved in a “progressive and socialist” organization during college, while the other version said the applicant had been involved in a “gay” organization.
The “gay” reference on the resume reduced the applicant’s chance of getting a job interview by 40 percent.
Specifically, the resume that contained the phrase “progressive and socialist” led to the applicant being asked in for an interview for 11.5 percent of the jobs, while the one that contained the word “gay” led to an interview request for only 7.2 percent of the jobs.
In short, “the g-word” matters in the workplace, even though it shouldn’t. News outlets should be telling this to the public.
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