LGBT at Work?

The facts about workplace discrimination

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In almost 30 states in this country you can be fired for being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender – including Pennsylvania. That’s why advocates are getting behind a new executive order this week to ban discrimination among federal contractors based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Freedom to Work, a national advocacy organization working to end employment discrimination for LGBT Americans, announced a new letter of support that’s already been signed by 72 members of Congress.

Led by Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) and co-signed by Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) and Rep. Lois Capps (D-CA), the letter has drawn support from nearly half of the House Democratic Caucus and expands on similar statements of support by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who said last July that such an order is “long overdue.”

There are only 15 states that have laws banning workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Another six ban discrimination based on sexual orientation, but omit gender identity.

Recent polling by the Human Rights Campaign indicates that 73 percent of likely voters in the upcoming 2012 general election would support such an order from the Obama administration.

So what are we waiting for?

“Having worked with Rep. Frank Pallone and his staff on persuading nearly half of the Democratic Caucus to sign this congressional letter to President Obama, I know firsthand that our LGBT community owes Mr. Pallone a debt of gratitude for his strong leadership promoting workplace fairness,” says Tico Almeida, the founder and president of Freedom to Work. “Now that more than 110,000 people have signed the Freedom to Work online petition, more than 70 members of Congress have signed Mr. Pallone’s letter, and 73 percent of the American people have expressed support for this policy in recent polling, it is clear that ‘We Can’t Wait’ any longer for the president to sign the executive order adding LGBT workplace protections to millions of American jobs.”

Last month, Freedom to Work led an online petition effort on to support federal laws banning workplace discrimination for LGBT people, collecting more than 110,000 signatures in just a few weeks. And President Obama, while campaigning in 2008, made a promise to enact just such a policy for federal employees and federal contractors.

Living in a city like Philadelphia with an active and outspoken LGBT community can sometimes be misleading when you consider that even in this city – and elsewhere in the commonwealth – people who are fired simply for being gay have little or no means of legal recourse. For a city and state that has long touted its gay-friendly tourism, the lack of laws protecting its citizens from very basic, very common sense anti-discrimination laws is a slap in the face.

It also goes against everything that other minority groups have fought for and won over the years. In many ways, LGBT rights may be considered one of the last frontiers of equality in this state and in this country. Talk about being hard won.

“For more than 40 years, African-Americans, Latinos and women have been allowed to file discrimination complaints with the Labor Department based on President Lyndon B. Johnson’s executive order for federal contractors,” says Almeida, referring to legislation that dates back more than 40 years. “We’re simply urging President Obama to sign an order that will give the exact same workplace protections to LGBT Americans.”

Have you ever faced discrimination at work for being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender? Please tell us your story: