Federal Workplace Protections on the Horizon for Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

What do Rolling Stone magazine and the United States Senate have in common?  They’re both talking about the discrimination faced by individuals with non-conforming gender identity. 

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Monday that before Thanksgiving, the Senate will consider the long-awaited Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would put a nationwide ban on workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.  The same bill has been introduced numerous times but never made it to the president's desk.  Many are hoping that the current political climate – evidenced by the U.S. Supreme Court’s historic same-sex marriage decision in June – will enable the bill to pass providing federal protections for those in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community.

Workplace protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees are not really new, but they don't currently exist under federal law.  Numerous states have enacted laws banning employment bias based on sexual orientation or gender identity.  As of April, 88 percent of Fortune 500 companies had nondiscrimination policies that covered sexual orientation, and 57 percent had policies that included gender identity, according to a statement from Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa.

The issue of gender identity and sexual orientation has become unavoidable as shown by Rolling Stone’s article, “About a Girl: Coy Mathis’ Fight to Change Gender,” which focuses on the issues raised by gender dysphoria among the nation’s youth.  This is an issue that polarizes communities, challenges school districts, and pervades the workplace.  So, at long last – the bill having been introduced in every congressional session except once since 1994 – employers and others may see guidance in the form of a federal statute providing anti-discrimination protections for LGBT individuals.



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